DAMBULLA: The Test series was conceded without much of a fight, but South Africa head into the five-match one-day internationals – the opener will be played on Sunday, 29 July – hoping the change in formats will change their fortunes.
In particular, they will want a better show against spin. In the 2-0 reversal in the Tests, South Africa were completely flummoxed by all of Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Lakshan Sandkan and Akil Dananjaya over the course of the two matches.
However, the ODI side has plenty of fresh faces, unscarred by the Test series loss, and JP Duminy said they were “coming in with fresh energy, that will definitely add to the environment.”
In fact, South Africa are hoping to do more than just cope. With the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 looming closer by the day, the visitors are aiming to make the most of the spin-friendly conditions in the sub-continent, what with wrist-spinners being all the rage now and most teams at the big event next year sure to use them.
“It’s huge value for us to be here – we’re not in the subcontinent again for a while,” said Dale Benkenstein, the South Africa batting coach. “Even though we’ve had a poor Test series, there’s been a lot of work done on spin for a lot of batters. There’s been a lot of learning going on. We’re seeing this as a great opportunity to just get better.
“Not only the guys who are playing, but some of the young guys who are with us now. We tell them to use these conditions. Use the nets. Ask people around you. Try and get as much out of it as you can, other than just in the matches that are going on.”
South Africa lost their last ODI series 5-1, against India at home in February, with Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav taking 33 wickets between them. If the last few months are any indication, spin remains an area of concern for their batsmen, and as Benkenstein said, they have to make the most of their trip to the sub-continent.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have no such concerns. In January, they won the ODI tri-series in Bangladesh quite easily, seeing off the hosts and Zimbabwe en route.
They will be confident of carrying on that form. Angelo Mathews, their designated ODI captain, will take the reins again, even as Dinesh Chandimal, who stood in for him while Mathews was injured, serves a four-match ODI ban.
It is clear the hosts will continue playing to their strengths, with Dananjaya and Sandakan joined by the uncapped Prabath Jayasuriya, a highly touted left-arm spinner.
That said, in a format less grilling than Tests, South Africa will be confident of faring better.
Angelo Mathews (Sri Lanka): It seems the 31-year-old is always struggling with injuries. Sri Lanka reinstated him as ODI captain in January, and he was subsequently sidelined within two weeks. He’s finally back now, though, and will lead the side again in the five-match series.
Earlier this week, Kumar Sangakkara pointedly said the all-rounder’s bowling would be key to Sri Lanka’s World Cup hopes. Whether Mathews resumes bowling remains to be seen, but he will be hoping to mark his return to captaincy with a win in any case.
Hashim Amla (South Africa): The veteran has had a poor year in Test cricket – he’s managed a combined 439 runs in nine matches this year. With AB de Villiers now retired, there was increased onus on Amla to guide his side’s young batsmen against Sri Lanka’s vicious spinners in the Tests. His failure didn’t help matters. Amla, and South Africa, will be hoping the change in format helps him rediscover his dazzling best.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Dasun Shanaka, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Upul Tharanga, Kusal Mendis, Thisara Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Akila Dananjaya, Prabath Jayasuriya, Lakshan Sandakan, Shehan Jayasuriya
South Africa: Faf du Plessis(c), Hashim Amla, Junior Dala, Quinton de Kock, Jean-Paul Duminy, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Willem Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi