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South Africa defeated Sri Lanka in their backyard for the very first time in a bilateral One-Day International series. However, the last time they won a Test series in Sri Lanka was over two decades ago. Shiamak Unwalla recaps the last four series the two teams have played in the Emerald Isle.
When South Africa take the field against Sri Lanka at Galle on July 16, they will be playing a Test match in the country after eight years. For a team that has done well in virtually every country it has toured over the last few years, it is slightly strange that South Africa have not taken on Sri Lanka away from home for so long.
South Africa have been among the top teams in world cricket for quite some time now. Since 2000, their record overseas has been quite outstanding. In 68 Tests played abroad since the start of the century, they have won 28 and lost only 19 Tests. They have actually won more matches than they have lost in six out of nine Test-playing countries.
In Pakistan, they have won one and lost one out of four matches played, while in Australia they have won three and lost six games out of the 12 matches played. However, the numbers tell a very different story to the latter part of the decade, after Australia’s era of invincibility ended.
Since 2008, even the once-mighty Australians were not spared — South Africa won three games and lost just one out of six Tests played in the period that followed. This shows how impressive the Proteas have been in the longest format of late.
It is only in Sri Lanka that the Proteas continue to struggle. A look at their past performances show that since the year 1993, they have won precious few games in the country, while suffering a number of losses.
As seen above, the Proteas have not won a Test in Sri Lanka since 2000, and not won a series there since 1993 — over two decades ago. Even in 1993, South Africa won mainly on the back of Allan Donald and the left-arm tearaway quick, Brett Schultz, ripping apart the opposition ranks with sheer pace. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel perhaps have to do something similar, this time around.
The last time the two teams met, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara plundered a mind-numbing 624-run partnership in the first Test at Colombo. Their partnership went on to leave the South African bowlers physically battered and psychologically shattered. Of the current bowlers though, only Steyn was a part of that pasting.
South Africa’s tormentor-in-chief has been the man who announced his retirement on Monday, Jayawardene. Quite predictably, he and Sangakkara are the most successful batsmen against South Africa at home. While Jayawardene has been in reasonably good Test form, Sangakkara has been absolutely unstoppable in recent times. The pair will be eager to add to their tally this time around as well.
On the bowling front, South Africa will be relieved that of the five leading wicket-takers, not even one is still active in Tests. However, since Rangana Herath became a permanent part of Sri Lanka’s side only after 2006, the fact that he does not feature in the list doesn’t mean he won’t stand a chance to find a place in the list after this series.
Muttiah Muralitharan was South Africa’s bane in the nine games he played against them at home, and if Herath can get a measure of the opposing batsmen early, he could replicate some of Muralitharan’s success.
This is an ideal opportunity for Hashim Amla to to cement his place as South Africa’s Test captain. But to do this, he must guard against the trio of Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Herath. If South Africa can find a way to get past the batting stalwarts and ward off the spin-machine, then they will have a relatively inexperienced side to deal with; a prospect that a champion side like theirs would relish.
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)
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