South Africa vs Sri Lanka, 1st ODI aAt Port Elizabeth: Key Battles

After a riveting T20 International (T20I) series which went down to the final game and was won by the visiting side in a scintillating finish, South Africa and Sri Lanka will meet in the first match of the five-game One-Day International (ODI) series at Port Elizabeth on Saturday. In a different format, both the teams will look to make a winning start to the series and go 1-0 up rather than playing the catching-up game by losing the series opener. Sri Lanka will be buoyed by their success in the recently-concluded T20I series after a horrendous Test series. South Africa, on the other hand, will take inspiration from the return of their regular skipper AB de Villiers.

Both the teams, especially Sri Lanka, have faced some setbacks recently. Sri Lanka will be fielding a depleted squad, after their regular captain Angelo Mathews returned home post the second T20I. Along with him, medium-pacer Nuwan Pradeep and opener Danushka Gunathilaka also returned back home due to injuries. Besides, in a surprising move, the board also called back T20I specialists Isuru Udana and Seekkuge Prasanna. Both had done well in the T20I series and played crucial roles in Sri Lanka’s twin wins. They will now play under Upul Tharanga’s leadership. Full Cricket Scorecard: South Africa vs Sri Lanka 1st ODI at Port Elizabeth

South Africa, on the other hand, will miss out on the services of their latest pace sensation, Lungi Ngidi. The young pacer, who took 6 wickets in the T20I series, winning the Man-of-the-Match award in the first game, was named in the ODI squad for the first time. But he has been ruled out of the series with an abdomen injury. His absence notwithstanding, the hosts will be bolstered by the return of their senior players AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy. This will make for plenty of exciting individual clashes. Here’s a look at the possible key battles from the first ODI:

Quinton de Kock vs Nuwan Kulasekara: The Proteas will be happy to have de Kock back at the top of the order. The explosive southpaw has been a key reason for South Africa’s success in ODIs of late. He often gets his side off to a blistering start, thus setting up a platform for a huge score. De Kock is fairly good as far as consistency is concerned, and rakes up big scores quite often. Interestingly, he likes the ball to come on to his bat. He will fancy his chances against Sri Lanka’s new-ball bowler Nuwan Kulasekara, who is a wily customer with the ball. A contest between de Kock’s audacity and Kulasekara’s experience is thus on the cards.

AB de Villiers vs Lakshan Sandakan: The talismanic batsman last played an ODI in June 2016. After a long break from cricket, he recently made a stunning comeback to competitive cricket by hammering an unbeaten 103-ball 134 for Northerns against Easterns before playing a 63-run knock in the final T20I. De Villiers not just destroys the pacers, but is equally adept at playing spin bowling. His teammates, though have struggled against the mystery of Chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan in the T20I series. It will be interesting to see how de Villiers approaches Sandakan’s spell.

Imran Tahir vs Dinesh Chandimal: Imran Tahir has been the South African captain’s go-to man whenever there is a need for a breakthrough. The wily leg-spinner rarely disappoints, as he has a knack of taking big wickets and breaking crucial partnerships. He will set his eyes on Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka’s most experienced middle-order batsman in absence of skipper Mathews. As a matter of fact, in the final T20I, Tahir cleaned Chandimal up. How the two fare against each other in the first ODI will be interesting to see.

Kagiso Rabada vs Niroshan Dickwella: South African pacers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have missed more games than they have played in last year or so. In their absence, Kagiso Rabada has emerged as South Africa’s premier fast bowler. The young bowler has shown mettle and led the Protea bowling attack quite well. He will have the responsibility to get early wickets for his side in the series.

Up against him will be young opener Niroshan Dickwella, who has been exceptional at the top for Sri Lanka. He had scored 106-ball 94 in his penultimate ODI for his country. In the recently-concluded T20I series too, he gathered 133 runs off 85 balls at a whopping strike rate of 156.40 to finish as the Man-of-the-Series. Both these players will have an early go at each other, as both will open in their disciplines for their respective sides. Pretty much a mouth-watering contest, isn’t it?


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