The Proteas need to make a statement of intent after their shock defeat to Sri Lanka in the first Test at Kingsmead, writes KHALID MOHIDIN.

Sri Lanka pulled off a remarkable victory at Kingsmead. Led by Kusal Perera’s remarkable 153, the visitors handed a shock defeat to the Proteas who believed that their bowling attack could defend 304 with some ease.

ALSO READ: Perera 153 snatches dramatic victory from Proteas

Sri Lanka hold the upper hand heading into the second Test, and the visitors should be proud of the fight they displayed during the first Test.

The Proteas would have learned that they can’t simply rely on their bowlers to bail them out every time. Instead, when they find themselves in a position of strength during an innings, they need to bat the opposition out of the contest. Ottis Gibson recently called for better performances from his troops ahead of the Test at St George’s Park.

ALSO READ: No focus on revenge after first Test defeat – Gibson

Faf du Plessis did fall to a freak delivery that angled in profusely, but the Proteas seemed pleased with the target they set, which ultimately proved to be insufficient. Nonetheless, they have to move onwards and up their level of performance in order to prevent a second whitewash against Sri Lanka, having lost the Test series 2-0 in the subcontinent in July.

An injury to Vernon Philander has ruled him out of the match, and this could see Wiaan Mulder make his Test debut as a replacement all-rounder. The question still remains whether Mulder is the answer to our batting all-rounder dilemma, although personally, I believe he is the right man for the job.

The Proteas also have the option of playing the extra batter – Zubayr Hamza or Theunis de Bruyn – with Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Dale Steyn and Keshav Maharaj the only specialist bowling options in the squad. It will be a good test for Olivier to see if he is able to ratchet up his game plan, as Sri Lanka looked comfortable facing his short-ball strategy.

ALSO READ: Philander out of series decider

This would be the perfect Test for Hamza, the 100th Protea, in the event that the Proteas selectors choose to rest the legendary Hashim Amla. Coming off a double century in the 4-Day Series (and a 49 in the One-Day Cup), Hamza can learn vital lessons against this fresh Sri Lanka outfit. Bringing in Hamza and Mulder will be progressive nods from the Proteas selectors in their quest to build a fresh Test Championship side.

ALSO READ: SA’s Test Championship dilemma

Sri Lanka don’t need to change anything. They have all the talent in the side to cause the Proteas problems. However, just like the Proteas, they need to take pressure off their lower order with improved performances by their top order.

Players to Watch

Kagiso Rabada has yet to show his true ability in the two home series this year. He will most likely take the new ball with Dale Steyn in the absence of Vernon Philander, and the extra pace he will generate with the new ball could cause Sri Lanka serious trouble.

Aiden Markram also needs some big runs. Sri Lanka is the only side he hasn’t managed to score against, and the Test at St George’s Park is the perfect opportunity for him to silence the irrational murmuring about his ability.

Kusal Perera’s performance in the last Test would have invigorated the Sri Lankan batting lineup. This extra bit of confidence could give Sri Lanka the spark they need to bring their A-Game with the bat. Dhananjaya de Silva would have been disappointed to lose his wicket on 48 in the last Test, but those runs certainly proved that he is a serious threat at the crease.

Probable XIs

Proteas
1) Dean Elgar
2) Aiden Markram
3) Hashim Amla/Zubayr Hamza
4) Faf du Plessis (c)
5) Temba Bavuma
6) Quinton de Kock
7) Wiaan Mulder/Theunis de Bruyn
8) Kagiso Rabada
9) Keshav Maharaj
10) Dale Steyn
11) Duanne Olivier

Sri Lanka
1) Kusal Perera
2) Dimuth Karunaratne (c)
3) Kusal Mendis
4) Dhananjaya de Silva
5) Niroshan Dickwella
6) Oshada Fernando
7) Lahiru Thirimanne
8) Suranga Lakmal
9) Vishwa Fernando
10) Kasun Rajitha
11) Lasith Embuldeniya

Photo: Isuru Sameera Peiris/Gallo Images

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