Revenge on mind as South Africa face Sri Lanka in first Test

South Africa have slipped to number six in the world, behind fifth-placed Sri Lanka, and have a host of questions to answer, not least around a brittle top six and the balance of the side.

South Africa return to the Test arena for the first time in 11 months on Saturday hoping to arrest a dismal slide in the five-day game and with revenge on their minds as they host Sri Lanka in the first of a two-Test series at Centurion Park.

They have lost eight of their last nine Tests, a run that began in February 2019 with a shock 2-0 home defeat by Sri Lanka who became the first Asian side to win a series in the country.

They have slipped to number six in the world, behind fifth-placed Sri Lanka, and have a host of questions to answer, not least around a brittle top six and the balance of the side.

“We’ve got a young team,” captain Quinton de Kock said this week.

“We need our younger guys to come through and learn fast so we can have a structured team.

“That’s what I would hope for from this season, for the new guys to come in and start scoring runs and putting up their hands.”

They start the first Test without key fast bowler Kagiso Rabada, who has a groin problem, but will be buoyed by the fact both matches will be played on fast, bouncy Highveld pitches.

Left-arm seamer Beuran Hendricks has been withdrawn from the squad along with batsman Keegan Petersen. Neither player entered the tour bubble when the players gathered on Saturday, after two positive COVID-19 results were detected last week.

Hendricks’s absence means Glenton Stuurman is almost certain to make his Test debut at the age of 29, with his ability to move the ball both ways off the pitch and his excellent recent domestic form putting him ahead of rivals.

The retirement of Vernon Philander suggests Wiaan Mulder or Dwaine Pretorius are likely to play in an all-rounder role.

The make-up of Sri Lanka’s side is much harder to predict after they brought a squad of 21 players “to cover all positions”, according to coach Mickey Arthur.

They are missing injured stalwart Angelo Mathews and Oshada Fernando in their top-six batting line-up, but Arthur is upbeat about their ability to cope with South Africa’s quicks.

“We have had camps and intra-squad games and have tried to keep the players as sharp as they can be,” he said.

“We’ve got good seam bowling, good spin bowling and I am confident our top six batsmen can handle the conditions.”

Sri Lanka have not played any Tests since a victorious tour to Zimbabwe that ended in late January.

Proteas squad returns negative COVID-19 results

Cricket South Africa (CSA) on Thursday confirmed that the entire Proteas squad returned negative results from the COVID-19 tests that were conducted earlier in the day.

“This is the fourth and final round of scheduled testing ahead of the first Test of the two-match series, beginning on Boxing Day,” said CSA in an official release.

Earlier this week, every member of the Proteas had returned negative COVID-19 results in the third round of testing and as a result, Proteas were given permission to resume training as a squad.

Last week, CSA had included three more players to the Proteas squad ahead of the Test series against Sri Lanka. This forms part of its plan to integrate more players at the conclusion of the latest round of the CSA 4-Day Cup.

Factbox: South Africa v Sri Lanka, first Test

WHEN?

December 26-30 (10am. local time/0800 GMT)

WHERE?

Centurion Park (no spectators allowed)

MATCH OFFICIALS

Umpires: Marais Erasmus, Adrian Holdstock (both South Africa)

Third umpire: Allahudien Paleker (South Africa)

Match referee: Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe)

SOUTH AFRICA

World ranking: 6

Coach: Mark Boucher

Captain: Quinton de Kock

Squad: Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Sarel Erwee, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Dwaine Pretorius, Migael Pretorius, Lutho Sipamla, Glenton Stuurman, Rassie van der Dussen, Raynard van Tonder, Kyle Verreynne.

SRI LANKA

World ranking: 5

Coach: Mickey Arthur

Captain: Dimuth Karunaratne

Squad: Minod Bhanuka, Dushmantha Chameera, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Lasith Embuldeniya, Asitha Fernando, Oshada Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Santhush Gunathilake, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Kumara, Suranga Lakmal, Dilshan Madushanka, Kusal Mendis, Dilruwan Perera, Kusal Perera, Kasun Rajitha, Dasun Shanaka, Lahiru Thirimanne

TEST HEAD-TO-HEAD

Matches: 29

South Africa wins: 14

Sri Lanka wins: 9

Draws: 6

TEST HEAD-TO-HEAD IN SOUTH AFRICA

Matches: 15

South Africa wins: 11

Sri Lanka wins: 3

Draws: 1

PREVIOUS CENTURION PARK TESTS

1998 – South Africa won by six wickets

2001 – South Africa won by an innings and seven runs

2002 – South Africa won by three wickets

2011 – South Africa won by an innings and 81 runs

REMAINING FIXTURES

January 3-7, Second Test, Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg (1000 a.m. local/0800 GMT)

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