PORT ELIZABETH – Sri Lanka have never won a Test series in South Africa, and starting from Thursday, they will have to hold off a home team that hasn’t lost at Port Elizabeth in eleven years to do that.
The 2nd Test between South Africa v Sri Lanka at St. George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, will be the final in the two-Test series.
In an extraordinary turn of events, South Africa are playing catch-up one match into a home Test series. This wasn't expected by many.
Sri Lanka hadn’t won a Test in South Africa in over seven years. Co-incidentally, that last – and their only other - win in the country had also come in Durban, in December 2011.
Sri Lanka rewrote history to achieve this feat. In successful run chases in Tests, no Sri Lankan batsman now has more runs than Kusal Perera’s 153*, and no last-wicket pair has strung together more than the 78 unbeaten runs that Perera and Vishwa Fernando did in Durban. The 304 they ran down is also the most they have an outside home.
Perera deservedly hogged the accolades for his stupendous hundred, but there was more to the story. Long before that stunning last-wicket partnership, Fernando had made decisive contributions in the Test.
His four wickets in each innings bowled South Africa out for sub-300 totals in both innings for the first time in seven home Tests.
Fernando was playing just his fourth Test. Kasun Rajitha, who finished with four wickets, was playing his fifth Test. And Lasith Embuldeniya, the left-arm spinner, snared a five-for on debut. So good was Sri Lanka’s brand new attack that Suranga Lakmal, their most experienced bowler, finished with one wicket in the match.
Quinton de Kock admitted at the end of the opening day that South Africa were caught off guard against an attack they had no experience facing. But with just one Test remaining, time is short for them to figure things out.
The flip-side of Perera’s knock, however, is that it covered up for Sri Lanka’s batting worries. In three Tests before the Durban encounter, Sri Lanka had averaged 164 runs per innings.
Sri Lanka are without Angelo Mathews, who is nursing a hamstring injury, and Dinesh Chandimal, their regular Test captain, who was dropped from the squad. Their absence puts the onus on the younger batsmen to step up as a unit like the bowling did in Durban.
South Africa remain a formidable home team, with a world-beating pace attack and a prolific middle order. They have suffered a minor setback in the bowling, with Vernon Philander ruled out with a grade one hamstring strain, which puts 21-year-old Wiaan Mulder in line for a Test debut.
Uncapped Wiaan Mulder is in line to replace Vernon Philander Uncapped Wiaan Mulder is in line to replace Vernon Philander
Sri Lanka have never won – or drawn – a Test series in South Africa.
So irrespective of what happens in the second Test, history awaits. But a win will take some doing as South Africa haven’t lost a Test at Port Elizabeth in over eleven years.
South Africa's Dale Steyn, the home team’s spearhead, has bowled with renewed purpose and vigour since becoming his country’s leading wicket-taker in Test cricket. Steyn has explicitly stated that he feels as though he’s starting over again since breaching the landmark. That is ominous for batsmen around the world.
Suranga Lakmal will be the key for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka have only played one Test at Port Elizabeth before, and Lakmal took a five-for on that occasion. Lakmal’s experience will be handy as he will be required to lead this inexperienced Sri Lankan attack.
Vishwa Fernando was Sri Lanka's other hero in Durban, picking up eight wickets and starring in a record last-wicket partnership
Fast bowlers thrive at St. George’s Park, with offspinner Hugh Tayfield’s 14 wickets, which puts him at 12th place, the best among spinners. There is a chance of scattered showers on the opening day, but the weather should clear up, and hold, for the subsequent days.
The squads are:
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Duanne Olivier, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Zubayr Hamza
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Niroshan Dickwella, Lasith Embuldeniya, Dhananjaya de Silva, Oshada Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Chamika Karunaratne, Suranga Lakmal, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Perera, Kusal Perera, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Mohamed Shiraz, Milinda Siriwardana, Lahiru Thirimanne
African News Agency (ANA)