Your essential guide to the first Test between Sri Lanka and the Proteas in Galle on Thursday.
The Proteas start their tour of Sri Lanka with a two-match Test series. Low and slow subcontinental conditions pose a new test for the likes of Aiden Markram and Lungi Ngidi, while old-timers Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Faf du Plessis aim to repeat that historic victory of 2014.
Steyn will undoubtedly headline the first Test as he targets those three scalps that will see him surpass Shaun Pollock as the Proteas’ best ever Test bowler. Having come back from one of the lengthiest injury lay-offs in his career, the Phalaborwa Express has been backed for a good tour in Asia, the continent he topped as a foreigner – with 80 wickets – the last time the Proteas visited the Pearl of the Orient in 2014.
The Proteas also face life without AB de Villiers, who retired from international cricket in March.
Proteas skipper Du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson confirmed that Temba Bavuma will be filling the No 4 position left vacant by De Villiers, an unpopular decision for some but condoned by his ability to play slower deliveries – with Gibson calling him ‘one of our best players of spin’.
After an informative warm-up match in Colombo, the Proteas shift to one of the most picturesque grounds in world cricket, on a usual spinner-friendly track in Galle for the first of two Tests on Thursday.
Galle weather is usually hot and humid but the Proteas are in for warm but rainy days throughout the first Test. The question will be: will there be any cricket played? According to forecasts, it will be a minimum of 28ºC, with thunderstorms expected for the five days.
Players to watch
Steyn will be in the spotlight and this could be the best opportunity for others to go about their business quietly. With Bavuma facing the daunting task of filling De Villiers’ void, more pressure will be shifted on to Quinton de Kock. The 25-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman is undoubtedly one of the most talented batsmen in the squad but has struggled for form in the last 18 months, scoring at an average of 30.43 which included only one century and six half-centuries. It seems that spin has been De Kock’s Achilles heel in the past, but he will undoubtedly look to conquer that perception as he faces the likes of Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Akila Dananjaya and Lakshan Sandakan.
Ragana Herath will be crucial in the series – that’s if he’s cleared to play for the first Test. The left-arm spinner has notched up 418 wickets in 90 Test matches for Sri Lanka and is the country’s highest wicket-taker after Muttiah Muralitharan, who has 800 Test wickets to his name. Despite missing the third Test against the West Indies in June, the 40-year-old is set for a return against the Proteas on 12 July.
It’s safe to say that the Proteas will play two spinners in the first Test, despite Gibson and Du Plessis stating that they have to assess the conditions. An extra batsman is definitely out of the question as Gibson confirmed in a press conference on Sunday. If that’s the case, the Proteas’ toughest decision will be choosing between Tabraiz Shamsi or Shaun von Berg.
Proteas: 1 Aiden Markram, 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Temba Bavuma, 5 Faf du Plessis, 6 Quinton de Kock, 7 Vernon Philander, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Keshav Maharaj, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi/Shaun von Berg
Sri Lanka: 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Mahela Udawatte, 3 Danushka Gunathilaka, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Dhananjaya de Silva 6 Roshen Silva, 5 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lahiru Gamage
– The Proteas have toured Sri Lanka on five occasions. They won their first series in 1993 and their last one in 2014. These were on either side of a draw in 2000 and two series defeats in 2004 and 2006.
– The Proteas have won three, lost four and drawn five Tests in Sri Lanka.
– Hashim Amla is the highest scorer in the current squad in Sri Lanka. He has 266 runs at an average of 38.00 and one century to his name, 139 not out as skipper in 2014.
– Dale Steyn has taken 21 wickets in Sri Lanka, the most in the current squad and four off the most by any South African. Nicky Boje tops those standings with 25.
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