Another Test series, another mismatch – sound familiar? Whether it is down to skill level or playing conditions, most Test series of recent times have been one-sided. Of the 16 series played this year, up to 12 of them have been dominated by one side. The fact of the matter is that most sides are extremely strong in their own backyard, resulting in fewer competitive series. Of course, this is not the case on every occasion but there has been a noticeable increase this year. Last year’s Ashes finished with a 3-2 scoreline which on first reflection looks to be a really close, compelling series. Of course it was, but each side taking turns to hammer the other is not really the same compared to the Ashes of 2005, which was a genuinely enthralling series full of ebbs and flows in every match.
Sri Lanka’s task is as great as any touring side this year in order to topple the formidable South African side. They may have stood a better chance this time last year as the Proteas had not played any Test cricket since their disaster tour of India twelve months earlier. Under the uncertain captaincy of Hashim Amla, who passed the role onto the already burdened AB De Villiers after two Tests, England achieved a rare away series win.
Now, buoyed after their recent Test victory down under, and under the more stable captaincy of Francois Du Plessis, Sri Lanka’s task is even greater. South Africa’s fast bowling attack will prove to be a baptism of fire for touring side’s inexperienced batsmen – even without Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Captain Angelo Mathews has already highlighted the importance of runs against strong opposition. “We have got a fairly decent pace attack which can put them under pressure, but we need to score runs as a batting unit. It’s going to be our main challenge; the boys have worked extremely hard in the past few weeks,” Mathews said.
Twenty wickets should be a slightly easier task for Sri Lanka and they will have fond memories of a famous first win on South African soil when they last toured five years ago. Unfortunately, though, the teams will not meet in Durban until the ODI series.
The hosts are expected to name a similar side that emerged victorious down under; especially as they have similar injury worries. JP Duminy will aim to fill the void left by the injured AB, with the rest of their batting line-up looking solid. Some think that Du Plessis should move up, especially now he is captain; but he believes it is Duminy’s time to prosper. ‘’I got a few chirps in Australia, saying I was hiding at No.5, but for me, it’s about getting the best out of JP Duminy. The way that JP is looking, he looks like the JP we know he can be. He has that responsibility and he feels like he needs to go out there and score big hundreds for the team,’’ Du Plessis said.
South Africa’s bowling attack remains formidable with Vernon Philander opening up with the underrated Kyle Abbott. The ever impressive Kagiso Rabada is the third seamer with spinner Keshav Maharaj completing the attack.
Sri Lanka are yet to fill the holes left by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. But, in Kusal Mendis, Denish Chandimal and Angelo Mathews; they have three very capable batsmen. Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal and Chameera will be a handful in bowler friendly conditions; and the experience of Rangana Herath will be helpful on any surface.
South Africa: S. Cook, D. Elgar, H. Amla, JP. Duminy, F. Du Plessis, T. Bavuma, Q. De Kock, V. Philander, K. Maharaj, K. Rabada, K. Abbott.
Sri Lanka: D. Karunaratne, K. Silva, K. Perera, K. Mendis, A. Mathews, D. Chandimal, D. De Silva, R. Herath, S. Lakmal, N. Pradeep, D. Chameera.