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South Africa and Sri Lanka would renew their recent rivalry when they face each other in the first Test of the two-match series at Centurion on Saturday. Both the teams would be playing Test cricket after almost a year as the coronavirus pandemic has brought the whole world to a standstill. 

But South Africa, who are placed 6th in Test rankings - one spot down in respect to Sri Lanka, would not start favorites as they have had a poor run of form in the longer version of the game – losing 9 out of their last 10 Tests. The run started when Sri Lanka blanked South Africa in their own den in 2019. 

However, Sri Lanka does not have a great run in Tests either – winning just 6 of the last 20 Tests, but they have fared better against South Africa, with 4 of those 6 wins coming against the Proteas. And hence, Sri Lanka would look to repeat that magical 2-0 series win they posted in 2019. And they have the crux of the team that won that series this time around, with Kusal Perera who hit that breathtaking 153* at Durban looking to repeat his heroics. 

Head to Head: Matches Played- 29, South Africa- 14, Sri Lanka- 9, Draw- 6 

Team News 

South Africa have been hit with an injury to key bowler K Rabada (groin problem). And it would be interesting to see how the Proteas cope up with this loss. Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje have to step up and lead the bowling attack. South African batting is in a better place, with veteran Faf du Plessis leading the pack, with Deal Elgar, de Kock, Aiden Markram, and Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma for support. 

Besides, a few players have had to be withdrawn after they tested positive for Covid-19, but South Africa have had been able to put up a squad to face a strong Sri Lankan team. This series gives South Africa the chance to test their bench strength as they look to groom Test cricketers for the future. 

Sri Lanka would miss injured Angelo Mathews but would take inspiration from their 2-0 win over South Africa in 2019. Kusal Perera, who struck that magical 153* in Durban in 2019, would look to repeat that heroics and heap more humiliation on South Africa. With Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella, and captain Dimuth Karunaratne in the line-up, Sri Lanka have one of the best Test batting line-ups in the world currently. 

But it’s their bowling that could come under pressure against the South African batsmen at home. Sri Lanka too are playing Test cricket after almost a year. And hence, the initial rustiness would be unavoidable. 

Pitch and Conditions 

SuperSport Park, Centurion has been a high-scoring ground, with 13 scores of 400 or more. South Africa holds the top five totals on this ground, with the highest of 620/4 declared against India in 2010. The pitch will offer assistance to pacers, but the batsmen who apply themselves could pile up runs at this venue. Meanwhile, the weather forecast for the five days starting Saturday is sunny to partly cloudy, with the temperature hovering around 18 degrees Celsius to 32 degrees Celsius, and rain will keep away from the venue. 

Possible Playing XI 

South Africa - Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne, Quinton de Kock (wk), Keshav Maharaj, Dwaine Pretorius, Anrich Nortje,  Glenton Stuurman, Faf du Plessis 

Sri Lanka - Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Minod Bhanuka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Embuldeniya 

Key Battles

Faf du Plessis vs Suranga Lakmal 

Faf du Plessis vs Suranga Lakmal   South Africa
Faf du Plessis vs Suranga Lakmal 

The best batsman of South Africa vs the best bowler of Sri Lanka. It is going to be an interesting battle between Du Plessis and Lakmal as their performances will dictate the success of the team in the series. A lot more pressure will be on Du Plessis as he is the most experienced batsman in the South Africa squad, and Sri Lanka would look to target him, with Lakmal bombarding Du Plessis with short-pitched bowling to unsettle the veteran batsman. 

Lungi Ngidi vs Kusal Perera

Lungi Ngidi vs Kusal Perera  South Africa
Lungi Ngidi vs Kusal Perera

Perera played the innings of his life when he struck 153* at Durban in 2019 to steal a 1-wicket win for his team. And this time around as well, Sri Lanka would hope Perera comes good once again to repeat the 2-0 whitewash last year. But South Africa would unleash their fiery pacer Lungi Ngidi on Perera early on to unsettle the Sri Lankan into committing mistakes, and not be a thorn in their flesh. Could Ngidi deliver for his team? Will Kusal be able to repeat the 2019 magic? 

Prediction

Although South Africa are in the worst form in Test cricket, they cannot be underestimated in home conditions. They can be trusted to bounce back, and deliver in all conditions. Under a new skipper De Kock, South Africa would look to open a new chapter in their Test history and start with a win over Sri Lanka. 

However, Lanka would be no pushovers, especially since they have had the measure of the Proteas in the last two series between them, with the islanders winning four out of four Tests. Hence, it could be a keenly fought Test match, with no sides giving an inch to each other. South Africa have an edge though as they are playing at home. 

Cricwizz predicts South Africa could be the winner of the first Test.