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Cricket news - Upbeat South Africa seek to overturn Durban blues
It has been a tough few months for Sri Lankan cricket. Having been ambushed 3-0 at home by England, they started their southern hemisphere sojourn on a promising note, drawing their first Test in Wellington against New Zealand. Reality has since hit them hard - with three successive losses coming in Christchurch, Brisbane and Canberra. As they get ready for what could be the toughest of all the three overseas trips, the optimism has been replaced by an urge to survive against all odds.
As Durban gets ready to host its one-off Test for the summer, the mood in either camp couldn't have been more contrasting. The hosts are in an upbeat mood, having just blanked Pakistan by a 3-0 margin. While batting continues to remain a worry, it has more than been balanced by their pace battery. The four-pronged pace attack worked like a charm against the sub-continental giants and it wouldn't be a surprise if Faf du Plessis decides to unleash the same quartet against the vulnerable Sri Lanka batting line-up.
The two-match Test series also offers an ideal opportunity for the host batsmen to make up for lost time. Having watched their Australian counterparts feast on the feeble Sri Lankan attack, Faf du Plessis and his batting unit will consider the series as an opportunity to pad their stats, especially with the visitors having trouble in consistently fielding a fit bowling attack.
While the hosts look primed for yet another series win, Sri Lanka come into the game with a lot of questions that needs quick answers. A poor Australian series with the bat led to the axing of skipper, Dinesh Chandimal, and it has meant that the captaincy roller-coaster is now in the hands of opening batsman, Dimuth Karunaratne. With Angelo Mathews still unavailable, the middle-order looks rather inexperienced and the selectors fell back to 33-year old Milinda Siriwardana, who played the last of his five Tests in 2016.
Injuries and poor form has meant that the bowling attack looks relatively new, although Suranga Lakmal returns after sitting out of the Canberra Test with a stiff back. Giving him company would be two of Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha and Chamika Karunaratne - who among them have only eight Test caps. Lakshan Sandakan, who didn't feature in either New Zealand or Australia, suddenly finds himself as the lead spinner. If there is any silver lining for the visitors, it's the fact that they go into the series as the firm underdogs and that's a position which can at times bring the best out of a team.
When: Wednesday, February 13 at 10:00 am local, 1:30 pm IST
Where: Kingsmead, Durban
What to expect: A few showers are expected during the course of the Test, but it shouldn't cause any loss of play. Durban is one venue where the hosts have lost more Tests than they have won, and their last win at this venue came against India in 2013. South Africa haven't beaten Sri Lanka at this venue either, having drawn once and lost once, in the two Tests that they have played.
Wiaan Mulder was added to the 13-man South Africa squad, but the hosts could go in with the same combination that did the job against Pakistan. It will mean Keshav Maharaj might have to wait for his opportunity while one of Zubayr Hamza or Theunis de Bruyn will have to sit out - to make way for captain du Plessis who returns after serving his one-Test ban due to slow overrate
Probable XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis (c), Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier.
Having made a host of changes to their squad, it's difficult to predict the Sri Lankan playing XI. With Kingsmead generally turning out to be a slow track which can take turn as the match progresses, will they be tempted to play two spinners? In the absence of Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva might be shuffled back to three with one of Angelo Perera or Milinda Siriwardana to slot into the middle-order
Probable XI: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Milinda Siriwardana, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Suranga Lakmal, Lakshan Sandakan, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando.
What they said
"Whichever team comes here we're pretty much going to try and dominate them. Especially Sri Lanka, who were really dominant against us in Sri Lanka. Now they are in our conditions and hopefully we can put in a dominant display in the two Tests" - Keshav Maharaj believes it's time to settle scores after the heavy losses last year.
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