Proteas need subcontinental win to prove Test credentials
There has been a just a single blot on Proteas’ skipper Faf du Plessis’ Test captaincy record since he took over the mantle from AB de Villiers, a loss to England away from home, but the series against Sri Lanka will be his first in Asia and a chance for his side to prove their mettle.
South Africa have not visited the subcontinent since December 2015 when India wrapped up a 3-0 series win as the Proteas weakness against spin was badly exposed.
Since then the Proteas have unearthed a world-class left-arm orthodox tweaker in Keshav Maharaj but it remains to be seen if the top-order have developed a game-plan against the turning ball.
The series provides South Africa with a chance to close the gap on number one ranked Test side India who themselves face a tough away assignment in England starting later this month.
The Proteas were the last non-Asian side to win a series on the subcontinent when they beat Sri Lanka 1-0 in a two Test series in 2014.
The tour will be the first to the subcontinent for Proteas opener Aiden Markram whose successful pairing with Dean Elgar at the top of the order is set for a stern test.
The tourists have a number of players approaching important milestones. Hashim Amla needs 18 runs to become the third South African to score 9,000 Test runs and Dale Steyn needs three wickets to surpass Shaun Pollock as the all-time leading Test wicket-taker for South Africa.
Sri Lanka meanwhile lurch into a home series with a board in crisis and their skipper, Dinesh Chandimal, facing a possible suspension that could rule him out of the contests.
The coach and team manager of Sri Lanka also face possible sanctions after admitting to a code of conduct breach when protesting a ball change during the second Test against the West Indies.
The home side will be boosted though by the return of middle-order stalwart Angelo Mathews who will be asked to come to the party as the senior batsman in the side.
Sri Lanka will feel the surface should give them the edge with their batsmen equipped to handle the spin and pace threats of the Proteas better than the tourists will cope with what they have to offer.
This may be the last series for veteran spinner Rangana Herath who turned 40 earlier this year though he may not actually play with competition for spots in the bowling attack fierce.
Akila Dananjaya appears to have assumed the role of number one spinner, though he is yet to cement that status, and paceman Lahiru Kumara is likely to make way for either Lakshan Sandakan or Herath.
The performance of Kasun Rajitha with the new ball in the Caribbean should be enough to see him partner Suranga Lakmal up front.
Sri Lanka Test squad: *Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Angelo Mathews, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera (subject to fitness), Danushka Gunathilaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Rangana Herath (subject to fitness), Suranga Lakmal (vice capt), Dilruwan Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Lahiru Kumara, Lakshan Sandakan, Kasun Rajitha
*included provisionally with the ICC set to announce his sanction soon.
Proteas Test squad: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Shaun von Berg
Galle International Stadium
South Africa tour of Sri Lanka 2018
Match days: 12-16 July 2018 (5-day match)
Start of play: 04:30 GMT 06:30 SAST 10:00 Local time