PORT ELIZABETH: South African captain Faf du Plessis said there was room for improvement after his team completed a comfortable 206-run win in the first Test against Sri Lanka at St George’s Park on Friday.
It took just 70 minutes and 13.3 overs for South Africa to claim the remaining five Sri Lankan wickets on the final morning and take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Fast bowler Kyle Abbott made two crucial strikes, dismissing overnight batsmen Angelo Mathews (59) and Dhananjaya de Silva (22) inside the first seven overs. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 281 after adding 41 runs on Friday.
“We’re playing some really good cricket,” said Du Plessis. “But it’s about being consistent. As a team we’re flying at about 80 percent, so we still have another 20 percent in the tank. The bowlers are doing a really good job but we can do better as a batting unit.”
Du Plessis said that although South Africa had to work hard in the second innings they had played well enough to keep Sri Lanka under pressure.
An opening stand of 104 between man of the match Stephen Cook and Dean Elgar had justified his decision to bat first on a green pitch. “We were disappointed because we could have got fifty more in the first innings. But we came out and bowled brilliantly to get an 80-run lead on a small-ish total,” he said.
After the teams had been bowled out for 286 and 205 in the first innings the pitch changed character and South Africa made 406 for six declared in the second innings. Sri Lanka put up a fighting performance to make 240 for five before the close on Thursday.
“Yesterday was a flat day,” said Du Plessis. “The wicket was good, the ball was soft and the bowlers worked really hard. Today we got the benefits.”
Sri Lankan captain Mathews said his team had contributed to their own downfall.
“The bowlers did pretty well to restrict them to 286 but it was hard work for the batters on the first two days. After that it got better but we played some terrible shots. We have to bat better from the beginning so that we don’t have to fight back all the time.”
Mathews said it would be difficult for the tourists to turn their fortunes around in the two days before the second Test starts in Cape Town on Monday but added that his players needed to be mentally strong.
“A two-day break is just a mindset. We’ve had 14 or 15 days of good training. It’s not the skill, it’s the mindset. We’ve got to be tough out there.”
Batting well would be the key if Sri Lanka were to play their way back into the series. “We’ve got to put some decent runs on the board for our bowlers to bowl at,” said Mathews.
Cook was named man of the match for his innings of 59 and 117. His place was under threat when he started badly with scores of 0, 12 and 23 in South Africa’s winning series in Australia last month, with his technique coming in for criticism. But he made 40 and 104 in the final Test in Adelaide and continued to be among the runs in Port Elizabeth.
“You know as a cricketer you’re going to go through some tough times but when times are good you’ve got to make it count,” said Cook.
Abbott broke through with the 16th ball of the final morning when Mathews went across his stumps, trying to work the ball to leg, and was leg before wicket.
It left De Silva as the last recognised batsman but he only last for another four overs before he too was leg before to Abbott.