South Africa will seek to end a sequence of disappointing results in their home series when they take on Sri Lanka in the first of three Tests at SuperSport Park on Thursday.
South Africa have lost one and shared three of four most recent home series, with a loss against Australia in 2008/09 followed by drawn series against England, India and Australia.
Sri Lanka, though, should not provide too stiff a challenge for the home side.
The tourists have had more than a year of poor results and appear to be particularly vulnerable in bowling since the retirement of world record-breaking off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, whose last Test match, against India in Galle in July 2010, marked Sri Lanka’s most recent win.
Since then Sri Lanka have lost four and drawn 10 of 14 Tests.
The large number of drawn games is an indication that Sri Lanka’s batting is stronger than their bowling — but they will be up against a strong South African bowling attack in conditions expected to favour pacemen.
“The main thing we need to adapt to is the bounce and the pace,” Sri Lanka vice-captain Angelo Mathews said.
He admitted the team had not played well recently but said there was a confident mood in the side.
“The team is in a good mood but we need to show it out there on the field.”
Much would appear to depend on the form of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who have been Sri Lanka’s leading batsmen for the past decade — and who shared a world-record third-wicket stand of 624 when the sides last met five years ago in Sri Lanka.
Sangakkara suffered a hand injury in his team’s only warm-up match at the weekend but is expected to play.
South African fast bowler Dale Steyn refused to go as far as to say it was “payback time” for the bowlers, including himself, who had struggled in steamy Colombo five years ago, but he said the South Africans had made a close study of the Sri Lankan batsmen on video.
Steyn said he had been building up his pace during the season after a long break and was feeling no twinges from his troublesome right elbow.
“In the last two domestic games I bowled the quickest I have this season. The elbow is fine and my rhythm is good.”
Steyn said his new ball combination with the steady Vernon Philander was working well.
“Then you have Morne Morkel bowling thunderbolts from about 10 feet high and Jacques Kallis is bowling well too.”
Rain restricted Sri Lanka’s only warm-up match, against a South African Invitation XI, to less than two days.
Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath was the only bowler to impress, with unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis taking only two wickets and conceding 142 runs in 31 overs.
But Mathews said he was not concerned about Mendis’s form.
“He was coming back from two or three months of injury. We all know what a good spinner he is. He can turn a match around.”
Sri Lanka’s pace bowling resources have been hit hard by injuries, with four players ruled out before the tour and Nuwan Pradeep suffering a tour-ending injury in the warm-up game.
They do not have the fast bowling firepower of the hosts but Proteas batsman Hashim Amla warned that in South African conditions no seam bowlers could be taken lightly.
“We haven’t seen them before so that makes them dangerous and our task a bit more challenging.” — AFP
South Africa (probable): Graeme Smith (captain), AB de Villiers (vice-captain), Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher (wicket), Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir
Sri Lanka (from): Tillakaratne Dilshan (captain), Angelo Mathews (vice-captain), Tharanga Paranavitana, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Kaushal Silva (wicket), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dimuth Karunaratne, Chanaka Welegedara, Dilhara Fernando, Thisara Perera, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath, Thilan Samaraweera