Rabada will take over from Steyn as spearhead - du Plessis

To get your mind around exactly how ridiculous South Africa's pace gifts are at present, consider this: Dale Steyn, almost certainly the greatest fast bowler of his generation, has the worst average among the frontline quicks in his squad. His 419 wickets have come at 22.32; Vernon Philander averages 21.46, Kagiso Rabada, 21.59, and Lungi Ngidi, 16.42. What makes the presence of these riches more incredible, is that Morne Morkel, one of South Africa's best ever, retired in their previous series.

Now, some of these stats are skewed. Ngidi has only played three Tests, all at home, and his record will probably worsen. Philander's numbers are substantially skewed by a phenomenal home average of 18.27 - his average in Sri Lanka, from two 2014 Tests, is 76.

But while Rabada also has modest figures in Asia, his only previous experience on the continent being his three Tests in India, there is a feeling in the South Africa camp that he is a much improved bowler now. If it is true that Steyn is not at his best following a series of frustrating injuries (coach Ottis Gibson described his bowling as "rusty" following the two-day practice match), here is the bowler that will assume the role of attack leader, South Africa believe. There is pressure on spinner Keshav Maharaj to shine on his first series in this part of the world, but captain Faf du Plessis still has plenty of faith in reverse swing, and in Rabada's ability to extract it.

"Dale has been the spearhead, but I think KG (Rabada) will take over that mantle. He's got the skill, he's got the pace and he's got the control to do well in all conditions around the world," du Plessis said on the eve of the first Test. "I have seen growth in him since the India tour. I think that's what's remarkable about KG, is how quickly he learns. That was his first subcontinent tour and I believe he'll learn from that - the way he's improved his control.

"With his skills, he's got the ability now to swing the ball both ways with a reverse-swinging ball, which is a skill that not a lot of bowlers have. And once again, pace against any subcontinent team is something you want try and expose. We'll have to see to what extent the wicket allows for that. It's good to see him bowling quick again after his recent injury. He looks hungry to perform in the series."

Not that Steyn is expected to fade away. When South Africa were last in Galle, he had claimed 9 for 99, using reverse swing to devastating effect in both innings, to propel his team to victory. This time around, Steyn's pace may not be what it was four years ago, but his skill - particularly with the old ball - remain undiminished, du Plessis said. In fact, in a three-man pace attack, it is for those later overs that Steyn may be reserved.

"Dale's X-factor is how he picks up wickets with a reverse-swinging ball. His way of getting wickets with the new ball is getting it to move around a little bit with swing, and a little bit of seam, really consistently. But there's a period of the game when Dale gets his tail up. He gets one wicket, and is up there with the most dangerous bowlers in the world, because he is so skillful, and he can get the ball to reverse swing at pace. I'm hoping to see Dale bowl really quick again. He hasn't bowled for a long time, so he'll be excited to get the opportunity. It's a good sight to see when he gets the ball reversing, and he's running in and keeping those legs really really fast."

In almost any other side in the world, a bowler of Ngidi's potential would command a place in every Test, but signs are, he may have to miss out in Galle. While Steyn, Rabada and perhaps Maharaj are aggressively looking for wickets, du Plessis suggested that it is Philander who will be relied on to provide control from the other end.

"With Vern, his control is exceptional," du Plessis sad. "He won't offer you much as a batter. Even if there's not much grass and seam movement, Vern is still a guy that will hold a game for you. And then from the other side, from a captaincy point of view, you can bring a guy and try and get wickets."