SA continue search for best XI as SL look to end ODI rut
A wounded South Africa bounced back to win the first ODI of this series against Sri Lanka by . But at this point, results are almost secondary to the goal of identifying who the best limited-overs cricketers in the country are, and who will be going to the World Cup.
What is South Africa's best XI in ODIs? This was the central question that CSA's selection policies set out to answer over the past year, with increasing urgency. There have been 10 debutants in the ODI side since 2018, to go with three new Test cricketers and seven players blooded in T20Is. Fast bowler Anrich Nortje is the latest on the list, picking up a solitary wicket on his first outing, albeit on a dry, slow and uncharacteristic Wanderers track. South Africa have undoubtedly unearthed some match-winners along the way, but the first ODI also gave a timely reminder of the value of some of the proven old heads.
Faf du Plessis certainly led from the front in the first ODI at the Wanderers on Sunday, his unbeaten century guiding South Africa to an eight-wicket win. But du Plessis also joined hands in a 136-run stand with Quinton de Kock, who has now played 102 ODIs. That pair also continued the good work started by Imran Tahir's three cheap wickets earlier in the day.
Now it is Sri Lanka's turn to bounce back. They were far from their best in all departments on Sunday, squandering a position of strength with the bat when they slipped from 195 for 4 to 231 all out, and then being unable to build on the early dismissal of Reeza Hendricks when mounting a defence of their total.
There are also a fair number of new faces in Sri Lanka's squad, but much like South Africa, it's the veterans who need to lead from the front. If Upul Tharanga can contribute runs at the top, if Thisara Perera can provide a little oomph to the lower-middle order, and if Lasith Malinga can strike early with the ball, Sri Lanka have more than enough young talent to fill in in between, break a four-match losing streak and draw level in Centurion.
Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WWLWW
Sri Lanka LLLLW
In the spotlight
Responsibility is a cape that hangs lightly on Faf du Plessis' shoulders. Amid a summer of debate around South Africa's pitches, fast bowling, and plummeting batting averages, du Plessis has enjoyed a fruitful season across the board, scoring his runs at 51.00 in Tests, 37.74 in T20Is and an impressive 95.00 in ODIs. His runs are vital to South Africa's cause.
One of the brightest young lights in Sri Lanka's ranks, Kusal Mendis is in decent nick, having led his team home with an unbeaten 84 in the Port Elizabeth Test, had a good outing in the tour match that preceded this ODI series with 47, and top-scored with 60 in the opening ODI. While another bruising effort with the bat from Kusal Perera would be handy, it is Mendis who keeps the cogs turning in the middle-order engine room.
While Dale Steyn sat the first ODI out, South Africa might opt to give Kagiso Rabada a breather for the second. Conditions in Centurion probably won't be too different to those in Johannesburg, but Anrich Nortje should get another chance to impress.
South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Reeza Hendricks, 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Faf du Plessis (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 Wiaan Mulder, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Kagiso Rabada/Dale Steyn, 9 Anrich Nortje, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Imran Tahir
Aside from any potential injuries, Sri Lanka may look to enhance their new-ball options with the inclusion of Kasun Rajitha if conditions in Centurion warrant it.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 3 Oshada Fernando, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Kusal Perera, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Lasith Malinga (capt), 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Vishwa Fernando
Pitch and conditions
There were runs to be had at SuperSport Park during the last ODI here, with Pakistan romping to 317 for 6 before South Africa cruised to 187 for 2 in response to win by 13 runs on the D/L method. The rainy conditions that shortened the last international played here shouldn't be a problem this time around, with good weather predicted.
Stats and trivia
Limited-overs pitches in Centurion have long been excellent to bat on, with the ground ODI record high score of 392 for 6 being set by South Africa against Pakistan in 2007. South Africa have scored 300 or more 11 times in ODIs at this ground.
Hashim Amla is South Africa's leading scorer at this ground in ODIs, with 904 runs at 64.57.
Sri Lanka's highest score at this ground is the 319 for 8 they scored against the hosts in 2009, setting up a 55-run D/L win over South Africa at the Champions Trophy.
Sri Lanka hold the record for the highest sixth-wicket stand in ODIs at this ground - the 93 put on by Asela Gunaratne and Sachith Pathirana against South Africa in February 2017