Have SA turned a corner? We'll find out in Dambulla on Wednesday
Amid everything Tabraiz Shamsi said to the gathered press on Sunday — about bowling‚ batting‚ pitches‚ that kind of necessary but mundane stuff — he delivered a nugget of understanding about this mad and sometimes maddening business we called cricket.
“Sometimes it works‚ sometimes it doesn’t.
"That’s just how the game goes‚” he said.
It worked on Sunday‚ when South Africa reduced Sri Lanka to 36/5 inside nine overs on their way to winning the first one-day international by five wickets with 19 overs to spare.
It hadn’t worked in the Test series: Sri Lanka won both matches against a South Africa side that deteriorated as steadily as the tough but fair pitches they played on.
So confirmation will be sought in the second ODI on Wednesday‚ which like Sunday’s will be played in Dambulla‚ that the visitors have indeed turned the corner.
The pre-match portents look good for an answer in the affirmative.
The pitch for the match will be the same relatively pacy surface used on Sunday‚ which was a lot more recognisable to the South Africans than the dry‚ dusty‚ turning Test pitches.
Sri Lanka’s chances of levelling the five-match series have suffered in the shape of a hand injury to fast bowler Lahiru Kumara‚ who has been ruled out for Wednesday.
Not that Kumara might have made a significant difference: the Lankans have lost all six completed ODIs they have played in Dambulla since August 2014.
Given the conditions how the home side must wish they could call on a quick of the calibre of Kagiso Rabada‚ who shared eight wickets with Shamsi on Sunday.
At 23 Rabada is not only the No. 2 ranked Test bowler — James Anderson knocked him off the top perch on July 22 — but the leader of South Africa’s attack. Happily he would seem to have the maturity to keep all that in focus.
“I have not come to grips with the fact that I am the leader‚ I don’t see it that way‚” Rabada told reporters in Dambulla on Tuesday.
“All I know is I have a responsibility towards the team as the opening bowler.”
Rabada is entitled to his opinion but the fact is‚ along with being the best bowler in South Africa’s squad‚ he is easily the most experienced.
He has bowled almost six times as many deliveries in international cricket as any other seamer in the group.
JP Duminy — a man 11 years his senior who has played 210 more games for South Africa — is 2 360 deliveries‚ or 393.3 overs‚ behind Rabada.
And if the pitch behaves on Wednesday like it did on Sunday‚ expect Rabada to further widen the gap.
“The [pitches for the] test matches were completely different; they were just sandpits‚” Rabada said.
“It’s completely different now as there is good bounce.”
At this level teams shouldn’t want for motivation but with a World Cup looming in England at the end of May next year both sides will be awash with the stuff in this series.
So something else Shamsi said on Sunday‚ about the previous day’s training‚ would’ve caught the ear of his compatriots.
“We were told to have an easy session because it was a day game [on Sunday] but the practice lasted three or four hours. We don’t take it easy.”
Sounds like a South African. On Sunday’s evidence they’re playing like South Africans again‚ too.