So, at last, it happened. Six matches in, the tour finally produced a close match. Vital as the three-run victory at Pallekele was for an ailing Sri Lanka, though, it would barely have bothered the opposition. The hosts are chuffed to have broken their 11-match losing streak against South Africa in the 50-over format, but the visitors might justifiably reason that the match was so racked by rain that luck may have played a greater role in the outcome than usual. Also, having already fielded an inexperienced attack in the first three games, South Africa threw even more freshers into the mix after the series was decided. It was only a depleted South Africa team that Sri Lanka finally managed to beat.
But victories – particularly hard-fought ones – do sometimes have a way of injecting new hope into beleaguered outfits. Sri Lanka will be overjoyed that their lower middle order proved so tenacious in Pallekele, with Dasun Shanaka and Thisara Perera putting on the team’s best partnership of the series, at a breakneck pace. They will take heart from the fact that the bowlers came up with the “Test-match line” strategy on the fly, and executed it so well. These are only minor victories in a series that has otherwise been dispiriting, but such is the state of this Sri Lanka ODI team that even the small wins are worth clinging to.
Now, as the series winds down at Khettarama, expect Sri Lanka to continue trialing the kind of aggressive batting that enabled them to make 306 for 7 in 39 overs on Wednesday. On the other hand, expect South Africa to continue trialing young players.
Sri Lanka WLLLW (completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LWWWL
In the spotlight
With Imran Tahir not selected and Kagiso Rabada likely to be rested again, it is essentially down to Lungi Ngidi to lead the bowlers in the final game. So far in the series, Ngidi has been impressive, topping the wicket-takers’ table with 10 wickets at 20.10, the Sri Lanka batsmen often struggling to contend with the bounce he generates. If he produces another good performance on Sunday, South Africa’s selectors can be more sure that he is a bowler with serious one-day potential – one they should look to incorporate into their World Cup plans.
Shanaka was a bit of a monochrome batsman when he first played limited-overs matches for Sri Lanka, often excelling against spin, but proving mediocre against seam bowling. However, he has clearly worked on his game, and has come back as more of a complete batsman, using the pull shot to particularly devastating effect when South Africa’s quicks tested him with the short ball. With Angelo Mathews currently unable to bowl, Sri Lanka wouldn’t mind a second seam-bowling allrounder in the squad, especially if he is capable of producing match-turning innings on regular basis, like the one he played on Wednesday.
South Africa are likely to field the same team.
South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (capt & wk), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Reeza Hendricks, 4 Heinrich Klaasen, 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Wiaan Mulder, 8 Andile Phehlukwayo, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Junior Dala, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Sri Lanka may think about bringing Kasun Rajitha back into the side, perhaps in place of Lahiru Kumara.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Kusal Perera, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Dasun Shanaka, 9 Akila Dananjaya, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Kasun Rajitha
Pitch and conditions
Khettarama is generally the driest one-day surface in the country, but as Sri Lanka seem intent on playing on good tracks in order to prepare for the World Cup, there may be plenty of runs in Sunday’s match also. Thundershowers are forecast for Colombo, but these are generally not long-lived enough to wash out a whole game.
Stats and trivia
While Ngidi tops the wicket-takers’ list for the series, JP Duminy leads the run-scorers, with his 215 runs having come at an average of 71.66 and a strike rate of almost 140.
Sri Lanka lost their last match against South Africa at Khettarama, in 2014, but generally have a positive record at the venue, having lost only twice in nine completed matches against this opposition.
Thisara Perera now averages 44.83 with the bat this year, with a strike rate of 137. His bowling figures across nine matches in 2018 are just as impressive – he has taken 18 wickets at 18.61 in nine games.