JOHANNESBURG: There was always the expectation the series would become incrementally tougher for Sri Lanka. In Port Elizabeth, there was supposed to be a low, slow pitch, but it was not nearly low or slow enough. At Newlands, instead of defusing seam movement on a greener-than-usual deck, Sri Lanka flailed their way to a defeat so enormous there is really no point recalling the exact margin. Now they have arrived at the Wanderers, where locals say, balls jump mischievously off lengths and do mocking high-speed orbits of South Asian batsmen, before seeking out the shoulder of their bats and leaping gaily into the gully fielder’s embrace. On the eve of this Test, Faf du Plessis spoke of ensuring there is no complacency in his outfit, throwing words like “ruthless” and “dominant” around. This is all very nice, but Sri Lanka could have done with a little South African overconfidence to charge them up. Something like: “Instead of going to nets after the second Test, we’ve been practicing our bum-patting in anticipation of how much of it we’ll have to do over the next few days,” might have worked nicely.
The hosts’ major talking points ahead of this Test have not exactly been about the cricket they have played this series. Instead, they prepare to wish a happy hundredth to their bearded, presently-not-in-form, wrist-meister Hashim Amla. They are also dealing with the onset of the ‘Kolpakalypse’, which in this Test, takes the form of having to replace Kyle Abbott, who went to Hampshire to be able to pay for groceries. If the surface is as savage as folks are suggesting (seriously, this pitch had apparently once kidnapped an entire top order and held them to ransom), Sri Lanka’s major chance of victory may lie in rolling South Africa over cheaply, twice. That is not a totally outlandish proposition, given the heartening spells Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara have bowled.
But, okay, it is almost an outlandish one.
In the spotlight: While Hashim Amla’s lean trot has stretched for slightly longer, Temba Bavuma has been having a quietly modest series of his own, with scores of 3, 8, 10 and 0. He is clearly a player of quality, as his hundred against England and the 74 in Hobart lay out.
But 16 matches into his Test career now, he will want to begin making a charge on that average, which presently sits at 31.42 Perhaps Sri Lanka fans owe a debt of gratitude to the kid who hit Lahiru Kumara on the head. Kumara had played hockey in his youth but was admitted to hospital one day after being struck by a stray stick. By the time he got home, his parents had thrown his hockey gear away and he was forced to switch to cricket, where he almost immediately proved himself a special talent. Possessing a mean bouncer, he could be a strike weapon for Sri Lanka on this pitch.
Teams news: Wayne Parnell will take Kyle Abbott’s place in the XI, and South Africa may also consider playing four quicks, to the exclusion of Keshav Maharaj. While, Sri Lanka will likely keep the same XI. There is an outside chance Dushmantha Chameera will replace Nuwan Pradeep, but that’s only if Chameera has regained his rhythm, which was off in Port Elizabeth.
South Africa (possible): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Stephen Cook, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 JP Duminy, 5 Faf du Plessis (capt.), 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Wayne Parnell, 10 Keshav Maharaj, 11 Kagiso Rabada
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Kaushal Silva, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 7 Upul Tharanga, 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Lahiru Kumara, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Nuwan Pradeep.