The visitors lead the five-match series 2-0 heading into the third ODI, and while there is still much to do to claim that all-important win, there is realisation that the side’s performances have improved dramatically since the despairing Test series.
That has buoyed the visitors – Quinton de Kock, whose 78-ball 87 helped South Africa to a five-wicket win the second ODI, even spoke of the possibility of winning 5-0.
Hashim Amla has been among the runs again, scoring an important run-a-ball 43, while with the ball, the wickets are coming regularly – Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo picked three wickets apiece in the second ODI – and the hosts were restricted to 244/8.
There is positivity. South Africa have won an ODI series in Sri Lanka only once before – 2-1 in 2014 – and the visitors are eager to better that record.
“The guys are working hard, they are positive, and we are playing some good cricket as a team,” said Phehlukwayo on the eve of the match. “We are not putting any pressure on ourselves, but it is something that we would like to do.
“Teams don’t come here often and win, let alone being 3-0 up, that is something we would like to achieve as a team.”
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have much work to do. Angelo Mathews, their captain, had a few stinging words after their loss in Dambulla, saying, “We were a bunch of school kids when it came to today's fielding.”
The home side have struggled to put up solid starts. They lost early wickets in both ODIs so far, and have been unable to bounce back from that, especially struggling to power through the late overs.
They have been sloppy in the field – both Amla and de Kock were dropped in the second ODI – and the bowling hasn’t been too threatening or consistent. In short, as Niroshan Dickwella said, "If we want to win a match, we can't make so many mistakes.”
Avoiding those mistakes will be foremost on their agenda come Sunday for Sri Lanka, especially given South Africa have sensed blood.
Angelo Mathews (Sri Lanka): The Sri Lanka captain was one of just two batsmen who impressed in the second innings. He scored a 111-ball 79*, and Dickwella spoke of his calming influence on his own batting. Mathews has to spread that calm throughout the team – Sri Lanka need it desperately.
Quinton de Kock (South Africa): The wicket-keeper batsman struggled visibly in the Tests, but has been a different beast in the ODIs. He has scored 47 and 87 in his two outings so far, and has been involved in a combined eight dismissals across two matches. If South Africa are to clinch the series on Sunday, de Kock will surely play a part.
As is the case in Sri Lanka this time of the year, rain is forecast in Kandy. The match could be interrupted at some point.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Dasun Shanaka, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Upul Tharanga, Kusal Mendis, Thisara Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Akila Dananjaya, Prabath Jayasuriya, Lakshan Sandakan, Shehan Jayasuriya
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Junior Dala, Quinton de Kock, Jean-Paul Duminy, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Willem Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi
First Published: August 4, 2018, 12:04 PM IST