South Africa vs Sri Lanka: Third Test Preview


South Africa will look to complete the whitewash against a spirited Sri Lankan side at the Wanderers this week. 

The big news coming out of the Proteas camp obviously revolves around the absence of Kyle Abbott and the so-called talent drain currently threatening South African cricket, but who will replace Abbott in the short- and long-term?

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have to find inspiration and momentum from somewhere, if 2017 isn't to start off with a thorough whitewash a long way away from home.

South Africa v Sri Lanka | 12 January - 16 January | The Wanderers, Johannesburg

To Win Match
South Africa 2/7 | Draw 15/4  | Sri Lanka 12/1

South Africa
The Proteas head to a venue that has brought them a rather checkered Test record across the past decade. Indeed, they've only won four times in 10 attempts since 2006 - and even went with just one victory in six matches here through the late 1990s. This does not suggest we can expect more of the same, though, as this week's fragile opposition is a far cry from the visiting and triumphant England and Australian units of the past.

Debate around whether or not the hosts should field an all-pace attack, of course, is ongoing. The last time they did so, against the English in January last year, the lack of a frontline spinner was a big problem. In Keshav Maharaj, South Africa have a solid middle ground between, say, Imran Tahir and Robin Peterson. Attacking but inexpensive, economical but a striker, it would be a shame to see Maharaj deemed surplus to requirements in Johannesburg.

If Maharaj is forsaken, then the return of Wayne Parnell alongside debutant Duanne Olivier could point to the future for a bowling attack beginning to think about life after Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn. Parnell, who has worked hard on his game and mindset, will be a good pick. The all-rounder hasn't played Test cricket since 2014, but is the left-arm variation - and additional batting resource - welcomed in the wake of Abbott's shock exit.

Hashim Amla's 100th Test match will, hopefully, overshadow his slip in form - and Abbott, Rilee Rossouw and David Wiese's controversial decisions to sign Kolpak deals. Amla, as has been reiterated throughout the series, requires a big knock to silence those insisting he will be the man to go when AB de Villiers returns. Such a move would have seem farfetched a couple of months ago, but now isn't as unthinkable ahead of a heavy calendar year for the limited-overs and Test side.

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Sri Lanka
True, Sri Lanka's preparation was not ideal, given a severe lack of warm-up matches. Yes, sub-continental teams traditionally don't perform well away from home. But, really, the tourists' performances in South Africa so far have been very disappointing. The ground gained through the bulk of 2016 has not quite been lost, but certainly requires a lot of recouping - and not with one eye on the impending limited-over series.

Sri Lanka's temptation will be to start thinking about the upcoming ODIs and T20Is against South Africa. While shorter formats are arguably their preference - and evidently house more of their skill and ability than Test cricket - Angelo Mathews and company must fix their focus on the task at hand in at the Wanderers. The inklings of promise dug up in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town have to be properly unearthed in Johannesburg.

Conditions, on cue and according to Faf du Plessis' dictation to the groundsman, will be fast and green - even if rain in the build-up is hampering preparation a bit. The 19-year-old Lahiru Kumara proved a proverbial breath of fresh air at Newlands - and provided the support required by Suranga Lakmal. Opportunity, then, knocks to show that he is not a mere one-hit wonder - and again cash in against a batting order genuinely taken aback by his zest in Cape Town.

Further across their personnel, the Sri Lankans will do well to avoid wholesale changes, but bigger, better substance is required from the top six batsmen. Dimuth Karunaratne and Dinesh Chandimal, one surmises, should be the relatively experienced campaigners to lead this. Karunaratne, in particular, knows how to grind out gritty, lengthy innings - and have others bat around him. And there is no harm in relieving Chandimal of the wicketkeeping duties to allow him to concentrate, solely, on his primary role with the bat.

Verdict: South Africa 2/7
The Proteas are bound to wrap up a convincing three-nil drubbing of Sri Lanka. Even if their bowling attack sports two changes, Parnell is a bit ring rusty and Olivier nervous, the likes of Rabada and Philander - coupled with a formidable batting unit - will do the necessary, possibly inside four days.

Value bet: First ball of the match, four: 20/1
Well worth a punt here, as new-ball bowlers - Proteas or Sri Lankan - are prone to rank looseners. If the Proteas bat first, Dean Elgar or Stephen Cook will be inclined to leave the opening delivery, if it's outside the off-stump. Karunaratne or Kaushal Silva, though, will likely chase anything outside the off-stump - edging it through the cordon or creaming it through the covers.

Written by Jonhenry Wilson for

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