South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion December 14, 2011

South Africa must make home advantage count


Match Facts

December 15-19, Centurion
Start time 1030 (0830GMT)

The Big Picture

When discussion turns to contenders for the top spot in Test cricket, South Africa feature prominently in the debate. Yet they haven't won a home Test series since 2008 - and that was against Bangladesh - having watched leads evaporate against Australia recently and India last year. If they have serious aspirations to return to the top of the table they need to win this series against Sri Lanka.

Everything suggests that should be well within their grasp. Sri Lanka have had a poor 2011 since reaching the World Cup final and have suffered three consecutive series defeats; against England, Australia and Pakistan. Although each was only a 1-0 margin there was a clear gap between them and their opposition. It's a void that they'll struggle to narrow against South Africa.

There was always going to be a tough period in Sri Lanka's history when Muttiah Muralitharan (not to mention Chaminda Vaas) departed the scene and the bowling attack is thin. However, in many ways the bigger concern is the form of the top order. With the honourable exception of Kumar Sangakkara the big names have failed to fire consistently. More is needed from Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera.

It will be a severe challenge for them against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, who made an impressive start to his Test career against Australia. They will be looking forward to the prospect of testing out the Sri Lankan batsmen on a bouncy, green Centurion pitch.

South Africa, though, have to take this series by the scruff of the neck if their reputation isn't to suffer. They have not always coped well when expectations have been high.

Form guide

(Most recent first)

South Africa LWDLW
Sri Lanka DLDDD

Watch out for...

Dale Steyn is the attack leader and Vernon Philander the new kid on the block, but don't forget about Morne Morkel. He has moved to first change rather than being Steyn's new-ball partner so when the Sri Lanka openers take strike they'll have that nagging thought that Morkel's steepling bounce is still awaiting them. Morkel's Test record - 121 wickets at a touch under 30 - is impressive but there is a feeling it could be even better. Against a visiting team unsure of conditions, this is a chance for Morkel to make a mark.

Tillakaratne Dilshan has been up and down the batting order this year as Sri Lanka try to find a combination that works. Against England, at Lord's, he hit a fabulous 193 as opener but then moved down to No. 5 when Australia visited before returning to the top for the final Test against Pakistan where he hit 92. Like with Virender Sehwag there will be times when Dilshan produces something fairly unflattering against the new ball but he also has the ability to set a tone and lead from the front. He won't back down against South Africa's quicks and that should make fascinating viewing.

Team news

South Africa are expected to stick with the side that faced Australia which means no recall for Alvrio Petersen but Jacques Rudolph is on notice that he needs to convert his starts at the top of the order. However, perhaps most under pressure is Mark Boucher who needs a strong series to convince people that his career isn't on the wane.

South Africa (probable) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Jacques Rudolph, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Ashwell Prince, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir

Sri Lanka named a 12-man squad on the eve of the Test which included both spinners - Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath - but with conditions likely to favour the seamers it would be a gamble to have just two frontline pacemen. Their options are limited, however, with Nuwan Pradeep having flown home injured. Sangakkara, who split the webbing on his right hand in the warm-up match, will have a final fitness test but the signs were promising.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 2 Tharanga Paranavitana, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Kaushal Silva (wk), 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11 Chanaka Welegedara

Pitch and conditions

The pitch was as green as Pakistan's kit the day before the match so the pace bowlers on both sides will be licking their lips. The weather was overcast for training, with similar conditions expected through the game but no major rain forecast. However, there may be some afternoon thunderstorms as is common on the Highveld.

Stats and trivia

  • Sri Lanka have played seven Tests in South Africa and only avoided defeat once with a draw in Durban in 2000 when rain washed out the fourth day.

  • However, four Sri Lankan players from that Kingsmead Test are due to play in Centurion; Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Dilhara Fernando - who took 5 for 98

  • South Africa have won 12 of their 16 Tests in Centurion, the only defeat coming in the rain-affected 2000 match against England when Hansie Cronje set up the final-day run chase.


"Whenever there's a subcontinent team, it's always the talk. That's the reality that Sri Lanka face, that our pace bowlers are in their own conditions and want to exploit that."
Graeme Smith suggests the visitors will face barrage.

"If we can play our brand of cricket, we can beat any team in any conditions."
However, Tillakaratne Dilshan was also bullish

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • yogi on December 15, 2011, 11:03 GMT

    As a neutral I would like to watch a series of tough cricket. I support both SA & SL as they have given many a joy to fans like me. Alas how I miss th egolden oldies........Donald, Jonty , Shaun Pollock, Arvinda, Sanath, Arjuna....... Go guys sweat it out. Let the best Team win.

  • John on December 15, 2011, 10:33 GMT

    @khiladisher on (December 14 2011, 15:44 PM GMT) - Why do you feel the need to quote India's selective history on this particular thread?

  • Luke on December 15, 2011, 8:17 GMT

    Very weak SL attack, looking forward to watching Steyn bowl on this pitch

  • Amol on December 15, 2011, 8:02 GMT

    Even if SRL are able to stretch a Test to the **FIFTH** day (weather permitting ofcourse), that would be more than expected from them. I can't envision SRL capturing 10 wickets of SA in any innings: whether Tests or ODIs.

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2011, 7:50 GMT

    Ajantha mendis should play

  • Sarath on December 15, 2011, 7:05 GMT

    SL's troubles lies with their sel'tors as they're unable to look beyond seniors though they've enough y'ng players of proven ability, who're far better than y'ng S'kara,M'ela or D'shan . At a time 99% fit seniors'd win only 1 out of last 18 T m'ches, what's more can the fans expect from 50% fit players. D'shan, after his fractured finger, was rested only for 1 match. M'ela was also a recent casualty. It's all the more difficult to hold the bat with the kind of injury that S'kara is having. It isn't possible to play with an injury even against a club team let alone a team like SA. This kind of situations arises because seniors don't want youngsters to grab their places; just because they are prepared even to play with one limb missing, it's the responsible officials duty to take right decisions that are good for the Country. Individuals may come & go but the Country's Cricket has to go on. There is no harm even if we lose few matches with youngsters rather than with seniors.

  • Ameya on December 15, 2011, 6:07 GMT

    SRL should lose this 3-0.They dont have batting to put up a total nor the bowling to take 20 wickets.Pitches will all end up having bit of pace and touch of movement which would be death knell for lankan batters.Really Proteas would be licking their lips to hand a perfect whipping to a mediocre outfit and set their home record str8.It would be wildest dream for lanka to even draw a single game let alone get a win.Sorry Lankan fans your team like always away from home is downright pathetic

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2011, 5:49 GMT

    i think SL will struggle in SA because the are slow pitches player.

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2011, 4:25 GMT

    India will win a test match in AUS. Sri Lankans???

  • Rishi on December 15, 2011, 4:10 GMT

    @bMike: AMEN to that. And let the show begin, go SL and do your best.

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