Sri Lanka need top order to stand up

Match facts

February 1, 2017
Start time 1.30pm local (1130 GMT)

Sri Lanka need much more from their top order © AFP

Big Picture

Eleven innings into this tour now, Sri Lanka have one major question hanging over them still: when will the top order finally fire together? It had been ground down and blown away in the Tests, before in the T20 series one win was the outcome of Angelo Mathews’ heroic lone heaving, and the other the result of Seekkuge Prasanna’s late blitz – three of the top five having played decidedly modest innings, though Niroshan Dickwella did hit a fine half-century.

Prasanna and Mathews have both gone home now, and the opposition are once more envenomed by folks like Kagiso Rabada, Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis. South Africa have sought to set the tone for the series with Saturday’s eight-wicket win, where their top order put on partnerships of 71, 60 and 54*. Sri Lanka are again in the position of needing to make a comeback.

Some of Sri Lanka’s problems stem from the instability in selection while inexperienced batsmen attempt to find their roles. In the tri-series final in Zimbabwe – Sri Lanka’s previous ODI – their top three was Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Perera and Dickwella, in that order. On Saturday, Dickwella was moved up to open, de Silva found himself shunted to No. 6, and Perera had been shunted out of the squad altogether. Kusal Mendis – now seemingly the most bankable Sri Lanka batsman in Mathews’ absence – had been Man of the Series batting at No. 4 in that previous tournament, but has now been moved to No. 3 again. After being shot out for 181 in Port Elizabeth, perhaps another minor shuffle will ensue.

South Africa may also feel they have their visitors covered on the bowling front. Wayne Parnell has been in penetrative form over the past six months, while Rabada and Imran Tahir are proven matchwinners. Perhaps their only worry will be the recent record of Andile Phehlukwayo, who is yet to take a wicket in four international appearances on this tour.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WWWWW
Sri Lanka LWWLW

In the spotlight

South Africa’s marathons might be renamed “Imran Tahir wicket celebrations” in future, but if you have a top order as completely fooled as he often has Sri Lanka, why wouldn’t you race around the field for joy? In five matches against this opponent, Tahir has 13 wickets at 13.23. On Saturday he gutted Sri Lanka’s middle-order with three different deliveries. The googly weaseled its way into Dinesh Chandimal’s stumps, before the turning legbreak had Mendis caught in front of the stumps. A straighter ball had Upul Tharanga playing for turn that didn’t eventuate. Inside six overs Sri Lanka slipped from 86 for 2 to 102 for 5. Unless Sri Lanka develop a response to Tahir, they risk being floored by him again.

On the opposite side, bowling wrist spin with the opposite hand, Lakshan Sandakan has made a promising start to his limited-overs career, just as he had done in Tests. There is an argument that for now, Sandakan should be reserved for Tests in order to safeguard his naturally attacking bowling style from the limited-overs disposition towards economy. If he keeps taking wickets, however, the selectors will find it difficult to be swayed by that contention.

Teams news

South Africa are likely to be unchanged for this match.

South Africa (possible): 1. Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt.), 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Andile Phehlukwayo, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Imran Tahir

If the surface appears faster than the Port Elizabeth one, Sri Lanka may play an extra seam bowler in place of Jeffrey Vandersay. Lahiru Kumara could be in line for an ODI debut before he has even played a List A match. It is possible the batting will go unchanged, but Sri Lanka’s present top order is as fluid as they come in international cricket.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Niroshan Dickwella, 2 Sandun Weerakkody, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 5 Upul Tharanga (capt.), 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Asela Gunaratne, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Jeffrey Vandersay, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lakshan Sandakan

Pitch and conditions

The Durban surface is expected to be faster and better for batting than the Port Elizabeth pitch had been. There is no rain forecast.

Stats and trivia

  • It has been 15 ODIs since Wayne Parnell last went wicketless in matches where he has bowled. He has taken 26 wickets at an average of 27.06 in that time.
  • Kusal Mendis has scores of 94, 57 and 62 from his last three ODI innings.
  • The only time Sri Lanka have previously met South Africa in Durban was for that infamous World Cup tie in 2003, when South Africa got their Duckworth-Lewis sums wrong, and failed to qualify for the semi-final.


“We play Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy too. Both teams take benefit from playing against each other. Facing their bowling attack, whether it’s the spinners or the seamers, you get a sense of what to expect for the Champions Trophy. They’ve got good spinners and they are a good team. I’m sure they are hungry to bounce back and we are hungry to try and keep our momentum.”
Hashim Amla on the many benefits of this series

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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