South Africa finished off 2020 on a good note, ending their Test win drought after beating Sri Lanka comfortably by an innings and 45 runs in the Boxing Day Test.
It had been a long wait to see a Proteas batsman score a century (the last was 7 Tests ago in October 2019), but Faf du Plessis duly obliged with his highest Test score, falling agonizingly short of his maiden Test double by just one run. What was encouraging though was the fact that South Africa put on over 300 runs for the first time in 7 Tests.
A strong opening partnership of over 100 runs, something the Proteas had not done since October 2017 was welcome relief. Aiden Markram looks a different player, assured in his game and more comfortable at the crease.
Sri Lanka were hampered by multiple injuries, which severely depleted their bowling attack, so caution must be taken when referring to South Africa’s batting. The hugely talented and experienced Suranga Lakmal should be fully fit for the second Test, and will provide stability to their bowling attack.
Debutant Wanindu Hasaranga was one of the only positives for Sri Lanka in the first Test, taking 4 wickets in the first innings, and scoring a valiant maiden Test fifty in the second.
The concern for Sri Lanka ahead of this tour was the threat of Covid, which is why they picked a 21-man strong Test squad. Thankfully for them, they now have replacements to cover their injured players, which they will be forced to use with at least one player (Dhananjaya de Silva) ruled out for the second Test.
After initially being ruled out of the Test series, Kagiso Rabada is now declared fit and has joined the squad. However, coach Mark Boucher has suggested that because of the lack of red-ball cricket this year, and managing player workload, Rabada may not be an automatic starter for the second Test. If Rabada does play however, he could get his 200th Test wickets at his home ground.
While it was a surprise to many to see Wiaan Mulder included in the first Test, he certainly proved his worth, by taking wickets in both innings and scoring useful lower order runs. He was accurate and smart.
Lutho Sipamla had a less than happy start to his Test career when he showed a lack of control in his opening spell. Perhaps asking him to bowl with the new ball was an unwise decision. The way Sipamla bowled in his later spells however was incredible. It is definitely worth giving him another Test and giving him a decent run in the team.
The “Bullring” as it is affectionately known for its intimidating nature has seen a mixed bag for the home side in recent Tests, with South Africa winning 3 of the last 5 Tests, losing to both India (2018) and England (2019).
Even if conditions call for an all-out pace attack, Mark Boucher is hesitant to leave out a spinner, therefore Keshav Maharaj is likely to play. Given this, South Africa are likely to go in with the same playing XI.
Can South Africa continue their winning momentum into the New Year and win their first Test series in two years? Only time will tell.
Happy New Year everyone!