Match facts

January 25, 2016
Start time 1800 local (1600 GMT)

Big Picture

South Africa do not agree (which team that squanders a lead ever does?) but this is the way the series was supposed to end: with everything to play for in the final fixture. After weeks of one-way traffic, Sri Lanka came good in the second T20 and have finally asked South Africa questions they could not answer. All of them were about spin.

On a subcontinental-style surface in Johannesburg, Lakshan Sandakan spun circles around South Africa's line-up and played his part in dismissing them for their third-lowest T20 score. On the same strip, Imran Tahir caused problems but Aaron Phangiso and Jon-Jon Smuts did not prove adequate back-up. That's exactly why South Africa have demanded they don't see anything like the Wanderers track at home again.

Newlands should have the same pace and bounce that South African strips are known for, but that's no reason for Sri Lanka to think their chances of a coup are dimmed. Their quicks have had success in these conditions and their batsmen have been here long enough to have learned to adapt. Against the least experienced XI they will face on this tour, this is the ideal chance for them to leave with a trophy.

South Africa's experimental squad has presented some promising players like paceman Lungi Ngidi but their batting has relied on older hands. Now, the oldest, AB de Villiers, is back and many of their hopes of winning this series will rest on him. But de Villiers has had other things on his mind of late, chiefly how he will fit back into the national side. This match will be a test case and the conclusion may lie in where the trophy ends up.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

South Africa: LWWLW

Sri Lanka: WLLLL

In the spotlight

All eyes will be on AB de Villiers as he makes an international comeback after an elbow injury that sidelined him for six months. De Villiers showed he still has it (and then some) with an unbeaten 134 off 103 in a provincial List A game on Sunday, and he will use this T20 to gear up for the ODIs that follow. He was in the nets on Tuesday and seemed to be hitting balls with his usual power but, rather than his batting, the way he fits into a team for which he has not played since June 2016 will be interesting. South Africa have enjoyed success in Tests and ODIs in de Villiers' absence (they have not played T20s) but no team would turn down one of the best in the world and he may be keen to remind them, and the cricketing world, what they have been missing.

After almost botching a small chase on Sunday, Sri Lanka's mindset will be in the spotlight as they attempt to take a trophy from South Africa for the first time in the series. Resolve will be more important than technique in what is effectively a final, and they will need to put the troubles they've had on this tour as far out of their minds as they can. That may be more difficult to do than they would have liked because they are without captain Angelo Mathews, who had a torrid time in the Tests but was faring much better in the shortest format. If his batsmen show staying power and his bowlers operate as well as they did in Johannesburg, Mathews may not be too upset to miss out.

Teams news

De Villiers' return, most probably in the No.3 position, will displace one of Jon-Jon Smuts or Theunis de Bruyn, which also means Reeza Hendricks is unlikely to get a look in at all this series. Dane Paterson could make his debut on his home ground, with South Africa likely to use only one specialist spinner.

South Africa 1 Jon-Jon Smuts/Theunis de Bruyn, 2 Heino Kuhn, 3 AB de Villiers, 4 David Miller, 5 Farhaan Behardien (capt), 6 Mangaliso Mosehle (wk), 7 Wayne Parnell, 8 Andile Phehlukwayo, 9 Dane Paterson 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Imran Tahir

Mathews' injury-enforced absence means Sri Lanka will have to upset a winning combination. Dinesh Chandimal will lead in Mathews' absence and, with Danushka Gunathilaka also injured, Sri Lanka may have to go into the game a batsmen short. Suranga Lakmal, who was rested in Johannesburg, could be back in search of a series win.

Sri Lanka 1 Niroshan Dickwella, 2 Dhananjaya de Silva, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (capt, wk), 5 Asela Gunaratne, 6 Seekkuge Prasanna, 7 Thikshila de Silva, 8 Nuwan Kulasekera 9 Laskan Sandakan, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Isuru Udana

Pitch and conditions

Two days after the event, stand-in captain Farhaan Behardien was still unhappy with the Wanderers' slow, dry surface which he blamed, in part, for undoing South Africa's efforts to seal the series before they got to Cape Town. "I have no idea what happened at the Bullring - anyone who watches cricket saw that it wasn't a traditional Wanderers wicket. We haven't gotten to the bottom of that just yet," he said. Newlands' curator Evan Flint will be careful not to produce anything similar. A surface with pace and bounce is expected, although Tuesday's light drizzle may not have allowed it to bake as much as South Africa would like. Wednesday is set to be warm and fairly windy but it shouldn't keep crowds away.

Stats and trivia

  • Sri Lanka have never won a series, in any format, in South Africa. This is their first bilateral T20 rubber in the country.

  • South Africa have only won one of their last seven T20 series at home, against England last summer. Before that, they were beaten by Australia, West Indies and Pakistan and drew against New Zealand and Pakistan.


"We played well below par on Sunday and we nearly pulled off a win. We are very optimistic but we are not underestimating Sri Lanka or taking them lightly. It is essentially a final and there's lots of pressure attached to finals. A lot of the guys have played finals domestically and I am sure they will relish the opportunity tomorrow."

Stand-in captain Farhaan Behardien is banking on domestic experience as his men tackle the decider in Cape Town

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent