How Sri Lanka Transformed Themselves in South Africa — Rex Clementine

ONE: Rex Clementine in Port Elizabeth, Sunday Island, 25 February 2019 = Karunaratne credits change of team culture for series win”

Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne has credited changing the dressing room environment for the success his team enjoyed in South Africa. Sri Lanka arrived in Johannesburg straight from Australia having suffered successive humiliating series defeats at the hands of New Zealand and Australia. With an inexperienced side, the tourists were able to achieve the unthinkable recording a comprehensive eight wicket win in Port Elizabeth to wrap up the series 2-0. They had won the first Test in Durban by one wicket.

“No one gave us a chance when we came to South Africa. We were under pressure. Niroshan Dickwella and I had a chat and decided that we needed to change things in the side. Everyone was in fear and in their shells. We wanted to change that. Whatever happens in terms of winning or losing, we wanted to change that frame of mind, and get the team out of that mindset. So Dikka and I spoke to the management and said: give them their freedom. Let them do what they want,” Karunaratne said.

The Head Coach and Manager backed us. When we went out to dinner there were  no rules. Even if there was a rule, they let us manage it. We’ve been out of Sri Lanka almost three months. The family is in Sri Lanka and we don’t have friends here. If you’re just going to sit around in the room, you tend to over think things.”

“Before the match, we tried to do things differently. Instead of just going to training and then going and staying in our rooms, we went out as a team. We went out to parks and water parks and had fun. We needed that belief in each other, and we needed to gel. We did that side of things well. That’s what was needed to build up. I think it will get better, because when you win like this, the faith in each other improves as well. There are a lot more tours to come. This is not the end.”

Sri Lanka had conceded a first innings lead  of 68 runs in Port Elizabeth and it looked as if they were out of the game. But a brilliant bowling performance by Suranga Lakmal brought them back into the contest as South Africa were bowled out for 128 runs in the second innings setting Sri Lanka a target of below 200.

“There were times when I thought maybe the team was on the verge of letting the game slip, but I shouted out and tried to keep everyone together. I wanted everyone to hang in the game. A lot of the time what we wanted to do was reduce the number of runs and dry them We bowled good are, closed off their big shots. As a batsman I know how the opposition thinks, so I tried to apply that. I know that when runs dry up, you can make a mistake.

Karunaratne praised the efforts of some of the younger players like Oshada Fernando and Lasith Embuldeniya.

“We backed Oshada. I thought more than Lakshan Sandakan, we would be able to get something more out of Embuldeniya, and he did well, whether batting or bowling. He didn’t show any fear. He played as if he’d already played 50 or 60 Tests. It’s really easy with a young, inexperienced team, because when you tell them to do something they do it quickly. If we have a plan, they’ll do that without a fuss.”

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TWO:  Rex Clementine Island 23 February 2019: “Sri Lanka pull off the unthinkable in South Africa: First Asian nation to win a series in South Africa

Could you believe what has just happened in  Port Elizabeth? Sri Lanka have pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of Test cricket by winning the second  Test against South Africa and thereby sealing the series 2-0. Lunch on day three was delayed to allow Sri Lanka complete an emphatic victory and of all people the little heard Oshada Fernando scored the winning runs, a single off Keshav Maharaj on the leg-side.

It was the Fernando–Kusal Mendis stand that set the game up for Sri Lanka. We all know that Mendis could bat but from where did this bloke Fernando turn up from? He hasn’t been in the ‘A’ team or Development Squad and was picked on the loads of runs he scored in domestic cricket for Chilaw Marians. He proved himself against the toughest pace attack in the world. Hats off.

Both Moratuwa boys – one from Prince of Wales and the other from St. Sebastian’s – Mendis and Fernando added 163 run for the third wicket. It was the third highest partnership for Sri Lanka for any wicket in the fourth innings as Sri Lanka completed their sixth highest run chase in the history without much sweat.

Leading into the final day with Sri Lanka needing 137 to win with seven wickets in the hand, the game was evenly poised. Perhaps South Africa were favourites. They ought to be when they have got Rabada, Steyn and Olivier – all mean fast bowlers  who clock 140kmph average.

But the two young Sri Lankans produced a classy effort. Both knocks were chanceless and you could just sit back and enjoy. When it comes to entertainment, there’s very little alternatives to watching Kusal Mendis at the crease. His batting was like Aravinda de Silva at his peak – savage against fast bowlers and merciless against the spinner. Mendis taking on Steyn reminded you of Aravinda taking on Brett Lee in the 2003 World Cup.

Olivier and Rabada started the proceedings in the morning and Steyn came as first change. That was the turning point of the game as Mendis took on the greatest fast bowler of this generation. He hammered three boundaries off Steyn’s first over to put the Proteas on the back foot.

Oshada Fernando walks off the pitch after victory on the third day of the second Test cricket match between South Africa and Sri Lanka (AFP)

The first boundary was driven nicely through extra cover. The second one was a straight drive pass Steyn and the third – an exquisite drive on the back foot. That shot told the story and soon Francois Du Plessis went onto the defensive spreading the field. Then the Sri Lankans feasted picking up singles – sensible cricket.

A couple of overs later, Mendis brought up his ninth Test fifty with a scorching straight drive off Steyn. Soon Fernando followed. He has been a good find in a long time. Technically sound and capable of playing strokes all around the wicket, you wonder whether the talent spotters in the country have been fair by him.

Fernando completed his maiden fifty clipping Maharaj through the vacant mid-wicket area for four. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Mendis hit 13 fours and  Fernando smashed ten of them. He also hit two sixes, both off Maharaj – coming down the track and lofting the bowler over his head. The second six equaled the scores bringing tears onto the eyes of Sri Lankan fans.

You never thought that you will live to see a Sri Lankan team winning a series in South Africa. Far better Sri Lankan sides have fared much worse in South Africa.

Dimuth Karunaratne’s side when they arrived in South Africa were like lambs to slaughter. There was no Mathews and no Chandimal. Herath retired and three premier fast bowlers injured and on day one of the second Test the lone spinner injured too. The tourists believed in themselves and delivered. This victory against many odds has to be greatest in their history.

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