Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A glance at the Sri Lankan Test
squad named this week to tour South Africa only confirms that,
weather-permitting, the Proteas really must set their sights on a 3-0 clean
It is not an unrealistic expectation,
especially as Graeme Smith’s side are under real pressure now to string
together a consistent run of Test-match victories at home after too many
seasons of costly, all too fitful bouts of excellence.
And if the time has come for the Proteas to
get mean, then the Lankans, I’m afraid, look appropriately like lambs to the
Hopefully suitably chastened by the failure
to beat unsettled Australia, South Africa have ground to make up after
simultaneously dropping a notch to No 3 spot on the ICC Test rankings; not the
ideal step in their quest to haul in England at the top of the present pile.
As much as ever, though, the Test landscape
is looking stubbornly like a two-tiered affair, with England, India, South
Africa and Australia in the “super league” – currently all with ratings under
the ICC system of over 100 – and then Sri Lanka in fifth heading up, with due respect,
the various also-rans.
They have just come off a 1-0 reverse to
Pakistan in the neutral United Arab Emirates, and were also beaten 1-0 at home
weeks earlier in a three-Test series against the very side the Proteas have
just shared the spoils with.
Sri Lanka will not represent a complete
stroll in the park for the South Africans at, respectively, Centurion,
Kingsmead and Newlands, as they have certain indisputably world-class
individuals and, when they last toured England earlier this year, had plenty of
tenacious moments despite another series defeat.
But their big drawback in visiting these
shores next month is a dangerous lack on wisdom on conditions here, with the Proteas
presumably not shy to seek reasonably typical tracks that give meaningful aid
to their pace arsenal.
Sri Lanka’s last of three Test trips to
South Africa was as far back as 2002/03 – they have lost each time, and sport a
total of six reverses and a draw in seven Tests here – and as a result they
will bring a largely naive 16-man squad.
Only three from their ranks – their kingpin
Test batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, plus recalled fast bowler
Dilhara Fernando – have ever been involved in prior five-day combat in South
And even the two, blue-chip batsmen, who have
often enough provided massive heartbreak to South African bowlers on the benign
Lankan pitches, are hardly veterans when it comes to dealing with the
completely different demands of our tracks.
Sangakkara, for instance, may boast 103
Test caps and an average of 56.93, but he has only played a miserly five of
those in South Africa, at a shade under 40.
Of course this will also be the first time
that Sri Lanka tour here without a certain, 800-wicket Muttiah Muralitharan,
the great off-spinner who could pretty much keep one end occupied all day in
Test matches during his glittering 18-year career.
It is not as though a pace department
containing Messrs Fernando, Welegedara, Pradeep and Lakmal is going to automatically
preclude South African groundsmen from leaving a little green tinge here and
there on Test pitches.
Certainly this far out from the series, I
tip a hot summer for the Lankans, and it will have nothing to do with the
The high stakes for South Africa from a
collective performance point of view hardly help the tourists, either ...