SA VS SL, 1st PREVIEW OF THE TEST
Quinton de Kock has never been a first-class captain © Getty
The newest of South Africa’s regular test fields is the most South African of all. A particular South Africa, that is. Because there are many. On weekend afternoons here, braai smoke spreads an aromatic veil over the ground, the grass banks hum with the buzz of beer and conversations make noise, mostly in Afrikaans.
But foreigners are welcome. The opposition is also treated with more respect to the Centurion than in many other reasons. Except that on Saturday there will be no crowds for the match against Sri Lanka, the first Test played in South Africa since Covid-19 has changed everything in the world and how we live it. So there won’t be a gracious welcome from the locals to ease the conditions, which would seem tailored to South Africa’s seemingly bottomless of quality fast bowling players.
Hitting the first four and a half sessions at the Centurion is often a survival exercise. And a good idea to survive is. Because in the next four and a half sessions the batters thrive more than they would elsewhere. The field loses its sting and the ever-fast outfield has hardened in the sun and is even faster. So while there have been 14 shots of more than five wickets in one inning in the 25 tests played here, there have also been six scores of more than 150, two of which are double centuries.
Add to that a tide of clouds bending over the horizon at the start of the day, lightning crunching in the sky as tea approaches, and more of the odd storm of biblical proportions in the third session. In the open press kit, expiring reporters ended up writing furiously as they huddled under their desks with their shirts pulled over their heads to keep themselves as safe as possible and their laptops something like dry.
There is a theatrical quality to the Test cricket drama at the Centurion, and mostly the heroes of the piece are South Africa. Of those 25 tests that have played here since November 1995, they have only lost two. Sri Lanka were the opposition in four games and in all were beaten twice by one inning.
But you need to drop 21 places on the list of best bowling performances in an inning at the Centurion to find the first against Sri Lanka: Vernon Philander’s 5/53 in December 2011. The only other lankan entrance on this side of the country. The equation in the top 30 is Allan Donald’s 5/54 in March 1998, the same game in which Muttiah Muralitheran took 5/63. Shaun Pollock’s 111 in January 2011, Daryll Cullinan’s 103 in March 1998 and another 103, by Neil McKenzie, also in January 2001, are the only centuries marked against Sri Lanka at the Centurion.
Hashan Tillakaratne’s 104 undefeated in November 2002 are only 100 here. Tillakaratne batted for five and a half hours and faced 231 balls for his prize. But we don’t call this austere inning considering Centurion was also the scene of AB De Villiers’s 97 of 161 balls against New Zealand in April 2006 and of 98 of Kumar Sangakkara in January 2001, which resulted in 215 deliveries.
So, despite all Centurions’ emphatic loyalty to the cause of South Africa, Sri Lanka has had its moments. But they have been few and far between. If they can put enough together this time will be the key to their chances of smashing their duck to the ground.
Kusal Perera’s 153 non Kingsmead during Sri Lanka’s previous visit to the country in February last year broke new ground for his team’s history in South Africa and led them to become the first Asian team to win a test series here. But flat and flabby Kingsmead is not Centurion. Kusal is classy on his legs, as he will have to be if he wants to repeat his 2019 heroics in this match. Fast but erratic Lahiru Kumara could be the best hope for the Lancers to match the home side in the pace department.
Both teams are playing their first test of the coronavirus era, but South Africans are also going where they hadn’t been since Faf du Plessis left the captain in February. Quinton de Kock, who replaced him for the summer, has great boots to fill. He has played 215 national teams in all formats, but has never been captain in a first-class match. De Kock will have to find a way to win despite an inexperienced rhythm attack and a strong yet light-hearted batting formation.
Centurion will allow South Africa to start as a favorite. But they will have to work to maintain that state.
When:Saturday 26 December 2020, 10:00 local time
Where is it:SuperSport Park, Centurion
What to expect: Fast, bouncy and swinging for the first day or so, flat for the next day or so, up and down the rest of the game. Expect an epic thunderstorm in the afternoon. Maybe every afternoon. But usually only for an hour.
The removal of Beuran Hendricks from the equation and the absence of Kagiso Rabada due to a groin strain changes the look of the probable South African attack. Also, Lungi Ngidi and Glenton Stuurman are trying to overcome minor physical problems. A global approach might have been an option if it weren’t, but certainly not now.
Possible XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma, Dwaine Pretorius, Anrich Nortje, Keshav Maharaj, Glenton Stuurman, Lungi Ngidi.
Angelo Mathews is out of the tour with a hamstring injury and Oshado Fernando will miss the first test due to an ankle problem. Suranga Lakmal is in doubt with a hamstring problem he suffered during training on Wednesday.
Possible XI: Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Minod Bhanuka, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya De Silva, Dilruwan Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Lasith Embuldeniya, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Kumara.
What they say
“There will be a little more rebound, a little more pace. We will definitely use it to our advantage but we don’t want to get carried away. You don’t want to get into a game thinking you’re going to bomb the boys and it won’t happen.” – Anrich Nortje tries to curb his enthusiasm for bowling at the Centurion
“We will be playing for the first time since Covid, so some things are new. We are learning how to play from a bio-bubble. But we are not worried about Covid; we just want to play good cricket and enjoy the time we are here. We are not here. talking or thinking about Covid “. – Dimuth Karunaratne refuses to be irritated by the virus.