South Africa’s Tabraiz Shamsi bowls during a practice session in Sri Lanka this week. Photo: Reuters
Sri Lanka will hope that the shambolic displays produced in the first and second One-Day Internationals against South Africa won’t be repeated as they attempt to stay in the series when the two teams clash at the Pallekelle International Stadium in Kandy tomorrow.

However, judging by their recent record in ODIs, it may be a vain hope for the Sri Lankans, who’s awful play stretches back further than the opening two matches of this current series.

Since the start of 2017, Sri Lanka has won just eight out of 36 ODIs  six of those victories coming against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe  while losing 27 times.

Watching the batting display in the first match and then the fielding performance in the second, it’s easy to see why they’ve done so poorly in the last 20 months. The top order in both games have seemed incapable of dealing with the new ball, while the fielding performance on Wednesday left stand-in skipper Angelo Mathews comparing them to a bunch of school kids.

The Sri Lankans have not been helped by the bannings dished out to their long-term captain Dinesh Chandimal and head coach Chandika Hathurusingha, which have sidelined them for this series as did the suspension handed done to Danushka Gunathilaka, by the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, for breaching the body’s code of conduct during the second Test against South Africa.

However, the absence of Chandimal and Hathurusingha didn’t stop the hosts from handing out a pair of crushing defeats to the South Africans in the Tests, so it can’t really be used as an excuse for how poorly they’ve played in the ODIs.

Normally, the horrible fielding would be indicative of a side with low morale, but that really shouldn’t be the case with the Sri Lankans following the success in the Test matches.

No one in their camp seems sure what the cause is for the most recent performances and given that it is not something new, you’d have to say something is horribly amiss with their entire ODI strategy, which is very strange for a side with such a wonderful history in the 50-over format.

It’s not as if there aren’t a few fragile areas in the Proteas line-up that they can’t target either. They have managed to keep Aiden Markram quiet, but through their calamitous fielding on Wednesday they may just have helped rebuild Hashim Amla’s confidence.

South Africa’s middle and lower order batting has still not been properly put under pressure but that will only happen if Sri Lanka can somehow right themselves.

They need look no further than their opponents for how to do that. The Proteas were understandably down in the dumps after being pounded in the Tests, but have utilised conditions that have been slightly more balanced than was the case in the Test matches, to restore their self-belief.

The new ball has been used very well by Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, while Tabraiz Shamsi has been outstanding in both matches so far. The two seam bowling all-rounders Andile Phehlukwayo and Wiaan Mulder, righted their wrongs from the first match in the second to help the Proteas produce a more rounded performance with the ball.

The momentum is certainly with the South Africans and they are as Phehlukwayo mentioned yesterday, very keen to wrap up the series in Kandy, where history suggests chasing is the better option, with the team batting second having won 13 of the 20 matches played there. However tomorrow’s match is only the second time the venue will host a day game, with the previous one, in 2014, ending in victory for the side which batted first.

Tomorrow’s match starts at 6.30am SA time.

Squads

South Africa: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis (capt), Aiden Markram, JP Duminy, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lungi Ngidi, Reeza Hendricks, Junior Dala

Sri Lanka: Niroshan Dickwella, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dhananjaya de Silva, Angelo Mathews (capt), Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Prabath Jayasuriya, Lahiru Kumara, Suranga Lakmal, Kusan Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Dusan Shanaka, Upul Tharanga


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