After Sri Lanka suffered crushing defeats to New Zealand before their Test series against South Africa commenced, not many would have given them a chance of emerging victorious. But after two adrenaline-filled Tests at the end of which the score read 2-0 to Sri Lanka, expectations have changed ahead of the five-match ODI series which begins at the Wanderers on March 3rd.
While success in one format of the game does not necessarily guarantee it in another, there is such a thing as momentum. It’s that momentum which the visitors Sri Lanka will aim to capitalize on and continue when they step on to the field with a very different looking line-up.
Dasun Shanaka, Seekkuge Prasanna, Dushmantha Chameera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Asela Gunaratne and Sadeera Samarawickrama – all of whom played a part in Sri Lanka’s unsuccessful ODI series in New Zealand – will not feature against South Africa, an indication that the selectors are looking to try out as many options before the World Cup.
Seventeen players are part of the squad, two of whom will have to be dropped as they look to finalize a squad of 15 players before the showpiece event.
A big boost for the Lankans is the return of spinner Akila Dananjaya, who has been cleared to bowl in international cricket again by the ICC after his bowling action was reviewed.
He took 28 wickets in ODIs last year, and his importance to the side cannot be understated.
On the other hand, there will be the familiar face of Isuru Udana in the team, who is making a return to the Sri Lankan limited overs side after almost seven years out of the international scene. His variations could prove to be handy against opposition who would not have seen much of him in the past, but whether he makes it to the starting eleven remains to be seen.
In the batting department, Sri Lanka will be without the services of Angelo Mathews who is still recovering from a hamstring injury. Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Perera and Thisara Perera will be expected to step up to the mark and carry the bulk of the batting responsibilities of the side once again.
As far as the hosts South Africa are concerned, their objectives for the series won’t be much different than Sri Lanka’s – come as close to possible to find a winning combination that can deliver the goods for them at the World Cup. Fuelled of course, by the desire to set the record straight after a disappointing Test series loss for them.
Their squad also includes only five of the players who played a part for them in the Test series, and is armed with a pace battery that can trouble any batting line-up on their day. As opposed to Sri Lanka, South Africa have picked only 14 players for the series, meaning there is room for players who peak at the right time before May.
Lungi Ngidi is back after a long-term injury, and so is the uncapped Anrich Nortje. The veteran of the attack, Dale Steyn will be out to prove that there is still fight left in the old dog, eager to show that he deserves a spot in the World Cup team more than just on reputation.
Hashim Amla has been rested for the series, so the likes of Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock and David Miller have to make sure that the yoke of batting responsibilities is evenly distributed and handled amongst them.
With the squad having been announced only for the first three ODIs, JP Duminy has missed out on selection for the time-being as he continues his recovery from a shoulder injury.
His return to domestic action has also been delayed, otherwise having been expected to play a part for the Cape Cobras last Friday. Depending on how his recovery goes, he may well find himself a part of the squad for the last two ODIs.
But with the World Cup not too far away and opportunities to play ODIs in limited supply, both sides will be hoping to fine-tune their engines before it is time to go full throttle in England. For South Africa, with the added motivation of retribution.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Quinton de Kock (wkt), Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Rassie van der Dussen.
Sri Lanka: Lasith Malinga (capt), Niroshan Dickwella (vice-captain, wkt), Akila Dananjaya, Dhananjaya de Silva, Avishka Fernando, Oshada Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Kamindu Mendis, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Perera, Kusal Perera, Priyamal Perera, Thisara Perera, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Upul Tharanga, Isuru Udana.