JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 04: SA Player's Player Award, AB de Villiers during the Cricket SA Awards at Sandton Convention Centre on June 04, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

Colombo - The Proteas have a huge amount of respect for the Sri Lankan team they’re up against on Sunday and AB de Villiers admitted on Saturday his charges would have to be a lot more precise if they are to turn around their dismal record in these parts.

“They are very tough to beat at home, and that’s why we have struggled here in the past. But saying that, after last year, and the year we have had, I am looking forward to us entertaining, and providing a very competitive series.”

De Villiers cut a relaxed figure at the official presser on Friday, itching at the chance of getting at the T20 world champions again.

“We learnt a lot of lessons last time out, and this time we have come with some real experience. We obviously respect what Angelo (Mathews) and his team have achieved over the last year. T20 champions, winning in England, they are doing really well.”

Having lavished praise on his opponents, De Villiers and coach Russell Domingo then looked to the future – and the approaching World Cup – where they hope to give Jacques Kallis a fitting send-off from international cricket.

The all-rounder gave the tourists a fright on Thursday when he pulled out of the warm-up game, complaining of stiffness in his back. But he bowled at full tilt during on Friday’s session in the blazing sun, and showed no signs of discomfort as the jovial tourists headed out for their traditional team dinner.

There is an air of assurance about this tour party compared to last year’s group. Many of the names are the same, but a year in international cricket is a long time. And they have brought in the heavy artillery this time, including Kallis and Dale Steyn.

“Jacques is a huge player, and we expect him to play a big part until the World Cup. Yes, we will have to accommodate him, but this is Jacques Kallis we’re talking about,” De Villiers said.

Steyn, who struck in his first over on Thursday, was also looking forward to getting stuck into the Lions on Saturday.

“I can’t actually remember how long ago it was since I played a One-Day International,” he chuckled.

“You forget how long 50 overs takes to bowl, especially in these conditions. But, to be honest, I am very excited to play an ODI again. We had a good workout on Thursday, and the ball is coming out nicely. So I can’t wait!”

While De Villiers will lean on the sharp-shooting Steyn upfront, conditions at the R Premadasa Stadium will tilt towards the slower men. Happily, the South African captain is confident he has the necessary tools to utilise those conditions.

“We’ve got Immy (Tahir) who is obviously an attacking spinner. I am hoping he, like all the bowlers, will provide us with control and build pressure on the opposition as well. But you never want to take that (attacking instinct) away from Immy, and we are confident he will strike for us.”

De Villiers also expressed confidence in JP Duminy, who is fast becoming South Africa’s “Mr Dependable”.

With bat and ball, Duminy has repeatedly stepped up for South Africa, and his emergence as a second spinner has relieved De Villiers and his selectors of a major headache.

“I know some people don’t see JP as a frontline spinner, but I certainly back him. He has really stepped up for us in the last two years, and I expect him to play a huge role again.”

The senior players De Villiers has at his disposal, coupled with the extended excellence Sri Lanka have produced on all fronts over the last year, suggest that this series will be hard-fought.

There was plenty of goodwill and friendly chatter at on Friday’s welcome ceremony, but expect the gloves to be swiftly removed by the time Mathews and De Villiers square off on Saturday morning.

The Proteas are determined to turn the corner here, while the Lankan Lions are equally keen to upgrade that corner into a miserable roundabout of regret.

Saturday Star