Tom Sizeland discusses five talking points ahead of the five-match ODI series.
In this format, you don’t get a closer head-to-head record in international cricket. In the 60 ODIs they’ve played they have 29 wins apiece, with one no result and one tie. Sri Lanka have had the upper hand in recent years, winning seven of the last 11 matches. But their last meeting was an emphatic victory for the Proteas in the World Cup quarter final, while the South Africans won their first ever series in Sri Lanka in July 2014. Saturday will mark their first meeting in Port Elizabeth for 16 years, which South Africa won. The Proteas are on a run of six ODI victories in a row, while the tourists are fresh from a Tri-Nation series win against Zimbabwe and West Indies.
THE BIG NAMES RETURN
After a bit of mixing and matching in the T20 series that saw no less than six players make their international debuts, a whole host of familiar names make their return to the setup. While the likes of Imran Tahir, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Farhaan Behardien and Wayne Parnell featured in the T20 series, the top five will have a completely different look to it, with Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock returning to the top of the order, and Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy forming the middle order. The No 6 spot is likely to go to David Miller after his explosive performances in the ODI series against Australia in October. The two all-rounder spots are expected to be filled by Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo, with Tahir joining seamers Parnell and Kagiso Rabada in the tail. Behardien, Dwaine Pretorius and Tabraiz Shamsi will undoubtedly feature at some point in the five-match contest.
Has there been a more frustrating injury for the public to endure? After Lungi Ngidi’s startling impact on the international scene with six wickets in his first two T20s for the Proteas, an awkward fall at cover point (why was he fielding there?!) in the third match at Newlands has seen him strain a stomach muscle which will leave him out of action for three-four weeks. His selection for the ODI squad was met with great optimism, not just because of his rapid rise and huge potential, but also because there’s a vacancy for a paceman in that lineup. He surely would have made his debut in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, but we will have to be patient and hope that he’s fit in time for the New Zealand series.
It will be strange for Faf, it will be welcome relief for Behardien, and it will be interesting for AB. The Proteas have been on the up in a major way since Du Plessis took the reins, but the status quo returns with the return of AB, who finds himself wedged in between Faf’s leadership in the longest and shortest formats. AB last skippered the side in their disappointing Tri-Nations tournament in West Indies. It will be interesting to see how the AB-Faf thinktank go about their work, after Faf did such a sound job in AB’s absence. What is of no doubt is AB’s value to the side coming in at No 4. Let’s not forget how impressive his stats are, boasting an average of 53.63 from 206 matches at a strike rate of 99.87. He’s spent the best part of seven years drifting in and out of the No 1 ODI batting spot in the world, but as of Friday morning, David Warner has taken his place. He’ll be hungry to get back on the field and get that honour back.
Many of the public have put the Proteas’ series defeat down to an experienced side, but the Sri Lankans have been stripped of all of their big-name players in quick succession recently, not to mention the fact that their skipper Lasith Malinga was missing through injury, and then stand-in captain Angelo Mathews pulled up too. It doesn’t get any easier for them in the 50-over format. They have three uncapped players in their lineup, and only five players in the squad have played more than 15 matches. Upul Tharanga, who was dropped last year, comes back into the side as captain, while Dinesh Chadimal and Nuwan Kulsekara have huge roles to play if they want to get anything out of this series.
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