Sinhalese lessons

Ashwell Prince has quite a job on his hands. Whereas Graeme Smith had the ‘pleasure’ of a tour to Bangladesh with which to start his captaincy term, Prince – like Shaun Pollock – has a tough tour to Sri Lanka and he will be without the services of three men who have over 250 Test caps between them, Smith, Jacques Kallis and Pollock.

Prince is certainly taking it seriously and has been actively seeking out the advice of friends and colleagues as he prepares for the tour. Two Tests matches and then a one-day series. All very similar to the last tour of the ‘Golden Island.’

That tour went dreadfully wrong after the first Test in Galle which Kallis and Smith did heroically well to save on the final day – albeit against a half-fit Murali who immediately underwent shoulder surgery and missed the second Test which was won by the fast bowlers, Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga.

Just as in August 2004, the South African team will have just a single warm-up match to prepare. Just as in 2004 they are playing just two Test matches. And just as in 2004, they will start as underdogs.

By way of offering only the slightest assistance to Prince as he prepares, I offer a transcript of an interview with Smith following the crushing defeat in the second Test in Colombo, where Prince’s team will play both their Tests. If there is anything he can learn, I hope it helps.

At the very least, having gone on to lose all five of their one-day games following the Test series defeat, he can remind himself that he cannot do any worse than Smith’s team did two years ago!

August 2004:

Q – Presumably there are a few lessons to be learned from this defeat:

A – “Definitely. I said before we arrived here that we were going to have to be on top of our games for all ten days of the Test series and we didn’t play well enough here and we were on the back foot for all five days.

There was only one session in which we competed with the ball, for the rest of the time we were behind the eight-ball and playing catch-up. So there are some huge lessons to be learned and certainly, as far as I am concerned, the players need to take a long, hard look at themselves.”

Q – Where did it all go wrong in Colombo?

A – “We had a bad day on day one. Sri Lanka batted very well when Kumar (Sangakkara) came out and was really positive, forcing us onto the back foot. The way the pitch played out doesn’t suggest it was a 470 surface. But to bat like we did in our first innings really put us under pressure. We put a long of emphasis on our first innings during planning for the tour so to perform like that and concede a deficit as big as that made things very, very difficult.

Q – Strangely, it was the seamers that bowled you out cheaply, not the spinners. Did that surprise you?

A – “No. I said before the start that we’d have to be careful with Vaas and Malinga. But we have the ability to bat all day – we showed that in Galle. But all credit to Chaminda, he’s shown up a few of our fast bowlers and shown them how to do the job on these wickets. He never complains and he just comes in and gets the job done and does what he needs to do to get the wickets. It was certainly an eye opener for some of our guys.”

Q – What do you think of two-Test series? It’s all over a bit suddenly.

A – “A two-match Test series was always going to be tough for us coming out of a long winter to Sri Lanka but I thought we did really well in the first game, but we really let ourselves down here in a lot of departments.”

Q – Would you at least have preferred a second warm-up match?

A – “People may talk about the preparation, the coach, the manager. whatever, but it’s the players who need to have a long, hard look at themselves and our performances. The players on the field just haven’t performed well enough in the last couple of games, including the end of the last season. All of us need to have a hard and strong look at ourselves because we are not doing a good enough job at the moment. We were not hungry enough and did not want to win as much as they wanted to win and we let ourselves down.”

Q – You may have played poorly, but are the players actually good enough?

A – “We have definitely got the skills but they didn’t beat us just in the cricketing department. They beat us with the commitment and passion, and that’s an area we definitely have to look at. But we have guys who are at the top level of the game, their records show you that, so there is something else missing.”

Q – What are you going to have to do about it?

A – “I would like to have some time to think about it before we start preparing for our one-day games as I’m still pretty emotional about what has gone on. We need to match our skills with the belief that we can do well here in the subcontinent.”

Q – Is making changes an option? Different personnel?

A – “There aren’t really a lot of guys back home pushing for places in the bowling department. It is easy to sit here and complain and talk about replacements but there is no point if the replacement comes and does the same stuff. This was pretty much the best team we had before the tour. Either we have got to be a bit more patient with our bowlers or perhaps a bit harder on them, demanding and challenging a bit more.”

Q – What about the local conditions? Did that play a part?
A – “We also need to embrace the culture and country. It is very different from what we experience at home but as a team, it is important that we embrace the places we travel to.”

Q – All a bit gloomy, isn’t it?

A – “I do believe that we can regroup and bounce back in this one-day series.”

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