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August 30, 2004
A late decision will be made on his inclusion in the side on Tuesday, but he is considered unlikely to play. His absence will be a major blow for his team-mates, who would have wanted him to be there to complete a winning run in which his fresh and strong leadership had played a major part. Mahela Jayawardene will captain, for the fourth time, if Atapattu does pull out.
With or without their leader, Sri Lanka's confidence is sky-high going into the final game. Their selection, though, has been complicated by twin desires: to give as much exposure as possible to their back-up seamers before the ICC Champions Trophy, and to complete an emphatic clean sweep, maintaining momentum for the tournament in England.
"The boys are very keen to finish it off on a winning note because we have done so much of hard work," Mahela Jayawardene told journalists after practice. "The Champions Trophy is very important for us but we are also looking to win all the matches to keep the confidence on a high.
"The bowlers have put up their hands and been counted in the absence of Murali [who will be back in the dressing room watching after his return from Australia], the fielding has been brilliant, and during tough situations the guys have dug deep," said Jayawardene. "The challenge now is to maintain the momentum that has been created."
Sri Lanka will go into the game with three fast bowlers and their two specialist legspinners. Nuwan Zoysa, rested for the last match in Dambulla, will come back into the team in place of Lasith Malinga, who proved wayward and expensive in Dambulla, especially during the final over of the innings, in which 15 runs were conceded.
South Africa, meanwhile, could be forgiven for secretly looking forward to the plane out of Sri Lanka. Just a few weeks into a new season, the coach and captain are facing increased criticism from back home after an abysmal run that has now extended to nine successive defeats.
Graeme Smith, as usual, spoke frankly about the team and his position at pre-match press. "The harder you try to get out of quicksand the further you sink," he said of the team's attempts to turn things around. He was equally philosophical about the growing personal criticism that he recieved. "At the top of the tree the wind always blows the strongest."
But Smith remains defiant and positive. He called a crisis meeting with the senior players on Sunday and said that "stern words were had between players". The onus, he believes, is now on the most experienced players to lead from the front and dig the side out of the hole before they equal the worst losing run (10 matches under Keppler Wessels in 1994) in South Africa's history.
"We decided to address a few issues again, especially within the senior group," Smith said after training. "The senior group have to take responsibility now. Their [Sri Lanka's] senior players are outperforming ours, and that is the difference at the moment. The preparation and practice has been fine - it is about digging really deep to get ourselves out of this hole and putting in a performance for 100 overs."
South Africa are set to revert back to their pace-based attack on the more seamer-friendly Sinhalese Sports Club pitch. Robin Peterson, expensive in Dambulla, his first game of the tour, could be replaced by either Alan Dawson or Charl Langeveldt, the fast bowler who was rushed over from Zimbabwe after Andre Nel flew home with a back injury.
South Africa 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Herschelle Gibbs, 3 Jacques Rudolph, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Shaun Pollock, 6 Jean-Paul Duminy, 7 Mark Boucher, 8 Lance Klusener, 9 Nicky Boje, 10 Charl Langeveldt, 11 Makhaya Ntini.
Sri Lanka 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Avishka Gunawardene 3 Saman Jayantha, 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Upul Chandana, 8 Farveez Maharoof, 9 Kaushal Lokuarachchi, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11 Nuwan Zoysa.
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