The historic series win over the Proteas just a few years back still fresh in the minds of everyone and Sri Lanka started the first day of the first Test against Sri Lanka on Boxing Day with a lot of promise. The South African bowlers had the Lankan top-order on the rope, but Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjay de Silva arrested a collapse with enough intent.

But the smooth-sailing of the Sri Lankans experienced a telling blow when De Silva was seen struggling. The medical team came for help and ultimately had to retire hurt.

De Silva’s 106-ball 79 had helped Sri Lanka recover from 54 for 3, and his fluent innings had taken them to 185 with no further loss when he completed a single off debutant Lutho Sipamla.

He has been ruled out of the remainder of the South Africa tour with a grade two tear in his left thigh. De Silva had retired hurt on 79 on the opening day of the Test series against South Africa on Saturday and had to be taken off the field in a buggy. He underwent an MRI scan after the close of play, which confirmed a tear of about 20% or 30% according to team manager Ashantha de Mel.

Chandimal kept the momentum going while Niroshan Dickwella and Dasun Shanaka supported well and put up a competitive fighting total.

But the fitness issues showed up again when Kasun Rajitha crumbled after delivering just thirteen balls. With De Silva’s effective offspin already unavailable, the absence of Rajitha was another blow. The workload was heavy for the others.

“Kasun Rajitha’s injury is really going to affect us – we all know how well he bowled on the last tour here,” Shanaka said at the end of day two at Centurion. Rajitha bagged nine scalps at 23.22 on Sri Lanka’s last tour in South Africa. “Dhananjaya de Silva also comes in and bowls when they are batting well, and he dries up the runs for us. He does that job. I think we will feel their absence,” Shanaka said.

South Africa cashed in and scored in a care-free manner as if they were batting against a bunch of schoolboys.

In between the run-fest of the Proteas, Kumara walked off the field a ball into his 22nd over with a hand on his groin, although he took relatively easy strides to the dressing-room staircase. Sri Lanka’s captain, Dimuth Karunaratne, finished his over.

Six overs later, Hasaranga, who had just taken his second wicket of the match, slid to the field on the cover boundary and appeared to land on the ball. He got up and attempted to walk off the pain but found he could not stand for too long and soon sat down for relief. He was helped into the emergency buggy and driven out of the ground. Kusal Mendis had to take over bowling from Hasaranga’s end.

That left Sri Lanka with only Vishwa Fernando and Dasun Shanaka, who has only taken up as much bowling as he has in this match because of the absence of Rajitha and de Silva, and part-timers to bowl at South Africa.

The outcome was devastating – an innings defeat.

Now, the fitness issues are nothing new for Sri Lanka. There has not been any series, where a player did not break down in the crucial phase of the series.

Again, just ten days before the start of the tough tour, Sri Lanka were engaged with their own T20 League, and one cannot deny the fact, it inflicted a devastating effect on the team – neither could they prepared well nor received enough rest for the tour.

Moreover, it is well known, how fragile the Sri Lankans have been physically over the years.

After the disastrous tour in England in 2016, Angelo Mathews blamed the poor fitness of the players. In 2017, the Sri Lankan government today warned the national cricket team to get fit in three months or get booted out.

The ultimatum came after the squad was found to be unfit for the series against Zimbabwe which starts Friday.

“No one has a satisfactory level of fitness, but I have made an exception this time,” sports minister Dayasiri Jayasekera said.

Back in April 2020, Sri Lanka have been ordered onto customized home training regimes during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 Pandemic by coach Mickey Arthur following frequent accusations of poor fitness.

“I have been sending out exercises to each player,” said Arthur, adding that the strengths and weaknesses of each man were being discussed.

“We are using this time to reflect on the first three months of our tenure and recalibrate our individual and team plans going forward to the very important series that we have coming up later in the year.”

“The players all have individual fitness plans to keep them up to speed with their levels of fitness.”

“These plans are tailored to the facilities that each player has at his disposal at home to maintain the expected fitness levels.”

On June 1, 2020, Sri Lanka trained for the first time in more than two-and-a-half months to sharpen their skills and fitness ahead of a potential restart of the international game.

The efforts were definitely there, but in the end, it was the same old story.

The fitness issue requires further evaluation and this would be the first step towards improvement.

Obviously, sanity should prevail among the Sri Lankan think tank regarding such T20 Leagues which ultimately gives birth to problems.

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