“If there is someone that’s not comfortable against the short ball, he is definitely going to get the short ball. If there is someone that’s comfortable with it, he is not going to get it too much.”
Sounds pretty much like an approach any team would take against other. But it’s a talking point because of the way South Africa have approached series like this before. Meaning series against Asian sides.
It all started after South Africa’s tour to India in 2015 when they were out-spun on pitches that favoured the home side heavily – so much so that the Nagpur surface was rated poor – and decided to exact revenge in future. Sri Lanka’s tour in the 2016-17 summer saw the unleashing of green mambas at venues all around the country, which drew criticism from chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya. South Africa tried something similar, against India in 2017-18, and it backfired at the Wanderers where South Africa lost and the surface was deemed dangerous, against Pakistan in the 2018-19 season, where South Africa won 3-nil, and against Sri Lanka that same summer.
After South Africa lost in Durban, the teams were greeted by a green pitch at St George’s Park but Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha and Suranga Lakmal outplayed the hosts at their own game and Sri Lanka became the first Asian team to win a series in the country.
Since then, South Africa have not won a series, losing to India away and England at home, and have only won one Test. Crucially, their batsmen have been unable to put decent numbers on the board, both as a result of conditions being difficult and because their confidence has dwindled. That means that although South Africa want to make use of home conditions to turn their results around, conditions can’t be too extreme and the quicks know it.
“There’s going to be a little bit more bounce and a little bit more pace so if we can use it, we’re definitely going to use it to our advantage but we don’t want to get carried away,” Nortje said. “You don’t want to go into a game thinking you are going to bomb guys out and it’s not going to happen. Everyone is playing international cricket for a reason. If we can hit our straps, we are going to ask a lot of questions.”
“It’s the first time in my career I haven’t played a red-ball match in so long. Red-ball has always been the format I have been selected in the most. You get used to things very quickly again,” Nortje said. “It’s not like T20 cricket where you have to think quickly about what the batsman is going to do, it’s about being consistent. It’s a little bit different. It’s more about the rhythm and how the body is feeling and the control you have on the day.”
Nortje is not the only fast bowler who South Africa will look to for discipline. They are likely to hand a debut to Glenton Stuurman – if fit, as he also had a small injury concern on Christmas Eve – who is from the same franchise as Nortje, the Warriors, and who will offer the subtle skill of seam movement.
South Africa know they can’t underestimate Sri Lanka, who have arsenal of their own and bragging rights from their last meeting, especially because South Africa’s own pack is depleted. Kagiso Rabada will not feature in the series after sustaining a groin injury in the T20s against England leaving Lungi Ngidi and Nortje – who have all of 11 Test caps between them – to lead the attack. Ngidi has been nursing a niggle, which could place even more responsibility on Nortje, who is likely to take the new ball. Although he hasn’t played a long-format match since January, Nortje is ready to get going.
“He is a very good bowler. He has got a lot of control and skill. From what I have seen of him in the nets, he has got a lot of talent so he can trouble a lot of guys, especially at Centurion,” Nortje said of Stuurman. “He has got so much control. He’s sort of a Vern (Vernon Philander) but I don’t want to label that on him. That’s the role he can play and we will have to see what the rest is.”
The “rest” could include Migael Pretorius or Lutho Sipamla. They’re both newcomers, which could mean South Africa have three new quicks in the series but Nortje isn’t worried about whether they will be able to pull their weight. “We are inexperienced but we’ve played so much red-ball cricket domestically that we do have a lot of leaders within the group,” he said. “We have sort out tuned our game quite a bit and it’s just about putting in the performances now as a unit.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
Recent Match Report – Sri Lanka vs England 2nd Test 2020/21
TeaSri Lanka 381 (Mathews 110, Dickwella 92, Dilruwan 67, Chandimal 52, Anderson 6-40) vs England
An ageless James Anderson bagged six wickets while delivering England the breakthroughs they needed against Sri Lanka on the second day of the second Test. The home side fought their way into a strong position, however, through impressive innings from Niroshan Dickwella and Dilruwan Perera.
By shortly after lunch, Anderson, the 38-year-old seamer playing his 157th Test, had doubled his tally from the first day, adding three more wickets to help end Sri Lanka’s innings on 381 and finish with figures of 6 for 40 off 29 overs.
They were important wickets, too, as he removed centurion Angelo Mathews with his sixth ball on day two and denied Dickwella an elusive Test century. Dickwella gifted Anderson his five-for, chipping to Jack Leach at mid-off for 92, his highest score in 41 Test appearances. Anderson then drew Suranga Lakmal into a poke outside off-stump and Zak Crawley took a sharp catch at gully.
It was Anderson’s second straight five-wicket haul in Tests away from home, following his 5 for 40 in Cape Town a year ago, and the 30th of his career – only Richard Hadlee has more among pace bowlers with 36.
Still, Sri Lanka’s performance represented further improvement with multiple contributors and a stubborn tail. Dilruwan made an impressive fifty from No. 8, taking to Leach in particular, dancing down the pitch three times to plunder fours through mid-on and mid-off and a six down the ground. He helped add 89 in partnership with Dickwella and then another 49 for the last two wickets to frustrate England.
Anderson picked up where he left off the night before but, where Mathews could not, Dickwella stepped up to keep Sri Lanka in an engaging tussle through the morning session.
Mathews added just three runs to his overnight score before a subdued England appealed for what appeared to be lbw, with the ball appearing to pass the inside edge and deflecting via the knee roll to Jos Buttler behind the stumps. Mathews was originally given not out but Joe Root called for a review and UltraEdge revealed a spike as the ball passed the bat to end Mathews’ fine innings and give Anderson his fourth wicket for the match.
Anderson continued in miserly fashion, conceding just five runs from his four-over spell.
Dickwella, meanwhile, shifted gears into drive, quite literally at times, as he assumed the lead upon debutant Ramesh Mendis’ arrival at the crease. Dickwella unfurled a series of well-timed boundaries, carving Sam Curran through backward point and punching Mark Wood through long-on.
A fantastic take by Buttler had Mendis out for a duck, a faint edge off Wood going down the leg side and finding Buttler’s glove at full stretch to his left.
Sri Lanka had lost two wickets for 11 runs in the space of 19 balls but Dickwella remained in excellent touch, piercing the covers with two beautiful drives, first off Wood then Anderson. He used Wood’s pace to guide the ball effortlessly to the rope at fine leg before bringing up his fifty with a single off Dom Bess, whom he then swept twice to the boundary.
Leach joined Bess in the attack as England opted for dual spinners after the first hour, to Perera’s delight. Bess was also on the receiving end of some harsh Perera treatment after lunch, spilling a return catch struck so hard it caused considerable pain to Bess’s non-bowling hand.
The spinners went wicketless as Wood’s hard graft was further rewarded with the wicket of Lasith Embuldeniya and Curran finally accounted for last man out Perera, who holed out to Leach at deep backward square leg.
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo
Olympic Football Tournaments 2020 – Men – News – Ripoll: France’s youngsters are gifted, dependable and committed
Men’s Olympic Football Tournament
Men’s Olympic Football Tournament kicks off in exactly six months
We talk to Sylvain Ripoll, coach of France’s Espoirs (U-21) team
“I’m part of a generation that dreamed of going to the Olympics”
This Friday 22 January marks six months to the day before the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament kicks off in Tokyo. The tournament will see France back on the Olympic stage 25 years after reaching the quarter-finals at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
So what has caused such a prolonged absence from the Olympics? “I can’t give you an exact answer, since I wasn’t there,” says Sylvain Ripoll, coach of the France Espoirs (U-21) team since 2017. “Qualification for such a prestigious competition is always on a national federation’s wish-list, but for some reason we’ve been unsuccessful in recent times. In any case, we’re delighted to be back with the French team in a major tournament like the Olympics,” said the 49-year-old strategist.
“I’m part of a generation that dreamed of the Olympics – just talking about it always makes our eyes light up,” says the man who was not yet 13 when Les Bleus won gold at Los Angeles 1984. “And I think it’s the same with my players,” he adds. “It generates so many memories and great moments that just being part of it is bound to be an honour.”
For now, though, it is still too early to be focusing on Tokyo, with tournaments looming before then both for the U-21s and senior team. “We have the EURO (11 June-11 July) taking place shortly before the Olympic Tournament (22 July-7 August), so one event will influence the other. Before that, there’s the European U-21 Championship, which we’ve qualified for, starting in March in Hungary and ending in June. So, the best thing we can do is to deal with those in the order they come.”
There is no point then in Ripoll looking too far ahead or contemplating which three players over the age of 23 he might include in his squad for Japan, as permitted under the rules of men’s tournament. “Logically, the priority will always be the France senior team,” says the Rennes native, who was nevertheless amenable to remarks last year by Kylian Mbappe, who expressed his desire to take part in the Tokyo Olympics. “We can only rejoice that we have a player in France of the calibre of Mbappe who thinks this way.”
An insatiable talent scout, Ripoll carefully monitors a good 60 players, including 20 who play abroad. He works closely with France’s World Cup-winning coach Didier Deschamps, who is always looking for new blood to energise his squad. “Didier and I talk a lot about the Espoirs’ potential to establish themselves into the senior team. You need to be performing regularly at the highest level for some time to break into the senior side, whereas with the Espoirs, that process can happen much more quickly,” he explains.
“Didier and his staff keep a very close eye on the Espoirs and watch a lot of their matches. We talk a lot about the players’ mentality, commitment and potential,” adds Ripoll, who takes immense pride in seeing one of his young players called up. He also regularly talks with the selectors of the younger age-category teams to try to progress the most promising talents through the ranks.
If we add to the mix the exemption that allows the inclusion of the 1997 generation that was eligible for the postponed Olympics last summer, then there will be a particularly large group to choose from when deciding on the final squad for Tokyo.
For all that, Ripoll already has grounds to be satisfied with his current crop. “This is the second generation I’ve been in charge of since I arrived four years ago. Apart from being gifted, which has been the case for many years in France, given our enormous reservoir of talent, I find them to be very dependable and committed. For now, I feel my players are very focused on their goals, and I hope that remains the case,” says the coach, whose aim is not to assemble only a squad of big names for Tokyo.
“There are a lot of criteria that come into play when you put together a squad for a tournament like this. There are performances, of course, but the priority is to have the best possible squad, which doesn’t always mean you only take the best players. We have to assess how squad members complement each other and perform together.”