Proteas hunt The Lions

Durban will host the first of two Test matches between the Proteas and Sri Lanka, starting on Wednesday.

The tourists slipped into the country early, after a baptism of fire in Australia. They can expect more of the same when they run into the Proteas over the next three weeks because the South Africans still have a score to settle.

In the winter, South Africa had their colours lowered in Sri Lanka, as the spinning tracks of Galle and Colombo proved too much for them.

It was a meek surrender, given what they had accomplished in 2014 there, winning a series under the leadership of Hashim Amla.

On that occasion, the Proteas had leant heavily on the reverse-swing of Dale Steyn and the barrel-straight bowling of the supporting cast.

There were also crucial runs for the Proteas, and that key ingredient was missing in 2018. Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn tried, but it was all in vain. South Africa’s frailties against spin surfaced again, and the islanders twirled their way to a cherished series victory.

Now, on firmer tracks, against an attack that has already had the taste of blood, the Sri Lankans will be dreading what comes next. Duanne Olivier has become the Bone Collector, Dale Steyn is back to his best, and Kagiso Rabada has been given time off.

Their only respite will come from the fact that the grounds being used have lost much of their menace of old, and they may even encourage some spin. Kingsmead and St George’s Park are probably as friendly a pair of tracks as South Africa could have handed the Sri Lankans, but that is how the schedule has played out.

To be fair, South Africa ought to have too much fire-power for a Sri Lankan side wherever they play. The Lions are a team rebuilding, and their bite is not what it once was. They still have combative individuals in Niroshan Dickwella, for one, but the collective doesn’t appear to have the stomach for the fight.

South Africa, galvanised by a summer of happy hunting, will likely go for the jugular. They will look to make short work of a visiting team already hurting from Australia, and really emphasise the point that they were caught cold last winter.

The one area where South Africa will really be looking to beef up is the runs column. In the last three home series, against India, Australia and Pakistan, there has been a premium on survival. The opposition attacks have been that good, and the assistance from the surfaces has not helped the situation.

Now, on slower tracks, the top order of South Africa will be expected to come into their own. Centuries, and big ones at that, will be the order of the day. This is the last of the summer wine for them, because India away and then England at home are the next assignments.

That is not to disrespect the Sri Lankans, but even a rebuilding Australia feasted on their friendly-paced fare. South Africa need to pull out their ruthless streak with the bat, and then let their bowlers finish off the carcass.

In Durban, the Proteas will have to make some tough decisions on the make-up of their side. Keshav Maharaj would expect a game, after a summer of mixing drinks, but the Proteas may again feel compelled to go with their strength of pace bowling – especially against a Sri Lankan side who have shown recent weakness in that area.

The other debate will be in the middle order, where Faf du Plessis will return. He is a certainty, but whether Zubayr Hamza or Theunis de Bruyn are retained depends firmly on how many bowlers they reckon they need against the islanders.

The first Test between South Africa and Sri Lanka starts on Wednesday at Kingsmead.


Sunday Tribune

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