South Africa and Sri Lanka will end a long break caused by Covid from Test Cricket when the first of two World Cup Test matches kicks off on Saturday at SuperSport Park in Centurion.
Neither side has played an international red ball since January, when South Africa finished 3-1 in the home series against England, while Sri Lanka won two matches in Zimbabwe 1-0.
Sri Lanka can invite most of the players who shocked Proteas by winning both tests on a previous tour of South Africa two seasons ago.
On paper, South Africa is weaker than it was in the previous series, with an entire bowling attack by Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Duanne Olivier missing due to retirement, injury or, in Olivier’s case, the British pound bait.
The series in Sri Lanka also marked the end of the respectable test career of hitter Hashim Amla.
There was a change in the captaincy, Faf du Plessis resigned, although he is still a player.
Wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, the leading test striker in South Africa last season, has accepted what represents a transitional role only for the 2020/21 season.
De Kock’s appointment resonates with the appointment of Dimuth Karunaratne, the Sri Lankan opening striker, who was announced as the “reserve” captain for the 2018/19 tour, but he managed to instill a positive attitude in his players so well that he remained at the top.
Conditions, however, will be vastly different, and matches will be played on the fast, lively pitches of Centurion and Johannesburg instead of the slower coastal areas of Durban and Port Elizabeth where Sri Lanka last prevailed.
Despite a completely different bowling attack, South African bowlers will pose a tough challenge to visiting strikers.
Anrich Nortje is one of the fastest bowlers in the world, while Lungi Ngidi is back in shape after a series of injuries.
Glenton Stuurman could win the first cap as a replacement for the tediously accurate Philander.
The key for Sri Lanka will be the expected return of Kusal Perera.
The left-hander made career-defining shifts when he scored 153 on the previous tour in the first test in Durban, not turning what seemed likely as a routine South African victory into an exciting single-goal win for tourists, sealed with an undefeated 78-goal final goal. Vishwaom Fernandom.
Prior to that inning, Perera had a test average of shots below 30. He failed to maintain form from Durban and fell after a poor series against New Zealand later in 2019.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (captain, wkt), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Dwaine Pretorius or Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Glenton Stuurman, Lungi Ngidi.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wkt), Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Embuldeniya, plus two from Vishwa Fernanda, Lahiruthaman Kuma.
Judges: Marais Erasmus, Adrian Holdstock (both RSA)
TV judge: Allahudien Paleker (RSA)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)
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