No Stroll For Favourites Sri Lanka

When South Africa were in Sri Lanka for ODIs last year, the visitors barely took breaths between comments about the heat. That is a little like going to Moscow and complaining people mostly spoke Russian. Maybe the men at SLC took note and chose to provide their team optimal advantage. Perhaps they are just sadists (which some Sri Lanka fans would not find surprising).

Whatever the reason, the two ODIs played in the hottest climes, in Colombo and Hambantota, are both day matches. July is not the warmest or most humid month in the Sri Lankan calendar. But it's no Highveld either.

Then there are the pitches. If SLC were indeed taking notes from 2013's South Africa sojourn, or just following the sport in general (which some Sri Lanka fans would find surprising), they will know of the tourists' aversion to spin.

The Premadasa Stadium surface can assist seam at times, but it also has a dustbowl mode. Angelo Mathews might be slightly miffed if he arrives there on Sunday morning to find the pitch would not suit a second frontline slow bowler.

But South Africa are too good a team to stumble into the same pits that swallowed them during the 4-1 drubbing last year. They have arrived with good time, and clinically trounced a Board XI side featuring five players from last year's Sri Lanka squad.

They will also have studied Ajantha Mendis with renewed vigour and run microscopes over Sachithra Senanayake as well. Most men in their squad have toured the island before, and if Jacques Kallis is fit, South Africa will also be at full strength, which they were not in 2013. Sri Lanka still begin as favourites, but they will not expect to stroll past the visitors so easily this time.

The hosts, though, are not just humming, they are surging. A sweep of the trophies in England has the team in predictably high spirits. Angelo Mathews said on that tour that his side is "like a family", and when Mahela Jayawardene leaps on Kumar Sangakkara's back or when Mathews and Rangana Herath place their arms tenderly around each other's waists while mulling field placements, it is not difficult to imagine they are close.

This year they have defeated sides that outgunned them on paper, by dint of preparation and fighting spirit. Now they are at home, complacency appears the chief obstacle.


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