Sri Lanka missing two early second innings wickets after taking a pounding from South Africa’s batsmen on the third day of the first Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Monday – but batting coach Grant Flower said they were effectively 5 or 6 wickets down. Former captain Faf du Plessis led the batting assault, hitting 199 as South Africa took a commanding 225-run first innings lead. Then fast bowler Lungi Ngidi struck twice at the start of Sri Lanka’s second innings to leave the tourists on 65 for two, still 160 runs at the back of, on a pitch of more and more unpredictable bounce.
Flower said batsman Dhananjaya de Silva was once out of the series after suffering a torn thigh muscle on the first day, while fast bowlers Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara were unlikely to bat after suffering groin injuries while bowling.
First innings top scorer Dinesh Chandimal saw out the day in partnership with Kusal Perera but lay down close the boundary as he left the field and needed to be driven to the French room on a motorised stretcher moderately than climb the steep steps to the French room.
“We’re perhaps six down with a groin injury to Chandi,” said Flower.
Head coach Mickey Arthur said he would use his position on the International Cricket Council’s cricket committee to talk about the potential for injury substitutes, with injuries being much more likely on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I can be having a chat at the end of this Test match,” said Arthur. “I saw India missing one of their quicks today and I suspect all teams will lose quicks as it goes on because the rigours of the workloads are going to be too much with Covid around and the quarantine process.”
He blamed the spate of injuries on conditioning, with players having had to train in their homes right through lockdown in Colombo, then playing in the Lanka Premier League for a month until shortly before departure for South Africa.
“Relating to loads, conditioning and quarantining, I think you’ll be able to throw all of them into a melting pot and each and every one of them probably plays a role.”
– Career best for Du Plessis –
He said he hoped leading fast bowler Suranga Lakmal would be fit for the second one Test starting in Johannesburg on January 3. Having a look further ahead he said De Silva could overlook a series against England starting in mid-January but that Angelo Mathews, who missed the South African tour on account of injury, could be fit to face England.
Debutant leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga was once off the field for a part of the afternoon after falling on the ball trying to make a diving save on the boundary. But he returned to finish with four wickets, albeit at the high cost of 171 runs.
At one stage, Sri Lanka had four substitutes on the field, while captain Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis were called into action as emergency bowlers.
Du Plessis and the other South African batsmen took virtue with a free-scoring display. Du Plessis made his highest Test and first-class score and gave the look to be cruising to a double century before he tried to loft Hasaranga over his head and hit a simple catch to Karunaratne at mid-on.
Du Plessis shared partnerships of 179 for the fifth wicket with Temba Bavuma (71) and 133 for the seventh wicket with Keshav Maharaj, who made a Test-best 73.
The former captain admitted he had a point to prove after being criticised after South Africa missing a series against England final season.
“The highest tree now and again gets the most wind,” he said. “(In) the series against England we didn’t play our best cricket and there was once a large number of pressure on me as captain.”
Du Plessis said he had used the long Covid-induced break to prepare himself to be the most efficient cricketer he could be. “It was once a remark to those that might have doubted my ability to say that I will still give a boost to.”
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