South Africa begin their new era under Hashim Amla with a tough Test against Sri Lanka in Galle on Wednesday.
Venue: Galle International Stadium
Date: Wednesday, July 16 - Sunday, July 20
Start time: 5:30 a.m. BST (10 a.m. local time)
TV and live stream: SuperSport (South Africa), PTV Sports (Pakistan), Ten Sports (Sri Lanka), Orbit Show Network (Middle East)
Weather: Showers are forecast intermittently throughout the Test, according to AccuWeather. Temperatures will be hot and humid, getting up to about 30 degrees Celsius throughout the five days.
The last time South Africa toured Sri Lanka was also the last time they lost a Test series away from home. They were hammered in the first Test in 2006, losing by an innings and 153 runs. They bounced back in the second, though, losing by just one wicket. Sri Lanka is one of the toughest places to tour and that much has been reflected in their results.
South Africa have won just two of the 10 Tests they have played in the country, losing four and drawing four. The last time they traveled to Sri Lanka, they were also without Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis—only then their absence wasn't quite so permanent. The phrase "new era" is thrown about quite often these days, but it's a new start for South Africa with new captain Amla at the helm.
Sri Lanka are fresh off a historic series win in England, so they will be high on confidence heading into the first Test. They last lost at the venue against Australia, back in 2011, and most recently drew a Test here against Bangladesh. That's something South Africa will take a lot of confidence from. It is possible to get a positive result in Sri Lanka, if you just keep your cool.
There are a few selection dilemmas to iron out for South Africa. The one big change will be a replacement opener to take over from Smith. Dean Elgar is most likely to fill that position. That leaves a gap lower down the order which will be filled either by Quinton de Kock or uncapped Stiaan van Zyl.
However, as per ESPN Cricninfo, AB de Villiers experienced a tight hamstring on Monday and could not keep wicket, but he is expected to be fit. Whether he can keep wicket or not is another story, though, and if he can't, De Kock will play and slot in behind the stumps.
Journalist Neil Manthorp reported that this will indeed be the case.
Team news: @ABdeVilliers17 is NOT fit to keep but will play. Quinton de Kock will keep and probably bat 7— Neil Manthorp (@NeilManthorp) July 15, 2014
The final selection decision is whether to play Imran Tahir or give the uncapped Dane Piedt a go. Tahir has improved tremendously in limited overs but still poses a risk in the longer format of the game due to his inconsistency.
Piedt was the leading wicket taker in South Africa's four-day domestic competition and has the ability to turn the ball square. However, throwing an uncapped rookie into the deep end might be too much of a risk for the South African selectors.
Having recently been toppled from the No. 1 ranking, South Africa have to beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in order to overtake Australia once again. That's a tough ask for any team and an even tougher one for a team in a new era. It's all set to be quite enthralling.
Not to pile too much pressure on new captain Amla, but he's just hit a purple patch of form in the ODIs. With two consecutive hundreds and 48 in the final ODI, Amla has found form at the exact right time. With a shaky top order, Amla's position at three will be vital for getting big runs on the board.
Kumar Sangakkara is fresh off scoring his first ever Test century at Lord's and had a good knockabout in the ODI series against South Africa. He has an immense record on home turf and will be one of the most prized scalps in the Sri Lanka side.
Quinton de Kock(w), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla(c), AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Kyle Abbott, Wayne Parnell, Dane Piedt, Stiaan van Zyl
Upul Tharanga, Kaushal Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews(c), Dinesh Chandimal(w), Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis, Suranga Lakmal, Dhammika Prasad, Shaminda Eranga, Chanaka Welegedara, Kithuruwan Vithanage, Dilruwan Perera
All stats via ESPN Cricnfo StatsGuru, unless otherwise stated