JOHANNESBURG - It’s been 14 years since South Africa’s cricket team played at the Dambulla International Stadium, venue for the first One-Day International between the Proteas and Sri Lanka on Sunday (6.15am SA time).
Then, as now, they played Sri Lanka twice at a venue which took just 167 days to construct, losing on both occasions.
That was a reasonably settled Proteas team, with some post-isolation greats taking to the field including Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Makhaya Ntini and Herschelle Gibbs.
The sole surviving member of that team, JP Duminy, made his international debut in that series, although then, as now, he did not exactly cover himself in glory, averaging just 5.80 with the bat in five innings and 62 with the ball.
South Africa, captained by Smith, lost that series 5-0 at a time when despite the host of big names in the side they were in the midst of a rebuilding period, still trying to grow accustomed to Smith’s captaincy while trying to bring along some new players, like Duminy.
There are some similarities with the current side under Faf du Plessis’ leadership that is also trying to construct a more cohesive unit.
But unlike in 2004, this year’s group have a rather pressing engagement immediately on the horizon which demands the players take advantage of the opportunities this five-match series with Sri Lanka will provide.
Every 50-over game for South Africa between now and March next year is being played in the ever brightening light of the World Cup with the national coach Ottis Gibson, Du Plessis and chairman of selectors Linda Zondi pleading for patience while players and combinations are tried and tested.
Patience will wear thin, however, if results don’t come and in the Proteas’ ODI rearview mirror the 5-1 series loss to India on home soil last season still looms.
Sri Lanka has rarely been a happy hunting ground for South Africa, who’ve won just four out of 19 ODIs against the Sri Lankans there.
And they can expect some more examination from the home team’s spinners even though the veteran Rangana Herath is not in the ODI squad.
For their part, the Sri Lankans aren’t without distraction; already they’ve had to deal with the suspensions handed down to captain Dinesh Chandimal and coach Chandika Hathurusingha over the ball-tampering incident in the West Indies.
And on Friday, the Sri Lanka Cricket Board suspended batsman Danushka Gunathilaka for six matches for breaching the Board’s code of conduct for players during the second Test against the Proteas last week.
Nevertheless, they will still consider themselves favourites for the five-match series as they’re able to draw on confidence from the pair of thrashings they handed out in the Test matches while also aware that those parts of the South African team considered to be stable have shown no inkling of overcoming their problems against Sri Lanka’s spinners.
Dambulla International Stadium is considered a good venue for bowlers; for the day matches like tomorrow’s opener, the fresh morning air provides assistance for the seam bowlers and the heat will help break up and slow down the pitch bringing the spinners into the picture.
Only four times in 51 ODIs there has 300 been passed, and no team has successfully chased more than 289 runs.
Squads For Dambulla
South Africa: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis (captain), 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 (captain), Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Prabath Jayasuriya, Lahiru Kumara, Suranga Lakmal, Kusan Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Dusan Shanaka, Upul Tharanga.@shockerhess