Home or away, Proteas are hard to beat – Mathews

Angelo Mathews needs 44 runs to become the ninth Sri Lankan to complete 5000 Test runs.

Sri Lanka’s white ball skipper Angelo Mathews is expecting a stiff challenge from the South Africans with the bilateral series between the two teams getting underway tomorrow (Thursday). Galle International Stadium will host the first of the two Tests and the Proteas have an impressive record against the Sri Lankans. They won the last Test match in Galle by 153 runs in 2014.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of bilateral cricket between the two nations. South Africa toured the island in 1993 under Kepler Wessels and won a hard fought three match series 1-0 with left-arm quick Brett Schultz emerging as the hero claiming 20 wickets in the series. Schultz was well complemented by Allan Donald and Richard Snell and even to date pace remains the Proteas’ main weapon.

Veteran Dale Steyn is expected to share the new ball with Kagiso Rabada. Vernon Philander is likely to be the third seamer. The promising Lungi Ngidi will be benched in spin friendly conditions.

“They are strong on pace. Dale Steyn is back in the side and that’s a big challenge for us. He is one of the greats to play this game and has caused lot of teams troubles over the years. They also have Philander and Rabada who are both lethal. What is so good about this South African side is that they have a couple of talented spinners who could exploit conditions. We have a huge challenge and we need to battle it out and play to our potential,” Mathews told The Island after training in Galle yesterday.

The Proteas have dominated bilateral contests between the countries having won 14 of the 25 matches played so far. Sri Lanka have won only five Tests while six games have been drawn.

“They are a fantastic cricket team. They have been fantastic for the last so many years. Whether home or away they have managed to do extremely well. The last series they played here they beat us as well. They play an aggressive brand of cricket and even the current squad has got very good balance,” Mathews, who captained the last series between the teams in 2014 when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were still active, added.

There will be some relief for the Sri Lankans as they will not have to put up with the brilliance of A.B. de Villiers, who announced his retirement from international cricket, ahead of the tour.

“Some relief that there’s no AB. He is one of the most destructive batsmen in the game. But having said that, South Africa have a very experienced batting unit. They are ranked number two in Tests and not too long ago they were ranked number one. They will be very competitive and extremely hard to beat.”

Mathews’ is chasing a personal milestone as he is 44 runs short of completing 5000 Test runs. Only eight other Sri Lankans have achieved the landmark.

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