We preview the third and deciding ODI in Hambantota, taking place on Saturday 12 July at 6:30am SA time.
On Thursday the Proteas were transported from Kandy to Hambantota in unusual fashion. Rather than taking a tour bus or hopping on a plane for the 300km journey, they were thrown into a military helicopter and whisked straight from hotel to hotel, avoiding the ‘in transit’ nonsense that can become tiresome for a professional cricketer after a few seasons on the road.
The team got into the swing of things, taking selfies and enjoying the unique trip, and then chose to spend their afternoon fishing on the great beaches that line the coast in Hambantota. It was a good opportunity for the guys to clear their heads after a disappointing loss in the second ODI.
But from Friday morning it would have been all business. The Proteas will need to bounce back from that 85-run loss, and do so quickly. While their bowlers performed well to restrict Sri Lanka in the second ODI, the batting lineup looked inept under lights. Only Hashim Amla and, to a lesser degree, AB de Villiers were comfortable, something which has been a trend in the ODI side of late.
If South Africa want to claim an historic ODI series win on Saturday, they’ll need more than those two batsmen to make a contribution. The spotlight will fall on veteran Jacques Kallis, who has contributed just one run so far this series, as well as the struggling middle order, and Quinton de Kock, whose form from the series in December against India has deserted him.
If the rest of the batsmen do decide to stand up, and the bowlers take the wickets as they have done so far this tour, the game will be there for the taking. If they don’t, it will be yet another ODI series loss for the Proteas in Sri Lanka, and all momentum will be on Sri Lanka’s side going into next week’s first Test.
I said at the beginning of this series that JP Duminy’s role in the middle order is vital, and that point was illustrated on Wednesday, when he made just 1, and the rest of the middle order collapsed. When Duminy does well, it gives the rest a chance to bat themselves in. He will need to back up the form duo of Amla and De Villiers if the Proteas are to have any hope of posting, or chasing down, a competitive total. From Sri Lanka, Sachithra Senanayake has had a quiet series, possibly due to the ongoing issues over his bowling action. However, he is still a dangerous wicket-taker, and doesn’t stay out of the action for too long. After taking just two wickets in the series so far, he’ll be keen to make an impact in the series decider on Saturday.
Sri Lanka won’t be looking to change their team after sticking with the same XI for both games so far, and seeing that consistency pay off in Pallekele. For South Africa, there are lingering concerns over the bruised thumb Dale Steyn sustained in the second ODI. If he is unfit, Wayne Parnell should slot in, as he provides batting cover too. The only other change that could happen, is Faf du Plessis might be considered in place of Jacques Kallis, but given the latter’s standing in the Proteas camp, that looks unlikely.
Three days is not long enough for South Africa to have fixed the problems in their batting line-up. Sri Lanka now have the confidence and momentum following their win on Wednesday, and should take the series 2-1.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images