Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Preview, 1st Test, South Africa versus Sri Lanka, Centurion

A Test to be played on what was referred to as 'a pitch a green as a Pakistani shirt' and against a South African Team that must still be seething after drawing a 2 Test series against Australia does not bode well for Sri Lanka. Making things all the more difficult for the tourist is the glut of injuries to their fast bowlers, and a concern over the availability of their master batsman Kumar Sangakkara for this Test,

Duly, the Sri Lankans are given little or no chance of challenging the South Africans, but as we saw in the remarkable wins by Australia against South Africa and then New Zealand against Australia of late. Nothing can ever be ruled out in the glorious uncertainty that so characterises Test Cricket.

South Africa

Likely Team

Despite a very disappointing display against Australia in their last Test. It is very unlikely that any changes will be made from that Team. Though, under performers like Jacques Rudolph and Mark Boucher, who everyone is trying to decide whether he represents the past or present of the Team have definitely been loaded into the Selectors gun. Meaning the team will be as follows:

Graeme Smith (capt), Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla,Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher (wk), Vernon Philander,Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir

Keys to South Africa Winning the Test

After letting the Aussies back in the recently finished two Test series, and even worse seeing them remarkably win the 2nd Test to draw the series. The South Africans must still be fuming, and vowing to make someone pay for that inexplicable slip up. In the view that Australia were dead many times in that series, but the hosts failed to bury them leaving question marks over their mental fibre.

In this Test against a Sri Lankan Team that traditionally does not perform well away from Asia in particular with the bat, and with the assistance of a touted green pitch. Everything is in South Africa's favour. Especially when you combine a bowling attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander coupled with the doubts over Sri Lanka's best batsman in Kumar Sangakkara's fitness.

The biggest concern for South Africa as they go into this Test is not their bowling, which is arguably the best and most threatening attack in the World, but their batting. A batting unit, that on many occasions failed to capitalise against the Australians, even when they were on top.

You can put that failing down to the Team being rusty after having not played a Test for near on 12 months. Plus the relative failures of the ultra consistent Jacques Kallis in that series. In this series you can see the batting being much more refined, and less giving as they were against the Aussies highlighted by a glut of soft dismissals.

Also you can be near certain that leading the batting will be a gluttonous Kallis making up for his failures against Australia

If this is indeed the reality, then it is very hard to see anything other than a comprehensive South African victory.

Sri Lanka

Likely Team

The poor tourists have been beset by injuries, reports about them not being paid since the World cup, and then the grand daddy of all issues doubts over Kumar Sangakkara for this match. It is reported that Sangakkara should be fit, and with this good news this should be their line up

Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt),  Tharanga Paranavitana,  Kumar Sangakkara,  Mahela Jayawardene,  Thilan Samaraweera,  Angelo Mathews, Kaushal Silva (wk), Thisara Perera, Rangana Herath,  Dilhara Fernando, Chanaka Welegedara

Keys to Sri Lanka Winning the Test

The Sri Lankans have been characterised by their sincere inability to get 20 wickets in Tests in the post Chaminda Vaas Muttih Muralidaran era.

Most of the pundits are again focussing on this as the clear worry for them going into this match, and series. Which has merit, but with the pitch touted to be very sporting, a bowling line up that looks average on paper might indeed become very threatening through the help of the pitch.

So in my view, their chances in this match revolve around their batting not only withstanding the conditions, and the excellent South African pace corp, but then taking it a step further, and trying to outperform the South African batsmen. That is a huge ask because it is not as though the Team is bereft of batting class, but a lot of them struggle away from the friendly batting confines so apparent in Asia

A look at their averages of the big 3 of the Sri Lankan batting previously in South Africa shows this:

Tillakaratne Dilshan: career average 41.81 ( average in South Africa- 18.66)

Kumar Sangakkara: career average 56.93 ( average in South Africa- 39.20)

Mahela Jayawardene: career average 51.30 ( average in South Africa- 31.40)

So between the three in South African conditions their contributions per innings are 58 runs down on their career averages.

Duly, these epic players need to lift to give their Team any chance of an upset win. This needs to be lead by Dilshan at the top. Who in his epic 193 against a very fine England attack in English conditions showed he has it in him to be a factor in similar conditions in South Africa. Then in Mahela and Kumar, you have two master batsmen with the potential to be very fine performers in this series.

Add to the three, the excellent Angelo Mathews, who in his 11 innings in 2011 has averaged 64.14, and you have potential in the batting to post decent scores.

The only question remains not about their potential, but indeed them being able to turn this into the performance needed for a upset win.

This indeed has a huge question mark against it, and will ultimately decide their fate in this match, and the series as a whole

Prediction

Everything points to an easy South African win with the inspiration to right their wrongs from the Australian series, and then a pitch so suited to them.

Though, I just have a feeling that Sri Lanka might rise in the face of the pitch supporting their bowling attack. Making this a game that will be closer than most if not all anticipate.

So, a South African win, but not without a decent fight shown from Sri Lanka


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