After their T20I, ODI and Test series wins in England, Sri Lanka will be brimming with confidence ahead of the Proteas’ tour next month.
The Proteas leave for a three-ODI and two-Test tour of Sri Lanka on Sunday, but they will have to play out of their skins if they are to return with a series victory in either format.
Sri Lanka are riding high after a period of triumph that stretches back to the World Twenty20 that began in March.
They beat India in the final of the event, and have gone on to win their only T20I against England, claim a 3-2 series victory over England in the ODIs, and now a 1-0 Test series victory against the same opposition.
In terms of momentum going into a series, it doesn’t get much better than that.
In that period, the Proteas players have been plying their trade in the IPL and taking some much-needed rest. It’s not their fault – they have to have an off-season at some point – but the end result will be a tour that is unlikely to feature many highlights for the South Africans.
The issue is one of preparation. Gone are the days of lengthy tours, where teams had one or two warm-up games to prepare for a series which would usually last five tests.
In Sri Lanka, the Proteas will play one 50-over warm-up game, followed by three ODIs in the space of six days, with the first Test starting just four days after that. Before they know it, the tour will almost be over.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the Proteas have a woeful record in Sri Lanka. They were thrashed 4-1 in their last ODI series there, in 2013, and haven’t won a Test series on Sri Lankan soil since 1993 – that’s 21 years ago, when Kepler Wessels was captain, and Andrew Hudson was opening the batting.
Given those overwhelming odds, I can’t see the Proteas coming away with more than one ODI victory, and a drawn Test. They have their backs up against the wall, their ODI form has been poor of late, and the new Test side, likely to feature two new caps as well as being led by a new skipper, will take time to settle in foreign conditions.
However, all is not lost. If the ODI side can pull together some victories, they can gain some momentum of their own, and will then go into the Test series with some confidence.
Much will depend on the senior core. Stars like AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn and Amla will have to call on their experience and lead by example. If they all put in big performances, then the Proteas are in with a chance.
However, that’s a tough ask, given the conditions and the players’ relative lack of match practice, which is why I’m not feeling too good about the prospects for the Proteas over the next month. But I hope to be proven wrong.