South Africa, who recently beat Australia in Australia, once by an innings, play Sri Lanka at home in the Boxing Day Test. If that one line isn’t enough for you to predict who’s going to field the Boxing Day punches in Port Elizabeth, here’s another – the last time an Asian team achieved a Test series win in South Africa was… never.
Here’s what it has taken visiting teams of varying statures to win a Test in South Africa of late. In January 2016, England’s Stuart Broad wrecked the hosts’ batting order with six wickets; in the Boxing Day Test prior to that, South Africa lost by 241 runs courtesy a misfiring middle-order of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis; in February 2014, Australia’s Shaun Marsh, Steve Smith and David Warner hit tons against an attack comprising Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, winning by 281 runs and two weeks later, the Proteas fell to Warner’s brand of hitting again.
As is evident, the formulae to win in South Africa are –
A) Get a tall seam bowler at the peak of his form to be a match-winner or
B) Get a once-in-a-generation batsman such as Warner to blow away their blazing pace attack or
C) Hope the famed South African batting goes through a poor phase.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, options A or B above may be ruled out for now, as they still seem to be a few years away from landing a match-winning pacer or an explosive batsman. In fact, their best fast bowler on tours to Africa remains Chaminda Vaas, with an average over 47 in eight innings. As for option C, the Lankans will hope that captain Faf and Quinton de Kock decline from their form in Australia and Amla’s mediocre run continues.
South Africa are playing without Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers but they look far from bereaved, for the phenomenal Kagiso Rabada has troubled the best batsmen with his consistency in his short career. Along with Philander and Kyle Abbott, the pace attack looks threatening to scalp innings wins. On the other hand, there is nobody with the temperament and experience in Lanka to make the most of the seam and bounce in the Test starting from Monday, or the ones that follow.
Sri Lanka have been fielding their weakest side since 1996 for a while now, and their ‘transition’ after the greats Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, retired has been more of a crash landing. The island country has a dependable pipeline of cricketers which goes down to colleges and schools so the next Murali or Dilshan has always been ’round the corner, but has never really been on the high road.
For top-order batsmen Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya De Silva, who faced the Aussies with spunk earlier this year and pacers Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera, this series is a huge opportunity to get into the shoes of the legends they grew up watching. To even draw it, it would require gritty tons and relentless spells and if that happens, they would take solid steps to ‘make Sri Lanka great again.’
Playing and winning in South Africa has long been one of international cricket’s ‘deep ends’ of the pool and over the coming few weeks, we shall know just why.
Updated Date: Dec 26, 2016 11:21:02 IST