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Cricket

Proteas will have to navigate difficult Sri Lanka without AB de Villiers

Sri Lanka has a gentle face, but a hard heart

17 June 2018 - 00:00 By TELFORD VICE

From your television on the mornings you might spend watching South Africa's cricket tests in Galle and Colombo next month, Sri Lanka will seem a gentle place.
In Galle, the slumbering stone ramparts of the 430-year-old fort look benignly on the cricket ground below, where motorcycle riders on the road beyond the boundary pause to watch a few overs.
In Colombo, the ancient uncles of the Sinhalese Sports Club stare at their zillionth game of cricket from rattan chairs buried deep in verandahs.
There is none of the raucousness and intensity, nor the alarming crush of humanity, that is part of the game elsewhere on the subcontinent.
In Sri Lanka it's all so ... nice. Do not be fooled. South Africa won in Galle in July 2014 to set up only their second series success in Sri Lanka and their first since 1993.
It was unlovely trench cricket in which JP Duminy's undefeated 100 took 30 more minutes than Dean Elgar's 103.
Sri Lanka are not what they were then, when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were still burnishing their careers, and Herath was dropped this week after Sri Lanka lost a test to the West Indies, in Port-of-Spain, for the first time in 10 years.But Sri Lanka will still be a hell of a place for South Africa to come to terms with life after AB de Villiers.
Faf du Plessis spent 349 balls on his scores of 80 and 37. The shine of Dale Steyn's match haul of 9/99 was tarnished by Vernon Philander being done for ball-tampering.
The drawn Colombo match ended with Rangana Herath wheeling past Imran Tahir - who was prone with cramp for much of his time at the crease - and in to Philander, surrounded by fielders poised like vultures.
Galle's pitch gave the bowlers nothing but it wasn't cynical like Colombo's, where any hope of a contest disappeared in the dust.
Intense heat and humidity stalked like evil itself, melting every instinct into a lump of singular ambition: stay alive, dammit.
Sri Lanka are not what they were then, when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were still burnishing their careers, and Herath was dropped this week after Sri Lanka lost a test to the West Indies, in Port-of-Spain, for the first time in 10 years.
But Sri Lanka will still be a hell of a place for South Africa to come to terms with life after AB de Villiers.Not that Steyn seemed bothered by that: "Somebody will have to step in for AB, but we've got some good players sitting on the fringes - Theunis [de Bruyn], Heinrich [Klaasen], someone like that. We'll probably make one or two changes, according to conditions, but the test team is pretty settled."
The more important assignment, for Steyn, was the five one-day internationals that will follow the tests.
"With the World Cup [in England next June] coming up you have to start not securing spots but identifying players.
"Who are the potential matchwinners, like AB was? Who are the big strike bowlers, like Morné [Morkel, since retired] was at the Champions Trophy last year?
"If you could identify those players, that would be a big statement. Eyes on the one-day stuff: that's the big thing."
Steyn spoke from Southampton, where he is playing for Hampshire - and may return after the tests.
His eyes, then, will also be on a television far from Sri Lanka during the ODIs.
But he will know it's not a gentle place...

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