Sri Lanka take another shot at history
January 3-7, Cape Town
Start time 10:30 (08:30 GMT)
The Big Picture
South Africa haven't won their previous four home Test series, but a failure to close out this one will cause the most criticism. While the other contests were against teams near the top of the rankings, this one is against a side that was struggling to find its feet in Test cricket after the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan. A series that was expected to be all one-way traffic is now level at one-all, with Sri Lanka having already achieved their pre-tour ambition of winning a Test in South Africa.
After basking in one of their greatest Test victories, Sri Lanka have now scaled up their goal to a series win in South Africa. The Durban success came about through significant contributions from many of their players - Thilan Samaraweera and Kumar Sangakkara making hundreds, Chanaka Welegedera and Rangana Herath taking five-fors, and Dinesh Chandimal scoring vital half-centuries in each innings. That's something they need to repeat in Cape Town if they are to pose a challenge to South Africa, who remain favourites despite the Durban debacle.
The return of Vernon Philander, whose accurate swing bowling has brought him four five-wicket hauls in three Tests, is a cause of cheer for the home side. Sri Lanka, though, have several injury worries - Chandimal is struggling with an elbow problem and a final call on his availability will be taken on Tuesday, while their quickest bowler Dilhara Fernando is also doubtful after suffering knee pain.
It has been more than a decade since Sri Lanka played a Test in Cape Town, but their previous match at the venue remains their biggest defeat in Tests. However, as they did memorably in Durban, Sri Lanka need to forget the past and set about taking a shot at history.
Form guide(Most recent first)
South Africa LWLWD
Sri Lanka WLDLD
Watch out for...Only once in the past nine seasons has Jacques Kallis gone through an entire home season without making a Test century. The Cape Town Test is the last one of the South African summer and Kallis is yet to score a hundred, and what is more - he has picked up three ducks in his past four Tests. Luckily for him, the next match is at Newlands, his home ground and one where he has an outstanding record - 1874 runs at 72.07 with eight centuries. No better place then for him to regain form, that too in his 150th Test.
Tillakaratne Dilshan is another batsman struggling for form - he has only two half-centuries in his previous 15 Test innings. After a miserable first seven months as leader, Dilshan had little to show in terms of results, but the Durban victory should give his captaincy a fresh lease. Now that the team is showing signs of a turnaround, he'll hope his own form too will improve.
The Durban debacle has prompted immediate action from South Africa. Ashwell Prince has been axed, and the in-form Alviro Petersen returns. He slots in as an opener, pushing the out-of-sorts Jacques Rudolph down the order. The other change to the XI is that Vernon Philander returns to take the place of Marchant de Lange.
South Africa: 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Jacques Rudolph, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir
The only changes to the Sri Lankan side are likely to be due to injuries. Decisions on Chandimal and Fernando will be taken on Tuesday morning, and in case they aren't fit, Kaushal Silva and Dhammika Prasad are the likely replacements.
Sri Lanka: (probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 2 Tharanga Paranavitana, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Dinesh Chandimal / Kaushal Silva (wk), 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Dilhara Fernando / Dhammika Prasad, 11 Chanaka Welegedara
Pitch and conditions
It rained in Cape Town on Monday but the forecast is better for the rest of the week. Smith believes the pitch is dry though there is a tinge of green on it. The Newlands track is usually a good Test wicket, so we can expect a bit for the bowlers early on, and a decent batting strip.
Stats and trivia
- Since South Africa's post-apartheid return to cricket, Australia are the only visiting team to have won Tests at Newlands. South Africa's record at the ground in that period is a formidable 15 wins and three losses in 23 matches
- Daryl Cullinan is the only South African batsman to have made more than one Test century against Sri Lanka. Surprisingly, the only batsman in the current squad to make have made a Test hundred against Sri Lanka is Jacques Rudolph
- Thilan Samaraweera is 22 short of becoming Sri Lanka's highest run-getter in a Test series in South Africa.
Click here for the detailed stats preview to the Test.
Quotes"We have the capabilities to be at the top and we won't get there with the way we played in Durban. We need to step it up a little bit and we understand that."
Graeme Smith says South Africa will come back stronger in Cape Town
"If we can win the series, it will be a great achievement as a team. We believe we can perform in any conditions and it would be a big achievement for Sri Lanka if we win."
Tillakaratne Dilshan looks forward to making history, again
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo