Dhananjaya de Silva may eventually assume a top-order position, but selectors and team management are undecided on when the move should happen, head coach Graham Ford has said. De Silva has only played six Tests, but has made 615 runs at an average of 55.90 so far. He is among those now being considered for the No. 3 position ahead of the Newlands Test.
"I think the selectors were quite keen for him to spend quite a bit of time in his apprenticeship phase of Test cricket batting down the order with a view to him eventually becoming a top-order player," Ford said. "But with what we've got at the moment, in terms of requirements, it may mean that he has to go up the order earlier than initially planned."
Despite his bright start, coaches and selectors are wary of loading too much responsibility on him at this nascent stage of his career. However, his value at No. 7 is somewhat eroded on foreign tours, where he does not have second spinner Dilruwan Perera coming in at No. 8. Dilruwan had begun his international career as an opening batsman, and is far more capable of forming partnerships with de Silva than Rangana Herath, who is often the No. 8 on away tours.
"The pros of Dhananjaya remaining down the order definitely are that he's performed fantastically there, and when we have got ourselves into trouble he's got us out of trouble," Ford said. "Also he's the last man of the group so he's a calm man for pressure situations.
"On the temperament side - we saw when he came in at 20 for 5 (26 for 5) against Australia he played beautifully. On a number of occasions he's been under big pressure and he's handled it pretty well.
"But the balance of the side at the moment, when we play the extra seamer - we are one batter less. The danger of him batting down the order now is that he may run out of partners quicker than previously. That's something to look at. He's certainly showed that he's well-equipped to handle batting up the order as well. It's nice to know that we've got somebody that capable who can possibly slot in higher up the order."
Aside from his temperament, de Silva is believed to have the technical proficiency to flourish in the top order, particularly as he is an opening batsman for his first-class side Tamil Union.
"We've also seen him handle the second new ball well on a number of occasions and we know he has played in the top order in domestic cricket," Ford said. "There are a lot of good qualities in the young man."
However, all the talk about a change of order could still, in the end, be just talk. Kusal Perera had two poor outings in Port Elizabeth, but Sri Lanka's selectors have recently preferred to give players a string of opportunities in one position instead of changing the order based on one or two performances. The opening batsmen, for example, were persisted with despite modest returns during the mid-year series.
However, the Newlands track has a light covering of grass on the eve of the match, and this may reduce Kusal's chances of coming in at first drop.
"Before the tour there were quite a lot of discussions about batting orders with the selectors," Ford said. "Perhaps we felt that this was an order that we should be giving some sort of a run to. Those discussions continue. In these conditions we may well look to go with something different."