Johannesburg: South Africa and Sri Lanka have starkly differing objectives as they go into the first Test starting at the Wanderers on Friday.
While the South Africans have made it clear that all cricket this season is geared towards winning next year’s World Cup, Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya has more immediate goals in mind.
“It’s really great to be able to play five ODIs in South Africa with the World Cup coming up,” Jayasuriya said. “But our emphasis is the Test matches because we have never done well here.”
Although Sri Lanka’s batsmen have prospered in their two warm-up matches, both were on the flat batting tracks in Kimberley and Lenasia. South Africa are thirsting for revenge after the itinerary handed to them on their last tour of Sri Lanka just over two years ago.
Having warmed up on seaming wickets, Shaun Pollock’s team played the first Test at spin friendly Galle and were thrashed, with Muttiah Muralidharan taking 13 for 171. South Africa aim to employ exactly the same plan on home territory — but in reverse.
The track at the Wanderers will retain all the characteristics of the ‘green mamba’ which saw England reduced to two for four during their last tour. The toss could therefore be crucial, and if Sri Lanka find themselves asked to bat first, they are likely to undergo a stern test.
South Africa have the option of going into the game with five seamers, with Steve Elworthy likely to be recalled for his first Test after three years. His lower order ability with the bat would also strengthen the South African batting.
Elworthy’s inclusion in the squad of 13 would appear to be a short term move in a South African season entirely focused upon winning the World Cup for the first time. “Every Test match and every Test series is obviously important, but this is World Cup year and we’re not pretending that everything isn’t focused around that,” said Herschelle Gibbs.
This is the Sri Lankans’ third tour since South Africa’s readmission to the game and they have yet to win a Test.
South Africa (from): Shaun Pollock (captain), Herschelle Gibbs, Graeme Smith, Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis, Neil McKenzie, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher, Andrew Hall, Claude Henderson, Makhaya Ntini, Steve Elworthy, Mornantau Hayward.
Sri Lanka (from): Sanath Jayasuriya (captain), Maravan Atapattu, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Russell Arnold, Hashan Tillekaratne, Jehan Mubarak, Hasantha Fernando, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Sujeewa de Silva, Chamila Gamage, Thilina Thushara, Tharanga Lakshitha, Muttiah Muralidharan, Prasanna Jayawardene.