SL home might v SA away prowess
Match factsJuly 16-20, 2014
Start time 1000 local (0430GMT)
South Africa are stepping into unfamiliar territory in this series. Not only are they beginning life under a new Test captain - for the first time in more than a decade - they are also playing a Test in Sri Lanka after eight years. Their previous visit was well before their famous double-double of beating England and Australia away, and well before their current captain, Hashim Amla, the man he beat to the leadership role, AB de Villiers, and their premier fast bowler, Dale Steyn, established themselves as world-class players.
Those three are the only survivors from that 2006 visit, which was the last time South Africa lost a series on the road. Since then, they have put together an away record that is comparable with virtually any side to have played Test cricket.
It's not just South Africa's formidable record that is on the line. Since 2006, Sri Lanka have lost only one series at home. For South Africa, there is the added motivation of regaining the No. 1 spot, which they recently lost to Australia after nearly two years as undisputed kings of Test cricket. For Sri Lanka, there is the added motivation of giving one of their greats, Mahela Jayawardene, a fitting farewell as his Test career winds down.
The 2006 series is best remembered for two Jayawardene innings - first, the monumental 374 that included a world record 624-run stand with Kumar Sangakkara, and then the match-winning 123 that is perhaps his finest effort in Tests. Sri Lankan fans will hope for one more classic innings from him at one of his favourite grounds - he already has 2284 Test runs at Galle.
Sri Lanka WDDWL
South Africa LWLWD
In the spotlight
has already made a blistering start to his ODI career - only Upul Tharanga had scored more centuries at the age of 21. The challenge is to take that form into Tests. With AB de Villiers set to play as a specialist batsman due to a hamstring problem, de Kock will have the added responsibility of keeping. If he proves safe behind the stumps, his chances of securing the currently vacant spot in the lower-middle order for the long run brighten considerably.
Sri Lanka's tour of England may have been a triumphant one, but not for Lahiru Thirimanne, who floundered during the Tests with only four runs in four innings, including a pair at Headingley. Like de Kock, Thirimanne too has more experience and runs in limited-overs matches and is still finding his way at Test level. Elevated to the vice-captaincy earlier this year, plenty is expected from Thirimanne.
Upul Tharanga is all set for a Test comeback after more than six years on the sidelines, and the rest of the Sri Lanka batting picks itself. The questions are over whom to pick as the second spinner. Dilruwan Perera is expected to partner Rangana Herath, though Ajantha Mendis also has an outside chance. Suranga Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga are likely to be the quicks, but Dhammika Prasad could get a look-in as well.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Kaushal Silva, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 7 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Shaminda Eranga, 11 Suranga Lakmal
In the absence of the Graeme Smith, South Africa will pick Alviro Petersen and Dean Elgar as openers. Imran Tahir is set to play as the lone spinner, with JP Duminy as back-up. De Villiers is expected to bat at No. 5, with de Kock slotting in at No. 6.
South Africa: 1 Alviro Petersen, 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Hashim Amla (capt), 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Quinton de Kock (wk), 7 JP Duminy, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch looks like a typical Galle surface, set to provide some assistance for the quicks on the first day but likely to encourage spinners after that. The peak temperature is likely to be in the late 20s but what is more of a worry is the showers expected. The forecast suggests light to heavy rain, but probably in the evenings.
Stats and trivia
- Tharanga's return to Tests after more than six years is the third longest span between recalls for a Sri Lankan - behind Dulip Liyanage (between January 1994 and August 2001) and Malinga Bandara (between May 1998 and December 2005).
- The bowling average of South African spinners in Sri Lanka is 53.34, their worst in any country.
- Herath took 2 for 176 in his previous Test in Galle, but in the four Tests before that he has 36 wickets.
"Changing the captain doesn't really matter because South Africa have still got great players in the team. They are a very tough team to beat. They lost to us in the past but they have played some really good cricket recently, so we can't be complacent."
"The whole challenge of being captain, leading the team is an honour and a privilege so that is the most exciting thing."
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo