The world's most dreaded pace attack (from left): Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Jacques Kallis and Vernon Philander © Getty Images
The world’s most dreaded pace attack (from left): Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Jacques Kallis and Vernon Philander © Getty Images

 

By Karthik Parimal

 

A South Africa-Sri Lanka clash would have been extremely intriguing to watch a couple of years ago. Not that it fails to arouse any kind of interest among cricket lovers this time around, but considering that Sri Lanka is currently on a downward spiral, one can’t help but get the feeling that the series can probably end up being one-sided, as the Proteas should have it easy given their balanced squad and the advantage of home conditions.

 

To start off, there isn’t much to choose between the openers from both the sides. Graeme Smith and Jacques Rudolph are capable of laying a solid foundation at the top of the innings, and South Africa will be hoping that Rudolph fires more consistently. Smith can take confidence from his unbeaten century that came during the second innings of the first Test against Australia, and it will be a huge plus for South Africa if he could replicate the same effort against Sri Lanka.

 

On the other hand, the Sri Lankan openers are highly unpredictable. Skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan had a very mediocre series recently against Australia and Pakistan. Nevertheless, like Virender Sehwag or Chris Gayle, Dilshan too can run away with the match on his day and hence will remain an integral part of the Sri Lankan side. Tharanga Paranavitana looks in good knick and will be exuding confidence, thanks to his century in the recent warm-up fixture against the South African Invitational XI.

 

However, Sri Lanka has been over-dependent on the duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in the recent past, and the island nation would be breathing a huge sigh of relief after learning that Sangakkara was fit to play in the first Test and that the injury to his hand wasn’t as serious as it was deemed to be. One can only imagine Sri Lanka’s plight in the absence of Sangakkara and Jayawardene. Sadly, they will be confronted with this situation sooner than later when these two stalwarts decide to call it quits.

 

The South Africans, on the other hand, have a formidable middle-order to fall back upon in case the openers stutter. Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince and Jacques Kallis are all experienced and extremely competent in home conditions.

 

The fact that the Sri Lankan bowling unit at present is weak bolsters South Africa’s chances of piling up a huge total. A few years ago, Sri Lanka had bowlers capable of rattling most batting line-ups in the world. Unfortunately, their chance of picking 20 wickets in a Test at the moment is very bleak. There is no efficient tearaway bowler like Lasith Malinga in the Test squad and are still struggling to find a suitable replacement to legendary spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath can be a force to reckon with on subcontinent pitches, but it remains to be seen how effective they can be on hard and bouncy South African wickets.

 

Arguably, South Africa currently features the world’s best bowling line-up. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Jacques Kallis and Imran Tahir can be a thorn in the flesh of their opposition on any given day. Newbie Vernon Philander, too, has more than just impressed in his debut series against Australia, with 14 wickets in two Tests. Steyn, Philander and Morkel have picked 33 wickets among each other in the recently-concluded series against Australia. They’ve run through Australia’s batting order on almost all occasions and possess the dangerous potential to bowl out any opposition twice in a Test.

 

Surprisingly, South Africa hasn’t won a Test series at home since they beat Bangladesh in 2008. They leveled the series on most occasions thereafter, but a series victory at home as eluded them for more than three years now. This could probably be South Africa’s best chance of breaking that trend; and a whitewash too is a possibility considering Sri Lanka’s last few unproductive months. Currently ranked third in the Test rankings, South Africa will look to climb higher under the watchful eyes of coach Gary Kirsten and look to be more consistent, as it’s high time they do justice to the talent they have.

 

Nevertheless, predictions do go wrong, and looking at how exciting Test cricket has been over the last few months with close contests and surprising results more often than not, anything is possible. If Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene can recreate the magic of 2006, when they put on a mammoth partnership of 624, and be a nightmare to the South African bowlers yet again, cricket lovers are in for an exciting time ahead. However, that was in Colombo, and the Sri Lankans – not just Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – will have to play out of their skins if they are to put up a good show and register their first ever Test win on South African soil.

 

(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)