Beating South Africa going to be a huge achievement: Mathews

Angelo Mathews, the former Sri Lanka captain, said that a Test series win against South Africa would be a “huge achievement”. The hosts are on the verge of sealing the series 2-0, with South Africa struggling at 139 for 5, still needing a further 351 runs for an unlikely win in the second Test at Colombo SSC.

“It is always satisfying to beat the top team,” said Angelo Mathews on Sunday (July 22). “South Africa have been a very good side for the past so many years and they are ranked number two. They are a good travelling side as well. Pleased with the way we have played so far. We have worked really hard. We look forward to wrapping it up tomorrow

“It is going to be a huge achievement for us as we are an inexperienced side. Beating the number two team in the world is something special. We will enjoy that. But we have a job at hand tomorrow morning. The first couple of wickets are going to be crucial. If we can knock off a couple early then we can enjoy the victory,” he added.

Sri Lanka were beaten 3-0 when they played South Africa in their own den. However, over a period of time, Sri Lanka have largely been a formidable force at home, capsulised by their 3-0 whitewash of Australia in 2016.

Mathews, on his part, noted that it is tough for visiting teams to adjust to spin-friendly tracks of Asia. He also backed the home side’s strategy to prepare turning tracks. “It is never easy for a foreign team, especially non-sub-continent sides to come over here and play. It is vice versa when we go to South Africa, England and Australia. It is tough for us. That is the challenge the visiting team has. The home team plays for its advantage.

“Most teams look to play to strength when they play at home. Against Australia, South Africa and England, we need to play on these kinds of surfaces. When we go to Australia and South Africa we play on tracks with grass and that is tough. So most teams exploit home advantage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dean Elgar, the South African opener, noted that the visitors were made to play on a flat wicket and against a slew of seam bowlers in the warm-up game versus Sri Lanka Board President’s XI. However, the two-match Test rubber has been played on tracks that have assisted spinners. “The two-day game that we played – all we faced in the top order was just seamers. I didn’t face one ball of seam in the whole Test series. That’s pretty street-smart, I’d say. They gave us a flat wicket that didn’t turn, and that’s pretty street-smart.

“The series starts really before the first ball is bowled. The wickets we had were brilliant – they were almost like a one-day wicket. That gives the batters a lot of confidence because we are smashing everything. In the Tests, all we faced were spinners on pretty dusty wickets,” he said.

Mathews, though, pointed out that the tourists had used similar tactics when Sri Lanka embarked on a tour to South Africa in 2016-17. “I remember in the last tour when we landed in Bloemfontein, we had the same (kind of tracks),” he said. “The practice match wicket was nothing like what we played on during the Test series. It can be a tactic. Most teams do it. I am not too sure what happened here. It was a slow wicket at the Oval. It spun a little bit towards the end. It was not very flat, but turned a little bit. Our spinners took a lot of wickets.”

The veteran all-rounder also praised Dimuth Karunaratne for his sterling efforts at the top of the order. The gutsy opener amassed 356 runs in the series. “I have been with him since school. I know him in and out and he is a strong character. He doesn’t easily give up. The way he has batted in the last year or so has been brilliant.

“He was outstanding in UAE when he got those huge runs in both games. Once again he showed that on difficult wickets he can score runs. If you all recall, on a difficult wicket against India he scored a hundred as well here. He has been fantastic over the last 18 months. He added a lot of stability into our lineup,” he signed off.

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