Ed Hawkins is on hand for game two in Port Elizabeth on Thursday after an extraordinary defeat for the hosts
"On a wearing fourth-innings pitch, against a terrifying pace attack and batting for a Sri Lanka team desperately low on confidence it was Boy’s Own stuff"
South Africa v Sri Lanka
Thursday 21 February, 08:00
TV: live on Sky Sports
South Africa imbalanced
Whoopsie South Africa. Far be it from us to call the Saffers chokers. That is a long way from the correct term for a [1.01] shot that gets beat. The hosts are still smarting and head-scratching from their extraordinary failure to defend 304 in the fourth at Durban. Remember they had Sri Lanka in their pocket at 110 for five and 226 for nine.
Of course, they did not expect to be on the receiving end of an epic innings from Kusal Perera. But it would be wrong for them to write the loss off as a Black Swan event. There are problems for South Africa.
For a start, their balance. They insist on playing four out-and-out pacers in Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Duanne Olivier and Kagiso Rabada. That means Philander, admirable as he is, bats at No 7 and spinner Keshav Maharaj at 8. A spot too high for both. It is too much to ask Philander to play as an all-rounder.
As for Maharaj, he is under pressure. He would have been expected to bowl Sri Lanka out and although he took three wickets there will be criticism. South Africa could turn to leggie Zubayr Hamza. Another switch could see all-rounder Wiann Mulder come in for one of Steyn, Rabada or Olivier to sort out that long tail.
It is not an exaggeration to call Kusal's unbeaten 153 one of the great Test knocks. On a wearing fourth-innings pitch, against a terrifying pace attack and batting for a Sri Lanka team desperately low on confidence it was Boy's Own stuff.
Sri Lanka, then, could be forgiven for raising themselves for this one. Nothing will probably ever come close to that euphoria of the Kingsmead comeback for as long as any of them play the game.
With Kusal writing taking the headlines there were other performances to be proud of. Vishwa Fernando, the left-arm quick, made a game of it from the first dig when he rattled four South Africa back to the hutch. This was his breakthrough Test with four more in the second.
That effort and the chaos caused by spinner Lasith Embuldeniya, who claimed five wickets, ensured Sri Lanka were not quite out of it. A twirler doing well against the South Africa is always reassuring. The status quo remains intact.
Bat first the smart call
There have been six Tests played at PE in the last ten years. And five in the last five. Three of those five have been won by the side batting first. Last March, Australia lost after posting just 243 first up (the average was 359). The difference was Kagsio Rabada, who took 11 wickets in the match and a century from AB De Villiers. South Africa chased 101 without a worry, losing four wickets.
No brainer bet
The temptation for this one is to reckon that Sri Lanka are a busted flush. They have had their moment and now the formguide, which has South Africa rated No 2 in the world and Sri Lanka No 6, will reassure us all.
But then you look at the odds. South Africa are [1.20] with Sri Lanka [11.0] and the draw [11.5]. And these remind punters that we absolutely must treat each game on its merits and, calmly, collectively, try to understand where the value lies.
It is hard not to reckon that Sri Lanka are not value then. Yes, of course we know that South Africa haven't lost consecutive home Tests to an Asian team since, well, never. But if Lanka bat first here and are able to extract spin on a wearing wicket, an uncon-vincing home batting line-up could have a wobble.
Sure it's gamble. But there's absolutely no point in getting involved in South Africa at awful odds.
De Kock could go well
Quinton de Kock's 80 in the first innings and Faf Du Plessis's 90 in the second look like failed rescue acts in the aftermath of the stunning turnaround. They also show how Sri Lanka hurried and hassled the top order. It might pay to 'go low' again. De Kock is 6s with Betfair Sportsbook for top South Africa runscorer. Du Plessis is the 7/2 favourite.
What price Kusal?
There's only one price folks are interested in for top Sri Lanka bat. What price Kusal? Well, not surprisingly he's the 10/3 jolly (Betfair Sportsbook). His first-innings century, which meant he copped in Durban, was rather forgotten about. He is 12s for another man of the match award.
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l
Back Sri Lanka batting first at [10.0] or better (0.5pts)