Sri Lanka’s hopes of becoming only the third team to win a Test series in South Africa has received a blow after middle order batsman Kusal Mendis hurt his ankle during training on Tuesday. Mendis twisted his ankle during fielding drills on Tuesday and didn’t train on Wednesday. Sri Lanka will assess his fitness on the morning of the game on Thursday before making a call.
In the absence of Mendis, the tourists have uncapped Angelo Perera in the sidelines, but they were also looking at left-handed middle order batsman Milinda Siriwardene, who could also bowl spin. Traditionally, Port Elizabeth wicket favours spin bowling.
South Africa will be desperate to square the series as their excellent record at home is under fire. In their rich history of 130 years of Test cricket, the Proteas have lost only to Australia and England at home and they will go flat out to ensure a third team will not defeat them at home; that too a Sri Lankan side that has struggled in recent years.
“We have made sure that we have made our home a fortress. I don’t think we played a bad game in Durban. We need to be better to beat them, they surprised us with the way they played last week. Here there will be bit of sideways movement. Durban not lot of that. It has always been a five for spinners. Here although the spinner plays a role, I don’t think there will be that much of help,” South African skipper Francois Du Plessis said.
The hosts will miss the services of Vernon Philander, who has been ruled out with a hamstring strain. All-rounder Wiaan Mulder is expected to make his debut in the absence of Philander.
It has been a tough few months for Sri Lanka. Having suffered a humiliating 3-0 whitewash at home to England, Chandika Hathurusingha’s side had to undertake three back-to-back tours of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. By the time they go back home at end of March, the Sri Lankans would have been away from home for four months.
Having failed to win a single game in New Zealand across all three formats, Sri Lanka were blown away by the Australian quicks in the two Test series as they suffered massive defeats in Brisbane and Canberra.
Captain Dinesh Chandimal was axed and the reins were handed to Dimuth Karunaratne while several other young players were given a break. With a second string seam attack in the absence of three injured fast bowlers and their premier batsman in Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lankans showed remarkable guts to win in Durban and Karunaratne asked his team to hang in there in the second Test as well in a bid to win the series.
“We realized what we had to do. We had a horrid time in Australia on fast and bouncy wickets. We consistently got pitches where bowlers were bowling at 150 kph. We played a really tough series there. I told my teammates here it’s much easier than Australia. You have to keep your head clear and play positively. Play your natural game and enjoy yourself. I think we saw that in the last game. When they are playing out there they are smiling and cheering each other. That’s what I want. That’s the main thing. If you’re enjoying yourself the result can be really good,” noted Karunaratne.
Kagiso Rabada was not at his best in Durban having conceded 97 runs for just one wicket in the second innings. South Africa will be hoping that he will fire and he will have the additional responsibility of sharing the new ball in the absence of Philander. In Durban, Steyn and Philander shared the new ball.
Sri Lanka have been tempted to axe opening batsman Lahiru Thirimanne, who has not made a half-century in six innings since making a comeback in Brisbane earlier this year. But the only other option they have for an opener is Kaushal Silva, who struggled in his last tour of South Africa and on that count Thirimanne could hold onto his pace.
The powerful winds that blows across the ground here in Port Elizabeth could be challenging as well for the inexperienced Sri Lankan attack and it remains to be seen how they go about things.
Sri Lanka (From): Dimuth Karunaratne (Captain), Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Milinda Siriwardana, Dhananjaya de Silva, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Chamika Karunaratne, Mohamed Shiraz, Lakshan Sandakan and Lasith Embuldeniya
South Africa (From): Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram, Francois du Plessis (Captain), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Wiaan Mulder, Duanne Olivier, Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn.