Pacer-friendly Wanderers may pose bigger problems for Sri Lanka
January 12-16, 2017
Start time 1000 local (0800 GMT)
There was always the expectation the series would become incrementally tougher for Sri Lanka. In Port Elizabeth, there was supposed to be a low, slow pitch, but it was not nearly low or slow enough. At Newlands, instead of defusing seam movement on a greener-than-usual deck, Sri Lanka flailed their way to a defeat so enormous there is really no point recalling the exact margin. Now they have arrived at the Wanderers, where locals say, balls jump mischievously off lengths and do mocking high-speed orbits of South Asian batsmen, before seeking out the shoulder of their bats and leaping gaily into the gully fielder's embrace.
On the eve of this Test, Faf du Plessis spoke of ensuring there is no complacency in his outfit, throwing words like "ruthless" and "dominant" around. This is all very nice, but Sri Lanka could have done with a little South African overconfidence to charge them up. Something like: "Instead of going to nets after the second Test, we've been practicing our bum-patting in anticipation of how much of it we'll have to do over the next few days," might have worked nicely.
The hosts' major talking points ahead of this Test have not exactly been about the cricket they have played this series. Instead, they prepare to wish a happy hundredth to their bearded, presently-not-in-form, wrist-meister Hashim Amla. They are also dealing with the onset of the 'Kolpakalypse', which in this Test, takes the form of having to replace Kyle Abbott, who went to Hampshire to be able to pay for groceries.
If the surface is as savage as folks are suggesting (seriously, this pitch had apparently once kidnapped an entire top order and held them to ransom), Sri Lanka's major chance of victory may lie in rolling South Africa over cheaply, twice. That is not a totally outlandish proposition, given the heartening spells Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara have bowled. But, okay, it is almost an outlandish one.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WWLWW
Sri Lanka LLWWW
In the spotlight
While Hashim Amla's lean trot has stretched for slightly longer, Temba Bavuma has been having a quietly modest series of his own, with scores of 3, 8, 10 and 0. He is clearly a player of quality, as his hundred against England and the 74 in Hobart lay out. But 16 matches into his Test career now, he will want to begin making a charge on that average, which presently sits at 31.42
Perhaps Sri Lanka fans owe a debt of gratitude to the kid who hit Lahiru Kumara on the head. Kumara had played hockey in his youth but was admitted to hospital one day after being struck by a stray stick. By the time he got home, his parents had thrown his hockey gear away and he was forced to switch to cricket, where he almost immediately proved himself a special talent. Possessing a mean bouncer, he could be a strike weapon for Sri Lanka on this pitch.
Wayne Parnell will take Kyle Abbott's place in the XI, and South Africa may also consider playing four quicks, to the exclusion of Keshav Maharaj.
South Africa (possible): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Stephen Cook, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 JP Duminy, 5 Faf du Plessis (capt.), 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Wayne Parnell, 10 Keshav Maharaj, 11 Kagiso Rabada
Sri Lanka will likely keep the same XI. There is an outside chance Dushmantha Chameera will replace Nuwan Pradeep, but that's only if Chameera has regained his rhythm, which was off in Port Elizabeth.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Kaushal Silva, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 7 Upul Tharanga, 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Lahiru Kumara, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
Pitch and conditions
There is a dusting of green on the Wanderers surface, which suggests it will hold together nicely through the five days, and prevent Rangana Herath from becoming a major threat. There is a chance of rain on Friday and Saturday, but the forecast is good for the remaining days.
Stats and trivia
- Rangana Herath needs six wickets in order to surpass Daniel Vettori's career tally of 362 and become the most successful left-arm spinner in Test history.
- Hashim Amla's average against Sri Lanka is 33.46 - his worst against any opponent save for Zimbabwe, whom he has only played one innings against.
- The last time Sri Lanka played at the Wanderers, in 2002, they lost by an innings and 64 runs.
"For me it's about being ruthless and trying to make sure that we're moving into a space as a team where we start to dominate. That's something we've spoken a lot about, and if you don't do it now in the third Test then you're just creeping back into old habits."
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis thinks his team has Sri Lanka by the collar, and doesn't want to let go
"He is very raw. He bowled extremely well. He can give you a few loose balls as well but he is very aggressive and we need players like that. We have Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal who can hold one end together, so we can attack a little bit more with Lahiru."
Angelo Mathews has words of praise for Lahiru Kumara
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando