It’s finally time. After seeing Australia and India battle it out in the greatest format there is, we finally get to see South Africa don the white kit and get back out there, as they take on Sri Lanka in a two-Test series over the festive season.
Make no mistake, Sri Lanka are a worthy competitor. To underestimate them is a mistake and one that I dearly hope South Africa do not repeat. With South Africa having won only one Test out of seven in the World Test Championship thus far, they cannot afford any more mistakes.
Two South African players have already been withdrawn from the Test squad due to Covid-19, and we recently learnt those players were Beuran Hendricks and Keegan Petersen. If the situation calls for it, the Proteas must not be afraid to try a new player and take advantage of any that may be in red hot form in the domestic game, namely Raynard van Tonder.
The more I see of Glenton Stuurman bowl, the more I am convinced he should be in the playing XI. He bowls a nagging line and length and importantly, makes the batsmen play. We’ve seen how vicious that bowling can be after watching Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood rip the heart out of India’s batting with just the most relentless display of quality fast bowling just a few days ago.
After becoming the first subcontinent team to win a Test series in South Africa on their last tour, Sri Lanka will have the self-belief they can do that again. What makes them a real threat, especially outside of the subcontinent now, is their pace attack. Vishwa Fernando was the leading wicket taker in 2019, with 12 wickets at an incredible average of 18.91, bettering home-grown players KG Rabada (8 wickets) and Dale Steyn (6 wickets). Suranga Lakmal is a world class bowler, he will be a threat and will always ask questions.
Given that Sri Lanka’s batting lineup has retained many of the same batsmen from their successful 2019 tour, and those who made an impact, this will provide priceless experience for them. Application, accountability and patience. These are important traits in Test Cricket. Which team shows them more is now the question.
Centurion is a happy hunting ground for South Africa, having won every Test there since December 2014. It was also the venue for their only win against England last season, a series they eventually lost 3-1.
Traditionally not a venue where spinners thrive, South Africa will be hopeful this will work in their favour, however, after seeing how they struggled against pace in India last year, this is even a worry for the home side. With two bowlers in their squad that can bowl in excess of 145kph, Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera, Sri Lanka possess a quality fast bowling attack.
Probable Playing XI
Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Raynard van Tonder, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi & Glenton Stuurman
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Embuldeniya, Vishwa Fernando & Lahiru Kumara
Key Players to watch out for
As the newly appointed Test captain, and premier batsman, a lot of pressure will be on Quinton De Kock. How he handles this will be a big challenge, but hopefully for his sake, the team will back him up.
Aiden Markram having regained his place in the Test squad after some important domestic performances needs to show he is ready for the rigours of Test cricket.
Dimuth Karunaratne has been a proven competitor in the Test arena, and he holds the achievement as the only captain from a subcontinent team to win a Test series in South Africa. The pressure will be on him to get his team off to good starts and repeat that feat.
Aiden Markram to be SA’s top batsman at 4.00.
Anrich Nortje to be SA’s top bowler at 3.50.
Dimuth Karunaratne to be SL’s top batsman at 4.35.
Suranga Lakmal to be SL’s top bowler at 1.90.