Dilshan hints at Test debut for Chandimal
There are very few places in South Africa that Sri Lanka have pleasant memories of but Durban is one of them.
It was at Kingsmead where, 11 years ago, Sri Lanka managed to stave off defeat in a Test match - the only time they have done so in this country - and salvage a draw. It was also at Kingsmead where they knocked South Africa out of the 2003 World Cup, in a rain-affected encounter that saw the host crash out of the tournament in the first-round.
Sri Lanka will need more than just stories of times gone by to mount a suitable challenge for a dangerous South African side. Captain Tillakaratne Dilshan admitted as much. "We batted for a few overs to save the game, Russel [Arnold] and I. But that's few years ago and things have changed," he said. "We need to be ready to face this challenge."
This Test will be the final opportunity for Sri Lanka to win a Test this year, after series losses to England, Australia and Pakistan and their only chance to save the series. After being hit by a spate of injuries, most of them to the fast-bowlers, Sri Lanka called up Dhammika Prasad and the uncapped Kanishka Alvitigala. Prasad is likely to play on Monday, possibly replacing Thisara Perera and it's expected that he will be able to make good use of a seamer-friendly pitch.
Another change to the starting XI could come behind the stumps, as Dinesh Chandimal is tipped to make his Test debut. Kaushal Silva, who played in Sri Lanka's last three Tests without much success, may have to watch from the sidelines as Sri Lanka hope Chandimal can take his good form this year - which has included a ODI century at Lord's - into the Test arena.
"He [Chandimal] is one of the brightest prospects we have got," Dilshan said. He has scored a couple of hundreds in ODI cricket. It will be a good test and experience for him to play against such an opposition and in such conditions. Personally I feel good that we have been able to groom another young cricketer."
At 22, there has been some concern over the responsibility that will be placed on Chandimal's young shoulders, but Dilshan brushed them off, saying Chandimal's role in the middle-order will not cripple him. "It's not a case of him batting at No.3 and keeping wicket," Dilshan said. "He will be batting at No.6 or seven and that's okay."
Sri Lanka's batting was a major weakness after they were crushed by an innings in Centurion, managing scores of just 180 and 150. The batsmen were unable to contend with the pace and bounce of South African pitches and were stunned by the SuperSport Park strip. "In my entire career I have not played on a track like that," Dilshan said, indicating that conditions got the better of the batting group.
Still, with two players, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, close to 10,000 Test runs each, and a fair amount of experience in their ranks, Dilshan expects more of his top six. "Our batting unit needs to stand out and get runs. We have experience, we need to apply," he said. "We are preparing extremely hard and we need to produce results. We are not asking for big totals, but 250 or 300 could be a good total if we are playing on green tops."
Sri Lanka used the two days that they should have been playing Test cricket in Centurion, to train and took a break on reaching Durban, on Tuesday. "We gave our players rest to recharge their batteries," Dilshan said. They resumed training on Friday but were unable to have a net session because of wet weather.
"There are still two days before the Test match and if we can have one net session, it will be good," Dilshan said. History will remind Sri Lanka that eight years ago, when the heavens opened in Durban, it served them well. This time, they may not get so lucky.