Underdog Sri Lanka seek historic series win

Once in a while, the sporting world wakes up to cheer the underdog upset the apple cart and pip their more fancied opponent. It is that chapter of the fairytale story where the underdog beats the odds and there is a sense of bewilderment. A battered and bruised Sri Lankan side overcoming the formidable South African unit in the Durban Test is the newest edition to the book full of surprises.

At 226 for 9, when Vishwa Fernando joined Kusal Perera in the middle, the visitors seemed to be sliding towards another morale-sapping loss. The tourists needed 78 more with just one wicket left. However, Perera proceeded to play with fearlessness as he pulled, reverse swept, hoicked and lofted South Africa’s potent attack to leave them in a state of daze. He soon took them past the finishing line with a steer through thirdman and that was followed up by jubilation and ecstasy in the Sri Lankan camp.

Can one of the finest knocks in cricket’s history boost Sri Lanka to chart another memorable win in Port Elizabeth and seal their first-ever Test series in South Africa? Of course, following up a momentous Test win with another victory away from home would be an uphill task. However, the visiting side’s camp would be buoyed by the performance of their inexperienced seam attack. Fernando, the left-arm pacer, changed angles to trouble the hosts’ batsmen and picked up eight wickets in the game. Kasun Rajitha and Suranga Lakmal bowled with good discipline while Lasith Embuldeniya impressed on his Test debut by imparting impressive sidespin to snare five wickets.

Going into the crucial second and final Test, the visitors, though, would hope for their batsmen to put up consistent performances. Perera, the star performer in the first Test, is a case in point as the southpaw had compiled just 680 runs at 28.58 before the Durban Test.

Meanwhile, the hosts would be smarting after losing the thriller. One of the concerns has been their top order. After composing a fine hand of 152 versus Australia last year, Aiden Markram has notched up only a couple of Test fifties. Dean Elgar, his opening partner, has reached the 50-run mark in Tests just once this season. Hashim Amla, too, has found runs hard to come by. South Africa also would be worried about frequent collapses lower down the order.

On a positive note, Quinton de Kock, the wicketkeeper-batsman, has returned to form, evidenced by the hundred he accumulated against Pakistan in the final Test of that series and the crucial hand of 80 in the Durban Test.

When: Thursday, February 21 at 10:00 am local, 1:30 pm IST

Where: St.George’s Park, Port Elizabeth

What to expect: Barring a shower or two, the weather forecast looks promising. South Africa played their first-ever Test match in Port Elizabeth way back in 1889. With the brass band and the archaic settings in the backdrop, one can still feel the quaint charms of another era. The track is generally on the slower side. However, pacers such as Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn, John Reid (all-rounder), Jason Gillespie and Neil Adcock have found success at the ground.

Team News:

South Africa: With Vernon Philander, the seam bowler, ruled out of the Test due to a hamstring injury, Wiaan Mulder, the all-rounder, could come into the equation. If South Africa look for an extra batsman, Theunis de Bruyn or Zubayr Hamza could make it to the side.

Probable XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Wiaan Mulder/Theunis de Bruyn, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier.

Sri Lanka: The visitors would be tempted to continue with the winning side. On aide note, Kusal Mendis injured his ankle during a training session in Port Elizabeth.

Probable XI: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Embuldeniya, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando

What they said:

“We will look at the conditions and then we will try to make the best decision for the team. Obviously, Mulder would be a like-for-like replacement for Vernon, so that is something that we will consider as well” – Ottis Gibson, South Africa head coach.

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