JOHANNESBURG – The Sri Lankan and South African teams could do with the distraction of playing an actual match on Thursday.
Both sides have been beset by controversy off the field. A break from that – and the strict bio bubble – would be nice, but how much play is possible in Thursday’s opening One-Day International at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo is in the hands of Mother Nature.
At best it appears that the first match will be a fractured affair, because of the weather. Rain has been forecast for most of Thursday in the Sri Lankan capital, and whatever breaks there will be, are likely to be brief. Enough time for a match? That remains to be seen.
Preparation has not been easy. The Covid restrictions in place in Sri Lanka – where cases have soared recently – meant the teams had to train in groups of six initially, while there are also limits on the number of people who can sit together at meal time.
It's an important series for both teams, who are languishing in the lower half of the ICC World Cup Super League table. Much of their attention this year has been taken up by matters off the field. In the case of South Africa it is the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings, which have impacted the team directly, with head coach Mark Boucher being a central figure.
On the Sri Lankan side, discipline and a protracted period negotiating contracts only ended last week.
“With what's been happening, our responsibility as players is to make sure that what we do on the field is of a certain standard,” South Africa’s limited overs captain, Temba Bavuma, said.
“That’s what we will be striving to do. Our aim is to win, that’s where our minds are at. The conversations have largely been centered around that, as to how we can play our best cricket here. As players, there is no need for us to get involved in other external matters.”
South Africa enter this series well aware that they will face a trial by spin, a point emphasised by Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka on Wednesday. “I'm looking to play three spinners in the team. South Africa always have a good pace attack,” he said. “But I think I can guarantee that we have the better spin-bowling contingent at the moment. I trust our team's strength.”
Bavuma claims his team is ready however. “We have tried to prepare ourselves as best we can from a mental and skills point of view, because we are aware of the challenge we will face from their slow bowlers,” said Bavuma.
Sri Lanka’s squad is packed with spinners, but South Africa can counter them with a pretty decent arsenal that includes the T20 format’s no.1 bowler, Tabraiz Shamsi, and Keshav Maharaj, now established as one of the best Test spinners in the world. In addition George Linde gives South Africa an extra option, with his batting ability an added string to his bow.
The Proteas are missing David Miller, Quinton de Kock and Lungi Ngidi for the ODI leg of the tour – that trio have played a combined 289 ODIs. “We are missing key players, with experience. If ever there is a time to give (the new) guys an opportunity, it's now, when the stakes are high,” said Bavuma.
“I don’t believe we are compromising ourselves by the fact that we are missing a couple of guys. The only way to grow those guys, is to give them game time.”
Thursday’s match is scheduled to start at 11.30am.
SRI LANKA: Dasun Shanaka (c), Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Perera, Dinesh Chandimal, Avishka Fernando, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Pathum Nissanka, Charith Asalanka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Kamindu Mendis, Minod Bhanuka, Ramesh Mendis, Chamika Karunaratne, Nuwan Pradeep, Binura Fernando, Dushmantha Chameera, Akila Dananjaya, Praveen Jayawickrema, Lahiru Kumara, Lahiru Madushanka, Pulina Tharanga, Maheesh Theekshana
SOUTH AFRICA: Temba Bavuma (capt), Junior Dala, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, George Linde, Janneman Malan, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Lizaad Williams.