JOHANNESBURG: Buoyed by victories in their most recent five Test matches, Sri Lanka embark on a two-month tour of South Africa with a three-day match against a youthful South African Invitation XI, starting in Potchefstroom on Sunday.
It is likely to be a relatively gentle introduction to a tough challenge in a country where Sri Lanka have struggled on four previous tours.
In anticipation of having to deal with South Africa’s strong fast bowling attack on pitches with pace and bounce, the Sri Lankan batsmen practiced on granite surfaces before leaving for the tour.
Sri Lanka have been beaten in eight of the ten Test matches they have played in South Africa, with just one win and one draw.
But they have done better in one-day internationals.
Although South Africa have won 15 times on home soil, Sri Lanka have had seven wins and a tie in 2003 which ended South Africa’s hopes of progressing in a World Cup they hosted.
The current tour includes three Test matches, five one-day internationals and three Twenty20 internationals.
It is Sri Lanka’s first tour of South Africa in five years and there are only five survivors from the 2011/12 tour -– captain Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Rangana Herath, Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva.
Chandimal made his debut and hit two half-centuries in Sri Lanka’s only Test win in South Africa, in the second Test in Durban, while Herath took nine wickets and was man of the match.
Mathews and Chandimal helped Sri Lanka in a 3-0 home Test series win against Australia but missed a recent 2-0 victory in Zimbabwe because of injuries.
Both are likely to be key players if Sri Lanka are to challenge a South African Test team which is coming off a third successive away series win in Australia.
After a succession of leg injuries, Mathews is confident that he will be able to play a full all-rounder’s role in a country where his seam bowling is likely to be needed more than in his home country.
The first Test, though, is in Port Elizabeth, which usually provides the slowest and lowest of South Africa’s Test pitches.
The Sri Lankans arrived in South Africa last Sunday and have had a full week of preparation in Potchefstroom, a university town an hour’s drive from Johannesburg which is a favoured training venue for a variety of international sporting teams and individuals.
The Invitation XI consists mainly of some of South Africa’s most promising young players, led by experienced Cape Cobras and South Africa A batsman Omphile Ramela.
Off-spinner Dane Piedt is the only Test player in the side.
Sri Lanka Test squad: Angelo Mathews (captain), Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Dhananjaya de Silva, Upul Tharanga, Lahiru Kumara, Vikum Sanjaya, Nuwan Pradeep, Dushmantha Chameera, Suranga Lakmal, Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath.
December 18-20, South African Invitation XI, Potchefstroom
December 26-30, First Test, Port Elizabeth
January 2-6, Second Test, Cape Town
January 12-16, Third Test, Johannesburg
January 20, First Twenty20 international, Centurion
January 22, Second Twenty20 international, Johannesburg
January 25, Third Twenty20 international, Cape Town
January 28, First one-day international, Port Elizabeth
February 1, Second one-day international, Durban
February 4, Third one-day international, Johannesburg
February 7, Fourth one-day international, Cape Town
February 10, Fifth one-day international, Centurion