South Africa v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group B, The Oval June 2, 2017

South Africa set to unleash their main men

South Africa are likely to pitch their strongest bowling attack against Sri Lanka © AFP

South Africa are aiming for all-out attack in their Champions Trophy opener against Sri Lanka, whose batting line-up they have had the better of in recent times. Not only have South Africa won their last seven matches against Sri Lanka, but they have bowled them out in six of those and have reason to believe they can do it again.

"We know that we have an opportunity and the ability to bowl the Sri Lankan side out. It's a matter of getting that combination right and getting the right players on a par to do so," AB de Villiers, South Africa's captain, said. "To me it's really important to get your top three, four bowlers in there. Not that the allrounders can't take wickets but I'll probably be leaning towards getting your best bowlers in to make sure we have our best chance to bowl them out and to get 10 wickets in the game."

De Villiers' desire for an out-and-out strike bowler suggests he will opt for an attack that includes both Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel, the only two specialist quicks in a squad with four allrounders. But that does not sync with coach Russell Domingo's sentiments from three days ago that Morkel's place in the XI was uncertain because South Africa want a deeper batting line-up. Morkel only played one of the three ODIs against England and before that had not played 50-over cricket since June 2016 which has left him on the fringes of a side that is still searching for an allrounder in the Jacques Kallis mould to complete it.

But, South Africa may not see a need to concern themselves too much with runs against Sri Lanka. In four of the last seven matches they've played against them, South Africa have bowled Sri Lanka out for under 200. That includes the 2015 World Cup quarter final, where Imran Tahir took 4 for 26, and the home series earlier this year, which South Africa won 5-0. Tahir was the second-highest wicket-taker in that series, with 10 scalps, which is why he is a certain starter in Saturday's match despite recently nursing a niggle.

A hamstring issue kept Tahir out of two of the three England games but instead of giving him a little more time to rest and use their other option Keshav Maharaj - who made his debut at the Ageas Bowl - South Africa will bring Tahir straight back into the mix.

"Imran is fit and he's our No. 1 bowler, our No. 1 spin bowler. And Keshav understands his role when it comes to that," de Villiers said. "There might be a time in the tournament where we might use a different strategy, if we play against a certain opposition or on a certain field. But for tomorrow, Imran is the No. 1 pick."

It is unusual times for South Africa because they are certain of their spin options but unsure of their pace pack and the England series would only have posed more questions. All four allrounders played at some point in the series and Wayne Parnell had the most convincing figures after an impressive outing at Lord's where he made the new ball swing. He was also the leading wicket-taker in the Sri Lanka series, with 11 wickets at 17.36, and has been the most successful opening partner to Rabada, which suggests he has sealed a spot for now.

That leaves South Africa with a choice between one or two of Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius. The latter only played once against England so it may just be down to Morris and Phehlukwayo; choosing between the experience of someone who has played at a major tournament in the past and the excitement of someone who has none of the baggage.

Morris was batting when South Africa failed to chase of 10 off 10 in Southampton, but he has finished games before - the one against England in Cape Town early last year being a stand-out. Phehlukwayo has done the same, against New Zealand in Hamilton but he also stumbled in that same series.

Finishers like the two of them tend to need a little bit of luck along with everything else. South Africa will need some too - perhaps not now, in the opening jousts which they go into with confidence - but later when the pressure is on. And they need to make sure they have prepared properly for that, especially in terms of personnel.

Their series defeat to England suggests there remains some fine-tuning required and de Villiers admitted they used the three matches to try and smooth things out, perhaps without success. What they did learn was that no matter which combination they chose, they remained competitive and for now, that should be enough.

"If you go into a series thinking that you want to play all 15 players, you're not really focusing on just winning that series because your mind is a little bit elsewhere, so I think that's what happened," he said. "But I think we peaked really well throughout that series, and ended up looking back thinking that, you know what, we actually could have won that series, easily, which is a great boost of confidence for us, keeping in mind that we played 15 players and it was a bit of a warm-up for the Champions Trophy."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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