Preview: Sri Lanka vs South Africa

The cancellation of this year’s Sri Lankan Premier League has kind of made the absence of Tests on this tour even more absurd than it was beforehand. South Africa were supposedly reluctant to add Tests on at such a late stage, partly due to Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn being injured – although I would question their place as the world’s premier Test side if they couldn’t beat the 7th placed side without their captain and their main strike bowler. I doubt whether Sri Lanka would be particularly keen to play the South Africans in the 5 day format as well, given their disastrous ranking and the very distinct possibility of a pomelling on home soil. So we will stick with 5 ODIs and 3 T20s in what should nevertheless be a closely fought tour with two sides. South Africa are 4th in the ODI rankings and Sri Lanka are 5th, coming off the back of two decent showings in the Champions Trophy and in the Celkon Mobile Cup, albeit these did come with a pair of psychological hammerings at the hands of India.
South Africa come into this tour captained by AD De Villiers, and will have to dig deep into their pace bowling reserves with Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe doubtful for the first ODI after picking up injuries in the warmup match against the SLC Board President’s XI, a match in which the tourists won by 74 runs. Their batting lineup is fairly settled with a top order of Amla, Alviro Petersen, Duminy and De Villiers looking to set the platform for a power-packed middler order with Faf du Plessis and David Miller.
Things are a bit messier in the Sri Lankan camp. Angelo Mathews is banned for the first two ODIs after falling foul of the over-rate requirements in the Caribbean. This means that vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal is set to become the youngest player to captain the national side in an ODI. A momentous occassion for a talented young batsmen, following in the footsteps of Arjuna Ranatunga. The problem is that Chandimal is in poor form with the bat. He averages just 18.55 in 2013 (10 innings), but I would argue that this is partly down to his position in the batting order necessitating him to play unselfishly when he does come in, although when he has come in during difficult scenarios, he has a tendency to get himself in and then out again. Similar problems face Lahiru Thirimanne. Averaging 28.30 in the calendar year, and only got into double figures five times in the 12 innings – although when he has, he has tended to make scores, including an unbeaten 102 against Australia in Adelaide. After Kumar Sangakkara, Thirimanne is the team’s best player of pace bowling which has meant him coming in much earlier than his usual 6th or 7th position has usually seen him coming in. Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to the new moving ball at the top of the order has highlighted his credentials as an opener and he should, in my opinion, be given his opportunity in the top order as an opener. Experiments with the likes of Dilshan Munaweera, and the ongoing one with Dimuth Karunaratne in Tests along with the newly reinstated Mahela Jayawardene have perhaps blinded the management to the fact that they possibly have a ready-made opener in Thirimanne who could provide the right counterpoint to South Africa’s significant pace-threat.
The absence of Mathews opens a place in the middle order, and has been replaced by Angelo Perera who should play more of a part in the first ODI than he did in his only cap against Bangladesh. another addition to the squad is the long lost Jehan Mubarak. His last ODI match was in 2009 against Pakistan in Karachi. His career was thought to have come to an end with an average of 23.20. Strong performances in the domestic tournaments has seen him selected for various Board XIs for tour matches (most of them tend to be Colombo-central anyway) but many people including myself never thought he would make another Sri Lanka squad, especially under the new selection committee which had previously stated the need for young blood, yet have recently recalled in addition to Mubarak and Upul Tharanga, Ajantha Mendis who once again makes the squad despite any real evidence that he can be effective against decent batting lineups. It remains to be seen how much he will play. The chances are that Herath and Senanayake will provide the spin threat, with Angelo Perera there to provide backup.
It will be interesting to see how Perera fares, but overall I feel that as with the West Indies tri-series, the selectors have missed a chance to give younger players a go, especially some of the younger spinners like Tharindu Kaushal and Akila Dananjaya. I shows a very susprising lack of foresight on the part of someone like Sanath Jayasuriya. I understand the need to prepare for the 2015 World Cup with the players who will be most likely to go to Australia but with the absence of Test cricket from the 2013 calendar, they must take every opportunity to bring through the next generation.
It should be a fascinating series, though. South Africa were upstaged by New Zealand and Pakistan at home and so Sri Lanka will be favourites going into the series but they cannot take the tourists for granted. This team still has plenty to learn about key aspects of their game, one of which is playing quality pace bowling, something with the Steyn-less Proteas will still provide an examination of.

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