We preview the second and final Test of Hashim Amla’s first series at the helm, starting in Colombo on Thursday morning.
The Proteas picked up the unwanted habit of starting series slowly in recent times, but they bucked the trend in Amla’s first Test in charge and take a 1-0 lead into the final fixture of the tour at the SSC, Colombo. The challenge now is to not let their level of performance slip and complete their mission of achieving a Test series victory in Sri Lanka.
If they do manage to seal victory, it will go a long way to exorcising the demons of 2006. South Africa lost both Tests in that visit to Sri Lanka, which was the last time the team lost a series away from home. Apart from losing, the visitors were ground into submission at this very venue by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who pulled off a world record partnership of 624 and set up the humiliating innings and 153-run defeat.
The key to avoiding defeat and letting a rare series win in Sri Lanka slip through their fingers, will be big first innings runs. The SSC is notorious for resembling a national highway for the first half of a Test before disintegrating into a raging turner on the final two days. If The Proteas top order can take advantage of favourable batting conditions in their first dig and post a big score, it will go a long way to making sure that they aren’t under pressure on the last day.
Apart from the obvious need for runs, the South Africans will be desperate to maintain the intensity shown in Galle when they have the ball in hand. Nobody will want to relive the nightmare of the corresponding fixture in 2006 and the best way to avoid a similar fate is to take wickets at regular intervals.
In team news, South Africa are expected to stick with the winning combination. Quinton de Kock will retain the gloves, meaning AB de Villiers plays as a specialist batsman. The only possible change could see the off-spinner Dane Piedt earn his debut cap. If selected, he could take the place of either Imran Tahir or Vernon Philander, both of whom struggled in the first Test, taking one and zero wickets respectively.
Sri Lanka have axed Dinesh Chandimal and called up the A side wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella. Opening bowler Shaminda Eranga is out of the second Test after suffering a hand injury in Galle. The seam bowlers in contention to take his place are Dhammika Prasad and left-armer Chanaka Welegedera.
The hosts are a wounded beast and will be eager to restore some pride by ending the series on a winning note. In Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Rangana Herath, they certainly posses the firepower to turn the tables on South Africa.
Apart from being the ICC’s top ranked Test batsman on the planet, AB de Villiers is one of the survivors from that humiliating defeat in 2006. He will have extra motivation going in to this match to give Sri Lanka a little of their own medicine. It will definitely feel like redemption if he can contribute to a win and send the Proteas back to the summit of the Test rankings at the venue of past heartache.
For Sri Lanka, they have lost some great players in recent years, but captain Angelo Mathews has shown that he is capable of stepping into their shoes. He led the team to a memorable series victory in England and has topped their batting averages over the last year. The South African attack won’t be able to breathe easily until they have dismissed this destructive player.
The SSC is know as a batsman’s dream for at least three days, with this in mind we’re going for the draw.
The Test begins on Thursday 24 July, at 6:30am SA time.
Preview compiled by Gareth Stevens.
Photo: Gavin Barker/Backpagepix