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Sri Lanka desperate to break rut as de Kock stands in for du Plessis

Quinton de Kock tries to play late through the off side AFP

Big Picture

Two Tests and three ODIs into the tour, there has been depressingly little competitive cricket between these teams. South Africa were wiped the floor with in the Tests, unable to muster competence with the bat until the final innings of the series. Since then, Sri Lanka have been woeful in the ODIs, their batting, fielding and bowling taking it in turns to fail in the three matches so far. The one-day series has already been decided, which would ordinarily make these last two games fairly pointless. But, thankfully, because the World Cup is on the horizon, there is a little more than pride to play for. Sri Lanka have to peel themselves off the floor, and try yet again to snap this losing streak against South Africa that has now stretched to 11 ODIs. South Africa now have the freedom to trial even more of their World Cup hopefuls.

It is the reshuffling of South Africa's side, prompted partly by the shoulder injury that has ruled captain Faf du Plessis out of the remainder of the tour, that may bring the two teams a little closer together. South Africa might decide there is little point in giving Kagiso Rabada another game, for example, and have Junior Dala fill in, instead. Provided the Pallekele pitch looks somewhat spin friendly, Keshav Maharaj could also come into the mix.

The problem for Sri Lanka is that even South Africa's second-string players seem to perform at a higher level than Sri Lanka's frontliners at present. Reeza Hendricks, for example, hit a bright debut ton on Sunday, in a series in which no Sri Lanka batsmen have got themselves to triple figures. So even with a slew of potential South Africa changes, it is difficult to suggest Sri Lanka are finally well-placed to win a match.

Form Guide

Sri Lanka LLLWW (completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WWWLL

In the spotlight

While South Africa have pinned hopes on Wiaan Mulder becoming a world-class allrounder, another all-round talent may be emerging in the form of Andile Phehlukwayo. Right now, Phehlukwayo's batting may not quite be good enough for him to claim a place as an allrounder, and yet, on Sunday, the team sent him out ahead of Mulder in the batting order, and Phehlukwayo repaid that faith by hitting three fours and a six in an 11-ball innings that yielded 24 not-out. He has also been good with the ball. Though not as fast as Rabada or Lungi Ngidi, Phehlukwayo seems to have worked out quickly which lengths to bowl on Sri Lanka's one-day pitches, and that nous has brought him six wickets in the last two games.

Although one of the senior batsmen in what is a fairly inexperienced team, Upul Tharanga is yet to make a substantial contribution in this series. In and out of the side for so many years, Tharanga seemed to have unlocked the secret to one-day consistency in 2017, in which he averaged 48.14 with the bat. If Sri Lanka are to be a strong contender for the World Cup, Tharanga will have to ensure he keeps churning out 50-plus scores on a regular basis over the next year.

Team news

Aiden Markram may come back into the side for the injured du Plessis, with Quinton de Kock standing in as captain in the last two ODIs. South Africa will think seriously about resting Rabada, before JP Duminy takes over the captaincy reins for the one-off T20I.

South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk, capt.), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Reeza Hendricks, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Wiaan Mulder, 8 Andile Phehlukwayo, 9 Junior Dala, 10 Tabraiz Shamsi, 11 Lungi Ngidi

Sri Lanka may think about bringing Kasun Rajitha back into the side, perhaps at the expense of left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Lahiru Kumara, 11 Kasun Rajitha

Pitch and conditions

The pitch on Sunday seemed to be a generic one-day surface with plenty of runs, so expect the same on Wednesday. The ball does tend to zip around under lights at Pallekele, though, which may put the chasing team at a slight disadvantage.

Stats and trivia

  • Andile Phehlukwayo averages 36.57 with a strike rate of 100, with the bat. That is largely because he has stayed unbeaten in 10 of his 17 innings

  • Upul Tharanga has hit only one fifty in eight innings this year

  • Kusal Perera needs 24 runs to complete 2000 in ODIs