South Africa v Sri Lanka: First Test Preview

The South African cricket summer will kick into effect on Boxing Day, when the Proteas and Sri Lankans lock horns for the first of three Tests, at St George's Park.

While holidaymakers and seaside revellers gather for the Port Elizabeth sun, both teams will be chasing a successful end to 2016 - and promising start to 2017.

South Africa v Sri Lanka | Monday 26 December - Friday 30 December | St George's Park  | 10:00

To Win Match
South Africa 1/4 | Draw 4/1 | Sri Lanka 10/1

South Africa

Buoyed by triumph over Australia and a nominal climb in the Test rankings, thanks to England's severe inadequacies against India, the hosts have largely stuck with the tried and tested that proved victorious Down Under recently. And rightly so, even if December's opposition is considered substantially weaker than Steven Smith and company.

Plenty of relief greeted the camp this week, with Faf du Plessis docked 100 percent of his match fee - but more importantly not banned for a match - after his ball-tampering exploits in Hobart. Whichever way you stack it, the man has been under the microscope for this offence twice now, and must steer clear of mints and pocket zips as the Test captain - no longer stand-in, now full-time. A team grappling with the absence of AB de Villiers needs du Plessis to stand up and be counted, on all fronts - runs on the board and behaviour on the field.

Hashim Amla, meanwhile, will be the first to admit he was particularly poor in Australia, where scores of zero, one, 47, five and 45 saw his overall career average fall to almost under 50. A Test aggregate of 36.81 in seven matches against Sri Lanka, too, demands improvement - and the old adage of 'form is temporary, class is permanent' should duly be obliged.

Onto the bowling ranks, where Kyle Abbott is presented with more opportunity to step from the shadows of the past. With Dale Steyn injured and Morne Morkel increasingly out of favour, Abbott must recognise the responsibility of spearheading the attack alongside Kagiso Rabada. No disrespect to Vernon Philander, in terms of the speed gun stakes, but he's there for swing and seam movement, rather than the pace generated by Abbott and Rabada. Here's hoping the playing XI features Keshav Maharaj, and the South Africans don't kick it old school by going with an all-seam attack.

Sri Lanka 
The only team to whitewash Test opponents at home and away in 2016 and the proud followers of an unbeaten captain, this year at least, the tourists - as usual - need to recompose their bowling attack. A department lined with spin bowlers suffices in low and slow sub-continental, but the hard and fast conditions to be encountered in South Africa pose an entirely stronger challenge.

Admittedly, the St George's Park pitch isn't the turner of yesteryear, but Sri Lanka are not going to play two specialist spinners - and will look to Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep, in particular, to lead the line. Beset by multiple injuries but eager to soldier on, skipper Angelo Mathews knows his medium pace will prove vital: "In Asian conditions, I haven't bowled that much but if it is South Africa, Australia or England, where the ball is seaming and moving, I might have to bowl a bit more because getting wickets is also important for my team."

The proud recipient of more than 350 Test wickets and at the ripe, old age of 38, veteran spinner Rangana Herath is in the form of his life. His approach to the Proteas' left-handers - Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar and JP Duminy - presents intrigue aplenty. Herath was the pick of the visiting bowlers during 2012's Test series in South Africa - and has taken a whopping 51 wickets in his last six Tests.

Naturally, a batting order sans the services of relatively recent retirees Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara will be subject to much scrutiny. Sri Lanka, though, have unearthed absolute gems in Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis. The significant time in the middle enjoyed by the rest of the batsmen against a challenging South African Invitation XI recently, also bodes well.

Verdict: Sri Lanka 10/1
It's a tough sell, to ask patriotic South Africans to bet against their own country, but there's something solid to be found in Sri Lanka's form. They've had a very tidy year, and their post-Jayawardene and Sangakkara phase is well underway, successfully so. South Africa could be in for a rude awakening, at a bit of a bogey ground for them.

Value bet: Quinton de Kock to top score in first innings 7/1
If triumphant at the toss at St George's Park, South Africa have been largely unwavering in their choice to bat first, with a positive result following four or five days later. On the rare occasion the choice was to stick the opposition in, against the West Indies in 2007, the Windies won. Quinton de Kock, at 7/1, is great value to top score in the hosts' first innings - amid a battle royale with Herath and company.

Written by Jonhenry Wilson for!

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