While Sri Lanka awaits an ICC decision as to whether skipper Dinesh Chandimal will be cleared of a conduct charge to play, it will be predictably Sri Lanka’s home friendly spin advantage against South Africa’s three-pronged pace cum spin combination in the first test starting at the Galle International Stadium on the tomorrow, the 12th July, 2018. Roshen Silva, addressing the media at Galle, said that ‘we have practiced hard on the Galle track and would look to outdo South Africa through spin.’ He added that the final eleven would be decided on the morning of the match after a pitch inspection.
Indeed Galle will be the ideal stage for the Lankans to wrest the advantage against an all-round opposition that is fresh from a 3-nil clean sweep of Australia at home. The host team also basks in the glow of a fine record over there having won 17 out of 30 encounters with 5 drawn. Though they will be keen to reverse fortunes of having lost 0-1 in their last meeting to the Proteas by 153 runs in July 2014 in a in a 2-test series. On that occasion the South Africans were led by Hashim Amla.
From a Sri Lankan point of view, successive home series wins 1-0 in 2004 and 2-nil in 2006 when Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara hoisted a record third wicket partnership of 624 will be buoying. Sri Lanka has also notched a test win against the Proteas in the lion’s den in 2011 spearheaded by Rangana Herath’s 9-wicket haul. In what will be final fling for the 40-year old spin veteran against the Proteas in following his plans to retire this November, Herath will seek to rekindle the form that has fetched him 94 wickets from 17 tests in Galle. Twenty-four year old Akila Dananjaya, with 10 wickets from just two matches in recent outings versus Bangladesh and the West Indies, is in the reckoning to form a three-pronged spin combination along with Dilruwan Perera. The pace attack would hinge around Suranga Lakmal with either Lahiru Kumara or Kasun Rajitha sharing the new ball on their wicket taking form in the Caribbean. The batting nucleus on home conditions would revolve around Chandimal subject to clearance, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Roshen Silva and Niroshan Dickwella with former captain Angelo Mathews, who missed the last two tests in the Caribbean looked to reinforce the batting on his 73-test clout with 4956 runs under his belt counting 8 centuries and 28 half tons. It could well be a toss-up between Kusal Janith Perera, Dananjaya De Silva and Dhanushka Gunathilaka in the event Chandimal does not play.
South Africa is led by seasoned campaigner Faf du Plessis who has a test record of 3197 runs from 52 outings, with seasoned campaigners Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar carrying the blunt of the batting that is expected to run deep.
For the record, of the 28 test matches between the two countries, South Africa has won 14 as against Sri Lanka’s 5 wins with 6 drawn.
Sri Lanka (From): Dinesh Chandimal (c), Suranga Lakmal, Akila Dananjaya, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Danushka Gunathilaka, Rangana Herath, Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Kumara, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Mendis, Dilruwan Perera, Kusal Perera, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Roshen Silva
South Africa (From): Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock (wk), Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Shaun von Berg
By Srian Obeyesekere
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-