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
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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

  • on January 11, 2012, 14:32 GMT

    @Don_Simon HASHABJP IS A SOUTH AFRICAN. ARE THE READERS OUT OF THEIR MIND CALLING HIM AN INDIAN?

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

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

  • Pablo123 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

  • shaan1010 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 11...my 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....

  • 9ST9 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

  • 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!!!

  • andrew-schulz 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.

  • Don_Simon 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.

  • 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.

  • 9ST9 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.

  • on January 11, 2012, 14:32 GMT

    @Don_Simon HASHABJP IS A SOUTH AFRICAN. ARE THE READERS OUT OF THEIR MIND CALLING HIM AN INDIAN?

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

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

  • Pablo123 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

  • shaan1010 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 11...my 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....

  • 9ST9 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

  • 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!!!

  • andrew-schulz 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.

  • Don_Simon 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.

  • 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.

  • 9ST9 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.

  • 9ST9 on January 11, 2012, 7:18 GMT

    Hang on, why do I feel the article has a 'Well if they win , thats because the conditions favoured them' tone to it ?

  • 9ST9 on January 11, 2012, 7:09 GMT

    @hashabjp - Yeah SA have 11 Match Winners than SL ever had in 30 years, I guess that's why SL have Won a world cup and made 2 WC finals and one semi while the best SA have ever done is make the semis twice.

  • satish619chandar on January 11, 2012, 7:05 GMT

    Malinga will be the factor for sure on any day.. I would go for Nuwan as the dark horse when conditions aid swing.. Could have played tests with his consistent swing bowling.. Could well have done a Samaraweera there..

  • on January 11, 2012, 6:45 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 last time(2006).Anyway in that series no single win for SA, but SL already made one here.Even SA ran away in ODI by giving wrong reasons.

  • priceless1 on January 11, 2012, 5:51 GMT

    They should open with Mahela or he will be useless in the ODI series as he was in the test series .i think Mahela's career is nearing the end .....so far he has been a big disappointment for the SL cricket .after starting his career with a lot of promises only thing he has archived after playing many more years is "Most inconsistent batsmen in the Team"

  • stormy16 on January 11, 2012, 5:36 GMT

    Wonder if its Albie's last chance at the highest level. He is lucky to be here and unlcuky he is in SA - probably will play in most other teams as a back up bowler who can hit the long ball. Given SA has such a potent attack Albie is constatnly compared to some of the best bowlers around which is a tough ask. Tissera Perera needs to do something meanigful, he has been given a few opportunities but is not putting up any noteworthy performances. SL are probably thinking they should have opted for Jeewan or Randiv over Kosala given the venues.

  • vallavarayar on January 11, 2012, 4:39 GMT

    This looks to be a far more evenly contested ODI series. At least on paper. Like Ms Moonda says, this could be a vital win if SL manages to win this series, not least for Dilshan, who is sure to be axed as captain not too long in the future.

  • hashabjp on January 11, 2012, 3:32 GMT

    @ f ... yeah keep singing the same song till south africa thrashes you. As far as south africa is concerned. It has more match winner in this entire 11 than Sri Lanka ever produced in its entirity. Let the match begin.. Also one swallow doesnt make a summer. " Sri Lanka's win in Durban and then return to its original mediocrity at best " is clear indication of where this team is.

  • ChandraPrince on January 11, 2012, 1:01 GMT

    Firdose Moonda, thank you for your wonderful cricket writing! I love it...

  • on January 11, 2012, 1:00 GMT

    " Sri Lanka's win in Durban and then returned to its original position at the end of the series." wt* these people writing?

  • bottlemani27 on January 11, 2012, 0:49 GMT

    it's going to be a pretty bad ODI series for the Lankans .. "IF" malinga & sangakkara play well ...we might be in with a chance .. but otherwise, there won't be much competition. Mahela is flat track bully, Dilshan is Sri Lanka's Afridi so can't expect much from him than a good-for-nothing press conference , but I am looking forward to see Chandimal and Mathews to perform..

  • on January 10, 2012, 22:18 GMT

    lord.emsworth - hey dude ur 4geting smeting .. SL team has 11 players . and guess what al are genuine match winners .. thts true , their going through a lean patch , bt they have lot of match winners , south african team is jst overrated at the moment as they were in the WC ... its very intresting 2 see how SA handles SL bowlers ... bt still SL has the upper hand .. even they r plying out side sub continent .... cant wait 4 2morrow's match !!! LETS ROARRRRRRR............

  • Lord.emsworth on January 10, 2012, 20:23 GMT

    Blandings Castle calling...here is my prediction from a Sri Lankan point of view…If Dilshan sizzles and Malinga crushes with his slingers in the 5 matches SL will win 3/1. If Dilshan & Malinga fail, SA will win 3/1. The third team in these affairs are usually Duckworth Lewis who might just win one.....

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  • Lord.emsworth on January 10, 2012, 20:23 GMT

    Blandings Castle calling...here is my prediction from a Sri Lankan point of view…If Dilshan sizzles and Malinga crushes with his slingers in the 5 matches SL will win 3/1. If Dilshan & Malinga fail, SA will win 3/1. The third team in these affairs are usually Duckworth Lewis who might just win one.....

  • on January 10, 2012, 22:18 GMT

    lord.emsworth - hey dude ur 4geting smeting .. SL team has 11 players . and guess what al are genuine match winners .. thts true , their going through a lean patch , bt they have lot of match winners , south african team is jst overrated at the moment as they were in the WC ... its very intresting 2 see how SA handles SL bowlers ... bt still SL has the upper hand .. even they r plying out side sub continent .... cant wait 4 2morrow's match !!! LETS ROARRRRRRR............

  • bottlemani27 on January 11, 2012, 0:49 GMT

    it's going to be a pretty bad ODI series for the Lankans .. "IF" malinga & sangakkara play well ...we might be in with a chance .. but otherwise, there won't be much competition. Mahela is flat track bully, Dilshan is Sri Lanka's Afridi so can't expect much from him than a good-for-nothing press conference , but I am looking forward to see Chandimal and Mathews to perform..

  • on January 11, 2012, 1:00 GMT

    " Sri Lanka's win in Durban and then returned to its original position at the end of the series." wt* these people writing?

  • ChandraPrince on January 11, 2012, 1:01 GMT

    Firdose Moonda, thank you for your wonderful cricket writing! I love it...

  • hashabjp on January 11, 2012, 3:32 GMT

    @ f ... yeah keep singing the same song till south africa thrashes you. As far as south africa is concerned. It has more match winner in this entire 11 than Sri Lanka ever produced in its entirity. Let the match begin.. Also one swallow doesnt make a summer. " Sri Lanka's win in Durban and then return to its original mediocrity at best " is clear indication of where this team is.

  • vallavarayar on January 11, 2012, 4:39 GMT

    This looks to be a far more evenly contested ODI series. At least on paper. Like Ms Moonda says, this could be a vital win if SL manages to win this series, not least for Dilshan, who is sure to be axed as captain not too long in the future.

  • stormy16 on January 11, 2012, 5:36 GMT

    Wonder if its Albie's last chance at the highest level. He is lucky to be here and unlcuky he is in SA - probably will play in most other teams as a back up bowler who can hit the long ball. Given SA has such a potent attack Albie is constatnly compared to some of the best bowlers around which is a tough ask. Tissera Perera needs to do something meanigful, he has been given a few opportunities but is not putting up any noteworthy performances. SL are probably thinking they should have opted for Jeewan or Randiv over Kosala given the venues.

  • priceless1 on January 11, 2012, 5:51 GMT

    They should open with Mahela or he will be useless in the ODI series as he was in the test series .i think Mahela's career is nearing the end .....so far he has been a big disappointment for the SL cricket .after starting his career with a lot of promises only thing he has archived after playing many more years is "Most inconsistent batsmen in the Team"

  • on January 11, 2012, 6:45 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 last time(2006).Anyway in that series no single win for SA, but SL already made one here.Even SA ran away in ODI by giving wrong reasons.