With Sri Lanka taking on South Africa in the second and final Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo on Thursday, both sides may now be pondering possible changes to their respective lineups in the aftermath of last week’s opening match, which the tourists comprehensively won by 153 runs to go 1-0 up in the series…
Hashim Amla may have become only the second captain after predecessor Graeme Smith since 1992 to have won his first Test in charge of the Proteas in Galle last week, however, that does not mean that the tourists will go in with the same XI at the SSC on Thursday, though.
And if there were question marks currently hanging over any South African player following the first Test, then it would be leg-spinner Imran Tahir whose place would be under most threat heading to Colombo.
As on a pitch that saw 15 wickets fall to spin during the five days, only one of those was claimed by the Punjabi, with Tahir finishing with disappointing match figures of one for 139 from his 45 overs, while part-timer John-Paul Duminy out-bowled the senior tweaker by picking up three for 85 off 25 overs.
The problem for the South Africa selectors, however, is that the only suitable replacement in their current 15-man squad for Tahir would be uncapped off-spinner Dane Piedt.
Either way, though, there is no doubt that Amla should make far more use of Duminy’s vastly underrated off-spin in Colombo this week.
One change that Sri Lanka definitely have to make for the decisive second Test with South Africa in Colombo is to find a suitable replacement for Shaminda Eranga after their impressive fast bowler suffered a hand injury while fielding on Day 1 in Galle.
The home team are likely to go with either Dhammika Prasad or Chanaka Welegedara to take over from Eranga, who has taken more Test wickets for his country this year than any other player.
It is likely to be the former after his five-wicket haul in the second innings helped beat England at Headingley in June.
However, the Sri Lanka selectors could still opt to call up another bowler from outside their current 15-man squad, although with the SSC being Prasad’s home ground, the 31-year-old remains the overwhelming favourite to get the nod to open the bowling this week alongside Suranga Lakmal, especially given that left-armer Welegedara has not played a Test since December 2012.
One change that did immediately catch the eye now that Hashim Amla has taken over from Graeme Smith as South Africa captain is what number the newly appointed skipper bats at.
Amla has, of course, made his name as a rock-solid No. 3—one of the most important batting positions in the lineup—and yet in last week’s first Test at Galle, it was Faf du Plessis who walked out at the fall of the tourists’ first wicket.
Meanwhile, Amla himself took on the responsibility of trying to fill the huge void created by the retirement of the Proteas’ other batting rock, Jacques Kallis, although the 31-year-old endured what was for him a relatively quiet game with the bat after compiling just 11 and 22 in his two knocks.
And while the prevailing thinking has always been never to change a winning team, I wonder if the South African think tank are possibly considering a rejig to their batting once again to how it was in their last series with Australia?
As then the captain can be returned to his favoured position and the one where he has previously made all his runs for the Proteas?
Given Sri Lanka have to win the second Test at the SSC in order to draw their two-match series with South Africa, then perhaps the national selectors should consider the radical option of veteran Kumar Sangakkara taking over the gloves from Dinesh Chandimal?
Chandimal only took on the wicketkeeping duties after first-choice stumper Prasanna Jayawardene sustained a finger injury in the first Test against England at Lord’s in June, with the 24-year-old coming in for the next game in Leeds.
But with Angelo Mathews and Co. now in urgent need of a series-levelling win in Colombo, then desperate times call for desperate measures, and Sangakkara returning to his former role—albeit on just this one occasion—would then allow the home side to bring in either an extra batsman or bowler at the expense of Chandimal.
As, let’s face it, it is not as if the current wicketkeeper has made himself undroppable by scoring a mountain of runs in his last two Test appearances, in fact, quite the opposite.
South Africa may have ended up winning the first Test in Galle by a whopping 153 runs, however, that should still not disguise the fact that their normally prolific opening bowler Vernon Philander went wicketless through 26 overs in the match.
In stark contrast, however, lanky paceman Morne Morkel—who was brought on as first change in both of Sri Lanka’s innings—ended the Test match with stunning figures of seven for 78 off 32.2 overs.
And so maybe Proteas captain Hashim Amla should ponder opening the bowling with Morkel in Colombo in order for the 29-year-old to make best use of the new ball when it is at its hardest and bounciest?
As if Morkel was able to cause so many problems with the old ball last week, then just imagine how dangerous he would be armed with the new cherry at the SSC, while Philander has both the accuracy and patience to also do a more than excellent containing job as first-change bowler?