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South Africa v Sri Lanka: 2nd Test Preview
The Proteas will be looking to start the year with another Test victory when they take on the Sri Lankans at Newlands.
The wrongs of 2016 are resigned to the past, while the rights are carried in to the new year, as the Proteas and Sri Lankans head to the Cape, where Test match cricket at its finest is always welcomed with open arms.
The visitors showed initial promise in the series opener, only for things to fall apart as the days ticked over. South Africa, well, still have a few concerns.
South Africa v Sri Lanka | Second Test | Monday, 2 January - Friday, 6 January 2017 | Newlands, Cape Town | 10:00
To Win Match
South Africa 1/4 | Draw 4/1 | Sri Lanka 10/1
Triumphant inside four days and a session at St George's Park, the Proteas still know proceedings could have gone better - and Newlands will bring the chance to work on these areas. The top five's propensity for good starts but lack of conversion is a particular need for growth, as Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar will attest. Captain Faf du Plessis wants to see that burning hunger for big runs, as do Amla and under-performing company.
The South African seamers were given a proper workout in Port Elizabeth - and will need all the rest they can get before the start of the second Test. Presumably, the workload won't take too much of a toll on an attack already minus the services of the injured Dale Steyn. Kyle Abbott, on cue, rose to the fore - and no longer needs to feel like the injury cover he once was. His lines, lengths and nagging seam movement were impressive in the Eastern Cape. Here's anticipating more, as the trip around the coast beckons better for the steely right-armer.
Doubts over Stephen Cook's position at the top of the order are, surely, well and truly over. Yes, he doesn't score his runs with flamboyance and flair - nor does Elgar, for that matter - but that's not really needed from Test match openers. Misguided calls for Cook to vacate the post to a youngster are fewer and further between - and the Newlands crowd can look forward to something special from the lanky right-hander.
The Proteas have not lost a Test in Cape Town in over a decade - and have made a relatively frequent habit of rolling teams out for low scores here. It's not too farfetched to suggest a fired-up Kagiso Rabada and cronies could replicate the 45 and 47 endured by New Zealand and Australia in 2013 and 2011, respectively. Sri Lanka's batting, indeed, harbours a certain fragility to it at the moment.
Skipper Angelo Mathews cherished some valid points at the end of the Port Elizabeth defeat. Recognising that his team have the various skillsets required to overcome the opposition, Mathews acknowledged the individual and collective mindset is not in the right place. A fair remark, too, given their inability to maintain the momentum gathered after bowling South Africa out cheaply in the first innings. But where to from here?
Well, for starters, the gamble of deploying Kusal Perera at three probably needs to end. While dropping him from the team entirely is not the way to go, pushing him down the order will suit best. The 26-year-old needs time to find his feet again, and continue to engineer life beyond Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan. This sort of trust, though, will be tough to find from selectors' fed up with a string of low scores.
The Proteas, with the help of an obliging groundsman, did very well to successfully combat the threat posed by Rangana Herath in Port Elizabeth. If he couldn't find merit at St George's Park, it's going to be even tougher to gain at Newlands, where spin is considerably less of a challenge. That said, the portly stalwart sports the wile and guile to transcend conditions, but needs Suranga Lakmal - somewhat of a revelation in the series opener - and his fellow bowlers to do the same.
Like all other teams from the sub-continent, Sri Lanka have to consistently prove themselves away from home. Unlike, say, India, they don't house so-called flat-track bullies - and have the proper talent to be victorious away from Galle, Colombo and surrounds. While this may not be the match nor the series that sees this happen, it's certainly the opportunity to set them on course for greater things under the guidance of former South African coach Graham Ford and the level-headed Mathews.
Verdict: South Africa 1/4
Sri Lanka stretched proceedings to a fifth day at St George's Park, which was an achievement in itself - and have the gusto to bounce back at Newlands, provided the correct mindset Mathews spoke of comes to fruition. A low likelihood, though, considering South Africa's love of Newlands and big odds to take an unassailable two-nil series lead.
Value bet: Hashim Amla to top score in first innings *To be added upon release
We've been down this road before, and are prepared to do it again, with Hashim Amla all but destined to shrug off a slew of small scores. The talismanic right-hander scored a whopping double-century, against a tough England attack, in Cape Town in early 2016. A deflated Sri Lankan seam attack, particularly one that might go unchanged, could be in for a difficult time.