Colombo: South African skipper Hashim Amla on Wednesday backed struggling leg-spinner Imran Tahir to come good, saying he had the qualities to be a match-winning bowler.
The 35-year-old Pakistan-born spinner took just one wicket off 45 overs in the first Test at Galle, raising doubts about his role as an attacking spinner in a side which has traditionally struggled to produce quality slow bowlers.
While his one-day record is commendable, Tahir has failed to translate that success into Test cricket, having taken 37 wickets in 14 Tests at an average of 45.67.
"Imran is a quality performer. I am not concerned about him at all. He has been exceptional in the shorter format of the game," said Amla ahead of the second Test against Sri Lanka starting in Colombo on Thursday.
"Test cricket is a challenging place. He will come good, it will take a few good performances to get his confidence back.
"He is a wonderful bowler. I`d say he is one the most highly skilled leg-spinners in the world."
Such high praise from the captain is likely to boost Tahir`s morale as he gears up for the second Test. A victory would hand South Africa their first series win on the island in 21 years.
The Proteas won the first Test in Galle by 153 runs to go 1-0 up in the two-match rubber, giving Amla a win in his first Test as captain.Amla said the side was not thinking too much about their winless record in series on the island.
"What is more on our minds is to play good cricket for the next five days," he said.
"Fortunately we`ve got the backing of a one-nil victory behind us. But the bigger picture is to play some solid cricket in (this) match. We come here with a clean slate, we have to forget what happened in the last Test."
For Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews, the Galle Test is harder to forget. The famed Sri Lankan batting line-up unravelled against some top-notch fast bowling from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
"We were on that flat wicket (in Galle) and their seamers were the ones who really troubled us. They bowled pretty well," said Mathews, stressing that his team would have to raise their game to win against the world number two side.
"We`ve got to sharpen our game in every aspect, everything has to improve to be able to compete against them. We`ve got to be on top of our game."
With the wicket at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground once again expected to be a flat batting track, Mathews is hoping his batsmen will put a winning total on the board this time.
"The wicket here does a bit in the morning session and then it turns out to be a batting paradise. Our batters need to score runs to give the bowlers a chance."