History favours South Africa
History, brief though it may be, suggests that South Africa will hold sway in Sri Lanka next month when they return for their second tour of the island.
The two countries have met on only five occasions at Test level, Sri Lanka's Test status coming during South Africa's two decades of isolation. South Africa, however, have quickly established dominance over the islanders, winning a three-Test series 1-0 in 1993 and taking both Test matches in South Africa during Sri Lanka's visit in 1998.
The 1993 South African team, led by Kepler Wessels, won the series largely on the back of the left-arm pace of Brett Schultz, and a stubborn maiden century from Jonty Rhodes in Moratuwa which denied Sri Lanka victory in the first Test.
With Clive Eksteen doggedly blocking everything at the other end (he made four in 90 minutes), Rhodes kept Sri Lanka, and Muttiah Muralitharan at bay on the last afternoon after the home team had had the better of the match.
Schultz's pace and aggression turned everything around in the second Test. He took nine in the match as Sri Lanka collapsed twice and, in fact, finished with 20 wickets from the three Tests. Injury restricted the burly Schultz to only nine Test matches in which he took 37 wickets. His success rate against Sri Lanka, then, was quite outstanding.
The third Test was a dreary draw notable largely for Daryll Cullinan's maiden Test century, but the quality of cricket improved when Sri Lanka paid their first Test visit to South Africa five years' later.
Sri Lanka made a decent fist of things during the first Test at Newlands, but a Cullinan century, his second in as many matches against Sri Lanka, proved the difference as South Africa won by 70 runs.
At Centurion Park for the second Test, the Lankans allowed a glorious opportunity to win slip through their fingers. Muralitharan spun a web around the South African first innings (all out 200, Cullinan 103) to give the tourists a 103 lead. But Allan Donald blasted Sri Lanka aside for 122 when they batted a second time, Hansie Cronje went to 50 off 31 balls on his way to 82, and South Africa prevailed by six wickets.
A few features have emerged from these five matches: South Africa's three wins have owed much to aggressive fast bowling; Muralitharan has consistently troubled the South Africans; and Cullinan enjoys batting against Sri Lanka. What price these three factors again playing a part in Sri Lanka?