On the surface, these are two teams short of ODI Super League points. Sri Lanka are down at 11th on the table, with only two wins from 11 completed matches. South Africa are better placed, at 10th, with two wins from five completed games. More importantly, though, both are teams who have experienced substantial upheaval over the last year, and are desperately searching for a fresh identity.
For South Africa, the fallout from the Social Justice and Nation-Building hearings has been profound. Some of the most damning revelations have involved coach Mark Boucher
- who is with the team in Colombo. He has said that he "deeply regrets" his actions during those years, but as he is now in charge of a side that is led by a black African - Temba Bavuma
- it is likely that serious soul-searching and discussions will have had to have happened within the team, ahead of this series. How all this will affect South Africa's on-field performances, we will have to wait to find out. They are, however, coming from a drawn series, in which they lost a match to Ireland.
Sri Lanka's dysfunction is more straightforward
in a way. They're playing under their third limited-overs captain this year, in Dasun Shanaka
. They are at serious risk of having to qualify for the 2023 World Cup, given their woeful ODI performances in the first seven months of 2021. And although their bowling is in decent shape, with Wanindu Hasaranga
and Dushmantha Chameera
having been excellent during India's tour, their top order remains brittle.
Shanaka, who himself comes into the series with excellent limited-overs form following his exploits in a domestic T20 competition, is yet to put his stamp on this team. Given the shelf-life of Sri Lanka's limited-overs captains recently, a series win here will go some distance to shoring up his leadership.
On the strategy front, it seems as if Sri Lanka will use their traditional weapon against South Africa: spin. There are no fewer than five frontline spinners in the squad, as well as two offspin-bowling allrounders.
Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WLLLL
South Africa WLLWL
In the spotlight
Whatever else you may feel about Akila Dananjaya
, the man is tenacious. He's had repeated suspensions over his action - including a year out of the game when he was found to be chucking a second time. But on each occasion, he has worked on his action and returned. There have also been bad games and dips in form. But he never seems to stay down for long. From the sounds of Shanaka's pre-match press conference, Sri Lanka are banking on spin for this match, which means Dananjaya will have a significant role to play. Having leapfrogged Lakshan Sandakan in the previous series, against India, Dananjaya will be keen to impose himself as Sri Lanka's second spinner (alongside Hasaranga), and make his place in the XI more secure.
With David Miller nursing a hamstring injury for this series, Heinrich Klaasen
has a golden opportunity to make a case for a permanent middle-order role. Klaasen played in only one of South Africa's three ODIs in Ireland, after a poor home series against Pakistan in April, where he scored 16 runs in three innings after recovering from Covid-19. But, he has the tools to offer much more. Last year, Klaasen enjoyed a magnificent run against Australia, scoring his first ODI century and two fifties
, and he also seems to be the preferred choice as the reserve wicket-keeper. If he wants to be involved in the building process for 2023, this is chance to make sure he will be.
Pitch and conditions
Expect the Khettarama surface to take plenty of turn, as it often does when South Africa are in town. There is also the possibility of bad weather interrupting play - afternoon thunderstorms have not been uncommon over the past few weeks.
Although Kusal Perera is in the squad, team doctors have suggested he will likely need to build up his fitness for a few days yet, which means Minod Bhanuka
is likely to keep wicket and open the batting again (though Dinesh Chandimal is another keeping option). Sri Lanka seem likely to play three frontline spinners - left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama
being the third.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Avishka Fernando, 2 Minod Bhanuka (wk), 3 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Chamika Karunaratne, 9 Akila Dananjaya, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Praveen Jayawickrama
South Africa are without the likes of Quinton de Kock, David Miller and Lungi Ngidi for this series.
South Africa (possible): 1 Janneman Malan, 2 Temba Bavuma (capt), 3 Aiden Markram, 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 6 Kyle Verreynne, 7 Dwaine Pretorius, 8 George Linde, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi
Stats and triviaSince 2010, Sri Lanka have won seven home ODIs against South Africa and lost six. But South Africa have won the last two series there, securing a 3-2 result in 2018, and 2-1 in 2014.In Klaasen's three ODI innings last year, he hit 242 runs at a strike rate of 106 (all against Australia), and was out only once. This year, he has made only 19 in four innings.With Kusal likely to be unavailable, Sri Lanka's most-experienced player remains Dhananjaya de Silva, with 53 ODI appearances.
"I don't believe we are compromising ourselves in the fact that we are missing some guys. It's a massive opportunity for those that are coming into the team. Ideally if we have a pool of 15 players that we can pick to go and compete at the World Cup, that's what we want."
South Africa captain Temba Bavuma on the prospect of playing without key players
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf