The tussle for a (perhaps temporary) spot in the automatic qualifying zone on the World Cup Super League table will be decided in the series finale on Tuesday where 10 crucial points and a trophy, are on the line. Both Sri Lanka and South Africa are flirting too close to the line of having to pass through a qualifying tournament to make it to the 2023 World Cup and victory in this match will put either of them into the top five, and their minds at ease for now.
Perhaps more pressingly, given that there is still plenty of time and many series (albeit challenging ones for both sides) before the World Cup participants are decided, is the possibility of winning a series for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic started. Neither of these teams have won an ODI series in the last 18 months - Sri Lanka since beating the West Indies at home in February 2020 and South Africa since whitewashing Australia at home in March last year. In the interim, Sri Lanka have lost to the West Indies, Bangladesh, England and India, while South Africa have lost to England and drawn with Ireland. For both teams, winning on Tuesday will be a small step to re-discovering consistency.
South Africa have already shown some of that in their batting and put in two good performances on this tour, despite failing to chase 301 in the first match. Their top five have all contributed, allowing them space to accommodate more bowling options lower down. One of them is Keshav Maharaj, who is now operating as stand-in captain and is becoming as important in shorter formats as he is in Tests for South Africa.
After an impressive effort in the first match, Sri Lanka's top-order blow-out in the second match did not give them a chance and they will hope for better in that department. Of greater concern might be the performance of Akila Dananjaya, who has been expensive in both matches and only taken two wickets. With spin still Sri Lanka's sharpest weapon and South Africa's biggest weakness, although there are signs of improvements, expect the series to be decided by how many questions the home spinners ask and how confidently the visitors can answer them.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LWWLL
South Africa WLWLL
In the spotlight
After career-best scores of 72 and 77 in the series so far, if the trend continues for Charith Asalanka's, he could end up bettering his numbers yet again in what is already a strong start to his international career. Asalanka has played just seven ODIs since making his debut in June and has all the makings of a middle-order mainstay for Sri Lanka. He has impressed with his power-hitting and ability to build partnerships and has taken on both South African seam and spin with confidence. He currently leads the series run-charts, five ahead of Janneman Malan.
Having been preferred over Dwaine Pretorius as the first-choice seam-bowling allrounder, Andile Phehlukwayo will want to do more after two middling performances so far. Phehlukwayo was only required to bat in the 46th and 45th over of the first two matches but did not last long and ended with scores of 5 and 4 and will want to show his finishing skills, and while he was expensive in the first match - his five overs cost 37 - he came back well in the second, bowling five overs for 28 runs. Phehlukwayo will want wickets and big runs to finish the series on a high.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa's lack of runs in the opening two matches could see a return for Kamindu Mendis or Dinesh Chandimal. There's also a chance Pulina Tharanga could replace Akila Dananjaya.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Avishka Fernando, 2 Minod Bhanuka (wk), 3 Bhanuka Rajapaksa/Kamindu Mendis/Dinesh Chandimal, 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Chamika Karunaratne, 9 Pulina Tharanga/Akila Dananjaya, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Praveen Jayawickrama.
Using all three allrounders and all three spinners at their disposal worked well for South Africa in the second match and, even though it leaves the batting a little short, they are likely to keep the same structure. Kagiso Rabada suffered an ankle sprain in the second match but news from the team camp is that he is progressing well. He will undergo a fitness test on Tuesday morning to confirm his availability. Should he require more rest, Anrich Nortje will likely slot back in.
South Africa (possible): 1 Aiden Markram, 2 Janneman Malan, 3 Reeza Hendricks, 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 6 Wiaan Mulder, 7 George Linde, 8 Andile Phehlukwayo, 9 Keshav Maharaj (capt), 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi.
Pitch and conditions
Like in the previous two matches, there will be assistance for slower bowlers but run-scoring should be plentiful. There are morning showers predicted but the rain should subside by the afternoon.
Stats and trivia
It's just a mindset. Even in the first game, they played well although we leaked a bit with the ball. Guys are playing well and contributing to the team. We'd love to play our best game here and come out on top.
Reeza Hendricks says South Africa are finding the right headspace to push for a series win
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent