PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa will return to the test arena for the first time in 11 months on Saturday, hoping to stop a gloomy skater with revenge in mind in a five-day game while hosting Sri Lanka – a test series in Centurion Park.
They have lost eight of their last nine tests, a series that began in February 2019 with a shocking 2-0 home defeat by Sri Lanka, making it the first Asian side to win a series in the country.
They have dropped to sixth place in the world, behind fifth-placed Sri Lanka, and have a multitude of questions to be answered, not just around the fragile six and the balance of the side.
“We have a young team,” captain Quinton de Kock said this week. “It is necessary for our younger guys to pass and learn quickly so that we can have a structured team.
“That’s what I’d hope for from this season, for new guys to come in and start scoring and raising their hands.”
The first test starts without key fast bowler Kagiso Rabada, who has groin problems, but will be encouraged by the fact that both games will be played on the fast, lively pitches of the Highveld.
Left-handed hooker Beuran Hendricks was pulled from the team along with striker Keegan Petersen. No player entered the balloon of the tour when the players gathered on Saturday, after two positive results for COVID-19 were revealed last week.
Hendricks ’absence means Glenton Stuurman will almost certainly make his debut in the test spot at the age of 29, thanks to his ability to move the ball both ways off the field and his excellent recent home form that brings him ahead of the rival.
The withdrawal of Vernon Philander suggests that Wiaan Mulder or Dwaine Pretorius are likely to play a versatile role.
The composition of the Sri Lankan team is much harder to predict after bringing in a team of 21 players “to cover all positions”, according to coach Mickey Arthur.
They miss the injured solid Angelo Mathews and Oshada Fernando in their top-six hitting lineup, but Arthur is optimistic about their ability to cope with South African speeds.
“We had camps and games within the team and we tried to keep the players as sharp as possible,” he said.
“We have good bowling at the seams, good bowling and I’m sure our top six hitters can handle the conditions.”
Sri Lanka has not played any test since the winning tour in Zimbabwe, which ended at the end of January.
Nick Said’s reporting; Edited by Ken Ferris