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JOHANNESBURG – Temba Bavuma and his Proteas face Sri Lanka in the first ODI in Colombo on Thursday.
With a number of off-field issues in recent weeks, Bavuma admitted on Wednesday that they were going to focus on what they do on the field.
IOL Sport’s Stuart Hess looks at five areas where the Proteas will be tested in the upcoming series against Sri Lanka.
Team spirit – It hasn’t been an easy year for the Proteas, and the last few weeks will have tested the team environment. Bavuma’s leadership will need to be strong as he seeks to keep the focus to matters on the field in what is a crucial series with World Cup qualification points up for grabs
Playing spin – South Africa lived up to its reputation in Pakistan earlier this year, with batsmen getting themselves tied in knots against spin. Sri Lanka aren't hiding their intentions, not with five spinners in their squad. Bavuma, said that his team have prepared themselves mentally and skills-wise to counter the hosts.
SA spinners – The Proteas have the armoury – Shamsi, Maharaj, Linde and Fortuin – to unsettle the hosts, whose batsmen have also had problems facing spin. The next 50-over World Cup is India. At the last one held there in 2011, the South Africans weren’t afraid to field three spinners, so there’s a lot at stake for the quartet of tweakers.
Fast bowlers – The pitches may be slow, but the ball still moves through the air fast and in Rabada and Nortje, the Proteas have two of the quickest in the world. Variety will be vital for both of them, while whichever of the seam bowling all-rounders gets a chance also needs to employ changes of pace mixed with cutters, to put opposing batsmen off their rhythm.
Inexperience – Miller, De Kock and Ngidi’s absence removes a lot of experience from the South African side. Rabada with 79, followed by Phehlukwayo with 64, are the two most capped players in the current squad. It will be a demanding examination of the Proteas, given there’s so much on the line.