South Africa in Sri Lanka 2013 July 19, 2013

An uncommon bilateral series


As Sri Lanka's next ODI assignment in a year of Test avoidance rolls around, against South Africa, fans may be beginning to feel more than a touch of limited-overs fatigue. Neither team has played a Test since March and there have been no major triumphs for either team in ODIs either.

The fact that this tour could have been so much better, had the Tests not been postponed to make way for a now kaput Twenty20 tournament, will make the bilateral series all the more tough to swallow. Moreover, with the battle royale unfolding in the UK, viewers are left with a very tempting alternative.

However, this match-up does have a little about it that may help distinguish it from the glut of the modern-day limited-overs sludge.

It's not often that South Africa play Sri Lanka, particularly away from home. Their last ODI series here goes back as far as 2004, when a team featuring Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock and Nicky Boje, lost 5 -0. A three-ODI series between the two sides was planned in 2006, but was cancelled due to bad weather. The touring captain AB de Villiers has not played a single ODI in Sri Lanka, in an international career spanning eight years.

The sides are well matched on paper. Neither team is a world beater in the limited-overs format, but can be formidable when their moods and conditions align. In the Champions Trophy in June, both teams were beaten comprehensively in the semi-finals, which once again prompted everyone to believe that while the teams have the skill and determination to consistently find themselves at the sharp end of tournaments, they lack the mental steel to close out results in high-pressure encounters. In fact, had there been more riding on this series, it might have even been billed as a "choke-off."

There is also a mutual onus on developing young talent. South Africa have arrived without Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Graeme Smith, in an effort to find the right combination and rhythm ahead of the 2015 World Cup. Men like Chris Morris and Aaron Phangiso have the chance to prove they should be part of South Africa's long-term plans, and others like Rory Kleinveldt and David Miller must now add consistency to the qualities that has seen them emerge at the top level.

For Sri Lanka, the series will provide another opportunity for the younger players to reassure their fans that the side will not slide into doldrums once Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan retire. All three seniors privately hope to play the next World Cup, but they cannot hope to end their careers with a major title unless the remaining batsmen become better than just adequate support players. The Champions Trophy might have been a disaster for Sri Lanka without the trio's efforts in England, as none of the remaining batsmen could manage more than 74 runs during the tournament.

Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne, who have been made captain and vice-captain respectively for the first two games, will have the most to prove in this series. Their talent, particularly in Tests, is beyond doubt but neither is yet to repay the faith that has been afforded to them in the shorter formats. South Africa boast one of the world's finest attacks but their inexperience in Sri Lankan conditions, and the absence of Steyn, will make them a slightly less intimidating prospect, and Sri Lanka's middle order cannot complain that they are out of their depth.

Sri Lanka and South Africa thrive in conditions that are almost diametrically opposite to the other's favoured stomping grounds. South Africa may probably be slightly at ease, given the pace and bounce in the Sri Lankan pitches, but they must also be wary of the dustbowls at the Premadasa and in Pallekele.

There has been some rain at both venues in the build-up to the series but in the past Sri Lanka's groundsmen have always managed to maintain a turning track despite the weather. If they have done so again, South Africa will find it that much more difficult to turn around an abysmal ODI record on the island.

There should be no pretensions that this series is anything other than yet another forgettable bilateral tie, robbed of much of its context because of the removal of the Tests. But for both sides, it will be another crucial step taken on their journey to Australia and New Zealand in 2015.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ANIRBAN on July 20, 2013, 16:05 GMT

    Once again, Kumar Sangakkara has proved he is currently the most in form batsman in world cricket in both Test & ODIs. His ever improving average in ODIs & also constant excellent avg in TEST are the testimonial to this fact. Now his ODI avg is almost touching 40 & it was his 350th ODI today as well. In around 115 tests also his avg is super excellent, almost 57....... From last 3-4 yrs he has become from a very good batsman to great batsman & now turning out to be one of the all time greats ever. Even in INDIA now INDIA in this fantastic form, can demolish SA 5-0? but SL has already done that in past & today they have thrashed them by 180 runs!!!! which is one of the biggest margin in ODI history!!!!!!!!!....... amazing.. AB baby whose ODI avg almost 50 after around 150 ODIs & 93+ strike rate, he is struggling in his first ever ODI in SL soil in a career spanned over 8 yrs!!!.. so pathetic.. so IND be aware when u face SA in SA in Nov-Jan in SA soil, completely different proposition.

  • mark on July 20, 2013, 8:00 GMT

    SA was here in SL during T20Cup last sept...and they played 8 over match in Hamb'tota which they I doubt the sentence here

    '' The touring captain AB de Villiers has not played a single ODI in Sri Lanka, in an international career spanning eight years'' although it was not a 50over match, a player like calibre of ABD, that may be enough exposure to adjust his game in SL..;

  • suresh kumar on July 20, 2013, 4:09 GMT

    unfortunately no test matches, if test matches were there it would definitely test the no1 SA team, bcoz srilankan team more formidable than any other team at home.

  • Anil on July 20, 2013, 1:00 GMT

    Lack of match winners,talent and skill in Sri Lankan team might help SA win 3-2.

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2013, 23:22 GMT

    To all the indians who are worried about Sri Lankan Cricket, this is what i have to say. You have gone one step further than us so far but remember we are just one step behind, not million miles as you suggest. Sri lanka team is a growing team and luck has not gone our way so far. But it will. Its not a matter of talent but a matter of temperament and confidence. After all we do not have 1.2 Billion people to choose a crickets team ;)

  • Shahzad on July 19, 2013, 22:55 GMT

    S.A won the series easily...!!!

  • Satyam on July 19, 2013, 20:49 GMT

    "the battle royale unfolding in the UK" ... LOL ... hilarious, brilliant sarcasm.

  • Chatty on July 19, 2013, 16:22 GMT

    "... the battle royale unfolding in the UK...": Give me a break. The Ashes is going to be a one sided bore! Yawn. Not saying that I am thrilled about the SL-SA one day series. But I don't think Aussies have any fight left. I think the first test was an exception. Aussies used every ounce of their guts and failed. There is nothing left any more. Ashes series is good when it is between two good teams. Here we have a mismatch and it is just going to be very boring to watch, I must say.

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2013, 15:46 GMT

    I remember that 5 - 0 series. SL team was on fire. That was when we were unbeatable at home. Unless you were Australia of course.... Ah, good old days :)

  • Dummy4 on July 19, 2013, 13:37 GMT

    Remember the days we thumped SA 5-0. I think only SL has done that. Those Jayasuriya days...

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