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South Africa vs Sri Lanka 1st Test Preview: Amid Covid-19 concerns, Proteas target reset with Boxing Day Test

South Africa players celebrate a wicket
South Africa players celebrate a wicket
©Reuters
 

There are serious concerns of a new mutated coronavirus variant linked to South Africa but cricket, as always, is trying its best to provide some much-needed relief, with the marquee Boxing Day test match.

LIVE - South Africa vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test

A lot riding on the series

The series against Sri Lanka may just be a two-match affair but it will have far-reaching repercussions for South Africa. On the back of England returning home from South Africa without playing the ODI series due to a faulty bio secure bubble in the times of Covid-19, how this series pans out will decide whether or not Australia agree to tour South Africa next year. The tour of India also hinges on South Africa's administrative success of conducting a hiccup-free series.

For Sri Lanka, who have not had any international cricket since the Covid-19 outbreak and are coming on the back of the successful conduction of the Lanka Premier League, this series will hold a lot of significance as well.

Both teams struggling in WTC

Both teams are not in the pink of health as far as the World Test Championship cycle of 2019-2021 is concerned. Sri Lanka, who have played just two series till now, of two matches each, have won just one game while drawing one and losing two and have just 80 points.

South Africa, on the other hand, have played two series comprising a total of seven matches. The team has managed to win only one game out of that and have lost the remaining six. As a result, they are languishing at the 8th spot with just 24 points.

While making it to the final of the World Test Championship is no longer in the realm of possibility for either country, they would want to finish the cycle on a high and impart some substance to their respective tallies.

Performance in last test series

The last time South Africa competed in a test match, they were part of a 4-match series against England at home, which they lost by 3-1 after winning the first test match by 189 runs.

Sri Lanka last played Zimbabwe and won the two-match series 1-0. However, it was not part of the World Test Championship.

South Africa missing quality pacers

South Africa have been weakened in terms of their bench strength and have been undergoing a process of transition ever since Graeme Smith retired in 2014. Over the last couple of years, their squad strength has been dented quite a lot, especially in the pace bowling department after the retirement of Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and with the likes of Kyle Abbott and Duanne Olivier signing Kolpak deals.

Conditions to offset SA's weak squad

With an injury to the spearhead of their pace attack Kagiso Rabada, South Africa are struggling to put together a strong set of pace bowlers. If it is any compensation, Dwane Pretorius has been declared fit to take part in the test series and is likely to make the playing XI in the first test match.

He will get the support of Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje and Beuran Hendricks to complete South Africa's bowling attack. 

Quinton de Kock has been named the test captain of South Africa for this season and will want to begin on a positive note, which is expected, especially with South Africa playing in their home conditions.

Sri Lanka close to full strength

With the South African team in disarray, Sri Lanka will not get a better chance of registering a test victory in South Africa, with the visitors well stocked as compared to their opponents. However, the conditions will offset the squad strength of the two teams.

In the absence of Angelo Mathews, who is recovering from a hamstring injury and Oshada Fernando, who is not fit enough to make the playing XI for the first test match, Kusal Perera is likely to open the batting with Dimuth Karunaratne.

Wrist spinner Wanindu Hasaranga has been added to the squad on the back of his brilliance in the Lanka Premier League but left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya, who picked up 6 wickets at 23.48 on Sri Lanka's last tour of South Africa, is likely to play as Sri Lanka's sole specialist spinner. Batting all-rounder Dhananjaya de Silva will be available as another option.

Here's the probable playing XI of both teams:

South Africa - Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Keegan Petersen, Kyle Verreynne, Quinton de Kock (c & wk), Keshav Maharaj, Dwaine Pretorius, Anrich Nortje, Beuran Hendricks 

Sri Lanka - Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Minod Bhanuka/Santhush Gunatilake, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Embuldeniya

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