South Africa will begin life without talismanic batsman AB De Villiers in the longest format of the game when they take on Sri Lanka in Galle on Thursday. De Villiers has been the mainstay of the Proteas batting in the last decade but chose to hang up his boots earlier this year after the twin taxing test series against India and Australia.
This will be South Africa’s first trip to Sri Lanka in four years- their last tour to the country was a historic one, with the Proteas claiming their first ever test series on the island since 1993. The first test in Galle, also Hashim Amla’s first as skipper, saw the visitors claim a 153 run win, with Dale Steyn bowling them to victory with match figures of 9/99.
The second test, better remembered for Imran Tahir’s theatrics, saw the Proteas survive by the skin of their teeth, batting out over 100 overs in tricky fourth innings conditions to secure a famous triumph.
Tahir played a key role with the bat in that victory but his bowling was below par for pitches that were expected to be conducive for him, and even part time spinner JP Duminy outbowled the veteran. South Africa this year have not taken Tahir on tour, with Keshav Maharaj, Tabraiz Shamsi and Shaun von Berg making up their troika of spinners.
Coach Otis Gibson has indicated that his side will persist with three seamers. Despite being out of action for a while, Steyn is expected to the get nod, with Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada partnering him.
Unless the pitch looks to be a real turner, South Africa are likely to play only one spinner. They could play two, but that would shorten their already fragile batting-, the likes of Aiden Markram, Quinton de Kock and Theunis de Bruyn had innings to forget in the warmup game against the Board President’s XI. Neither De Kock nor De Bruyn have been in great touch recently and Markram has not been tested outside South Africa.
Shamsi took a fifer in the warm up, but Von Berg could also come into the equation given his superior batting skills.
For Sri Lanka, veteran spinner Rangana Herath has indicated that he will retire later this year and the crafty left arm spinner, a master of his trade, will look to finish his final five home tests on a winning note. Angelo Matthews will become the 9th Sri Lankan to achieve the 5,000 run milestone if he scores 44 or more in this test.
Sri Lanka v South Africa First Test in Galle on Thursday (July 12)