Russell Domingo’s first task as the new South African coach is a difficult one. He’ll probably be pleased that it doesn’t involve defending the number one position in test cricket and rather focuses on the various conundrums facing the limited overs portion of the game, away from the limelight. However, Sri Lanka would not have been hovering near the top of his list of places to travel. South Africa have only won a single ODI in the country, coming in 1993, losing nine and having one contest marred by rain. Opportunities for success will be slim and Domingo’s job has already been labelled a baptism of fire.
Sri Lanka 8/10
South Africa 1/1
The home side begins the series with yet another change in captaincy. Thankfully it is a forced change, and not born from the reluctance of many experienced campaigners in the Sri Lankan side to take the job. Angelo Mathews was handed a two game suspension following a contravention of the the rules regarding a slow over rate and Dinesh Chandimal and been named to take his place. At 23, he will be the youngest ever Sri Lankan ODI captain, though his form of late will be a worry for the side. He averages a mere 18.19 over the past sixteen months and only has two fifties in 28 ODIs. Jehan Mubarak has earned a recall four years after his last international appearance, in an effort to strengthen the middle-order in Mathews’ absence. Sri Lanka’s spinners will likely cause the most distress to the South Africans, though Lasith Malinga is an incredible threat at the death. A lot, as usual, will depend on how the plus 35-year-old Sri Lankan stalwarts apply themselves. There have not been many runs from elsewhere in recent times.
While the test side has basked in stable glory, the South African limited overs side has floundered in inconsistency. Under Gary Kirsten they persisted with testing combinations, looking for an almost magical balance that would solve their problems. Unfortunately, with this approach comes uncertainty and in the case of the Proteas, resulted in a lack of cohesion. Promises have now been made. AB de Villiers will quit floating around the order and will make the number four position his own, as well as take up the gloves permanently. Domingo has assured that a player will get a sustained run in a specific role, which common sense suggests will enable them to acclimatise to the different match situations they are likely to face and become proficient in dealing with them. If you look at the Proteas on paper, both their batting and bowling attacks have the potential to be devastating. Russell Domingo needs to discover the elusive trick to get both of these departments performing at the same time, as well as fill the increasingly glaring absence of Jacques Kallis. In Sri Lanka, he’ll have his back to the wall in attempting to satisfy these endeavours.
The R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo will play host the opening two ODIs and by all accounts looks to be a standard Sri Lankan subcontinent wicket. Getting off to a good start is always important, as the spinners inevitably come into play as the ball becomes older. Unfortunately, scattered thunderstorms are predicted for Saturday, which may make batting even more difficult.
BEST: Top South African Batsman, JP Duminy 4/1
He’s the only one of the current South African setup to have played in Sri Lanka in an ODI series previously, and therefore is probably better equipped for the task than most. We’ve seen form from him out of the public eye in a few warm-up fixtures of late and he seems due a big score. My money lies with Duminy.
VERDICT: South Africa 1/1
This may come across as unconventional, and that’s because it is. But I do feel that teams tend to play with a breath of fresh air after a new coach takes the reigns. The Proteas looked good in their warm-up fixture, Duminy stroking 92 and the bowlers running in with aggression. Sri Lanka have had their ups and downs of late and I feel that Chandimal is not yet ready for the pressure.