South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Paarl January 10, 2012

Shorter format, smaller gulf

After the wild swings of fortune in the Tests, the one-dayers should be a more tight contest

Shorter formats of the game are said to be cricket's levellers and the premise will likely hold true for the five-ODI series between South Africa and Sri Lanka. Their three Tests were played on a wildly swinging pendulum which started firmly in South Africa' half, veered violently the other way after Sri Lanka's win in Durban and then returned to its original position at the end of the series.

Across 50 overs, the teams are expected to be more evenly matched. Sri Lanka have explosive openers, a toe-crusher of a bowler and two accomplished spinners, South Africa have a feisty captain cum batsman cum wicketkeeper, a shrewd offspinner and a potent pace attack. Although few will argue that there is anything more absorbing than Test cricket, many will agree that the one-day shootouts between these two sides will be compelling and competitive.

The cricket is expected to be played in fast-forward. Albie Morkel said he hopes for a series of "highlights." The schedule will add to the helter-skelter vibe. Five matches in 12 days allows little time for breathing room or over analysis which will ensure that momentum cannot stay with anyone for too long.

The playing fields will also do their bit to even the contest. Paarl, East London, Bloemfontein and Kimberley are this country's cricketing backwaters. The national team rarely plays there. In the recent past the only teams they are willing to host at these stadiums are Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, teams that the administrators believe they could beat on a surface as unfamiliar as the moon. To throw Sri Lanka into that mix is playing with fire.

In rarely visited venues, where surfaces are likely to veer on the slow, low, turning side, South Africa could find themselves on shaky ground. Take the simple fact that Sri Lanka have played more matches at Boland Park, the venue of the first match, than South Africa. Sri Lanka have visited the ground three times, compared with South Africa's two. The last time the hosts played in Paarl was in 2002, against Pakistan.

Despite that, South Africa chose not to train in Paarl but to hold their session at Newlands, closer to the team's base. They will only see the Paarl pitch a few hours before the start of play giving no credence to their ongoing problems with adjustment at various venues. AB de Villiers said the rushed nature of the tour swayed them to stay closer to home, so to speak, as most of the squad only convened after a round of domestic matches finished at the weekend.

"We felt it was important not to have a five- or six-hour session because if you take into account travel time it becomes that long," de Villiers said. "We'll be going to Paarl a little bit earlier so we can see the pitch but we know that it is usually a bit hotter and the pitch is normally quite dry."

de Villiers even said the conditions were almost sub-continental, something that Sri Lankan ears would have received with great interest. The rest of the matches will follow a similar trend and Sri Lanka will not have to fear the bouncy pitches they were forced to deal with in the Test matches until they get to Wanderers on January 22.

As far as contests go, this one has no great importance in the wider context. Should South Africa win, it will give them a fitting way to end their home summer. Should Sri Lanka, it could be the start of a new beginning for them and a rare and significant achievement away from home.

Given the somewhat dangling importance of the series, which fits neither here nor there, it could be equally easy for both teams to fall into the trap of watching the series whizz past while not being able to control its direction. South Africa will have to be particularly careful of avoiding that.

With no World Cup for the next three years and the major focus on capturing the No. 1 Test title and, in the immediate future, competing for the World T20, it would be all too easy for them to start living in the next few months and forgetting about the now. They have chalked up one-day series wins at home fairly easily in the last decade and they have a tendency to get flippant when they are allowed to. Gary Kirsten and AB de Villiers will have relatively bigger tests in their time, such as the forthcoming tours to England and Australia, but this could be one of their trickier ones. How they handle it will set the tone for a busy year and will give an indication of the route they intend the team to ride on in future.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 11, 2012, 14:32 GMT


  • Zafar on January 11, 2012, 12:17 GMT

    Firdose, I will object to the 'toe crusher' tag.. Yes I am a fan of Waqar Younis

  • Paul on January 11, 2012, 11:40 GMT

    Sach, South Africa have been unlucky to never win a world cup - they were the best team in the tournament in 1996 and in 1999 - as during that period they had a better winning record than even Australia, they were amazing. But in crunch games, it can slip. That's the thing about World Cup,s, one slip and you're gone. It certainly is not a yardstick by which to measure the SA side, they are far far far better than their results at WC's

  • Siyadh Ahamed on January 11, 2012, 11:12 GMT

    Mahela shud perform well . If Malinga, & Sanga fire shud can go through in a long way..kulasekara & mandis shud b in d final teams .. Dilshan, Tharanga, Sanga. Mahela, Chandimal,Angelo, Thisara, Ajantha, Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Kosala/Herath.. In upcoming series,SL Cricket board should give d fair amount of chances 2 young gunzz like, Thirimanna,Dimuth, Bhanuka Rajapakse & Shalika Karunanayake...They r d future 4 SLC....

  • sachit on January 11, 2012, 11:04 GMT

    @andrew-schulz : my bad. Thanks for pointing that out mate. It should be corrected as 3 semi's. 1992,1999 and 2007

  • Dummy4 on January 11, 2012, 11:01 GMT

    @Andrew -Schulz- yes u r right, they have been to 3 WC Semis but the first one went straight from League phases to semis without the quarters i think. If there was one, on balance of probabilities, they would have only 2. the second they "choked" and the third they were blown away. in every other they have "choked" at the first knock out stage. now that tells a story!!!lol!!!

  • andrews on January 11, 2012, 10:06 GMT

    Sach TLG I think you'll find South Africa has made three world cup semi-finals. I don't mind you bagging them though.

  • D on January 11, 2012, 10:04 GMT

    @hashabjp: Why don't you use your big brain and give a batting tip or two to your team in AUS facing yet another 4-0.

  • Dummy4 on January 11, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    " Sri Lanka's win in Durban and then returned to its original position at the end of the series". Like how SA was in SL in their last series(2006).In that series they have shown where they are stand.At least SL win one match already here but whereas SA no win in that series.

  • sachit on January 11, 2012, 7:24 GMT

    on occassions when Mahela was out of form he returned to form by opening the innings, but that would mean breaking up the Tharanga Dilshan combination that apart from the last few tours has been a success, having said that Tharanga was one of the more consistent batsman over recent times.

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