Five points of discussion ahead of the three-match T20 series starting in Centurion on Friday.
New caps up for grabs
There are six uncapped players hoping to make their debut on Friday, and each player will see this is an excellent opportunity for further honours. In JJ Smuts, the Proteas potentially have a long-term option at the top of the order in this format, while Theunis de Bruyn is finally set for his first game in national colours, after several years of impressing through the SA ranks. Mangaliso Mosehle is out to establish himself as his country’s second-choice wicketkeeper. The 20-year-old pair of Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi have years ahead of them but the others, including Dane Paterson and Heino Kuhn, might not get these opportunities too readily, so they will all be looking to impress from the get-go.
Seniors stepping up
On the other hand, the rest of the team will be out to show that they can turn their experience into leadership in the absence of a flurry of the regular campaigners. Farhaan Behardien is the captain, but David Miller has more caps than anyone else in the squad by some distance. It’s a great chance for Miller to lead the way with the willow and perhaps prove a point, after being stripped of the Kings XI Punjab captaincy last season for his and his side’s poor run of form. Imran Tahir will lead the line with the ball and has experience around him in Aaron Phangiso and Wayne Parnell, but a lot will be asked of Tahir, with plenty of new caps coming in.
Farhaan Behardien had an outstanding T20 Challenge with the Titans and proved to be the ultimate finisher, scoring 352 runs at a remarkable average of 117.13 and an even more impressive strike rate of 188.23. He was subsequently rewarded with the captaincy, despite Albie Morkel having that honour for the champions from Centurion. With Miller providing the only other genuine option to lead the side, it’s an opportunity for Behardien to show that he has the mental toughness to find some form for the national side on top of leading it. His stats leave much to be desired in this format with a high score of 36 and an average of 23.20, but he will feel like he still has a lot to offer in the green and gold, and there’s no better time than to do it in his first series as captain of the national side.
The Proteas haven’t won a T20 international at Centurion since beating England in 2009, since losing to Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand. It will, however, mark the first time they’ve faced off with Sri Lanka on South African shores. It’s set to be a belter of a day with temperatures flirting with the mid-30s. No rain is expected in Cape Town next week either, but their is rain forecast for the Wanderers clash on Sunday. With that in mind, getting that first victory at Centurion for seven years will be crucial.
Sri Lanka in dire straits?
Sri Lanka have stooped as low as No 8 in the T20 rankings – just one place above Afghanistan – and it’s clear to see why. Their record in 2016 was abysmal. They won just three of their 16 matches, including a heavy defeat against the South Africans in the World T20, and their most experienced player and captain, Lasith Malinga, has failed to regain full fitness in time for the series. They will once again need to rely on the likes of Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, and hope for some wildcard performances from attacking youngsters such as Kusal Mendis and debutant Thikshila de Silva. Picking themselves up after a heavy Test series defeat, albeit against a new set of players, will also prove a challenge.
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/Backpage Pix
Farhaan Behardien (Titans, capt), Theunis de Bruyn (Knights), Reeza Hendricks (Highveld Lions), Imran Tahir (Dolphins), Heino Kuhn (Titans), David Miller (Knights), Mangaliso Mosehle (Highveld Lions), Lungi Ngidi (Titans), Wayne Parnell (Cape Cobras), Dane Paterson (Cape Cobras), Aaron Phangiso (Highveld Lions), Andile Phehlukwayo (Dolphins), Jon-Jon Smuts (Warriors).