Boxing Day …blues?

A year ago there wasn’t much to choose between South Africa and Sri Lanka in Test cricket, certainly as far as reputation and results were concerned.

The Golden Islanders were thrashed 2-0 by New Zealand and England, looked toothless with the ball and were bowled out for 91 an d 119 at Headingley and 101 at Chester le Street in Durham. They were, by common consent, failing miserably to adjust to life without Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and, of course, Murali.

The Proteas weren’t doing any better, walloped 3-0 by India on surfaces which made them look clueless and then, worse, beaten on home soil by England.

But just as the teams’ troughs coincided, their resurgence did, too. Whereas Sri Lanka had the pleasure of clean-sweeping Australia at home, inspired by stunning performances by their newcomers, South Africa enjoyed an equally remarkable result in beating Australia on their soil – for the third successive time.

So – a meeting of rebuilt, re-invigorated teams both determined to keep their progress graphs heading upwards.

The snag for the home side may well be the time of the year. Captain Faf du Plessis spoke with almost alarming candour at this pre-match press conference about the dangers that the festivities of the holiday season posed. He mentioned ‘lackadaisical’ and said the build-up to the Test match had a ‘holiday feel to it’ which he said was a ‘red flag.’ He also mention ‘comfort zones.’ In short, he sounded a little concerned.

Statistics suggest he should be. South Africa have lost five of their last nine Boxing Day Tests and won just two. Of the four they have played at St.George’s Park, they have won just one. It doesn’t augur well.

But while we’re on the subject of stats, have a look at things from Sri Lanka’s viewpoint. Out of 10 Tests played in this country, they have lost eight – four by an innings and one by 10 wickets. But they HAVE won a Test and, unsurprisingly, it was a Boxing Day contest, at Kingsmead in 2011. Equally unsurprisingly, the tourists have been remembering that game during preparations rather than the other nine.

Thilan Samaraweera scored one of his two centuries during that series to lead his side to a useful first innings total of 338 and Chanaka Welegedera used the prevailing conditions to perfection to claim 5-52 and bundle Graeme Smith’s team out for just 168 in reply.

Sangakkara then scored Sri Lanka’s second century to set a target of 450 before Rangana Herath claimed 5-79 to help dismiss the Proteas for just 241 to claim a famous and deservedly celebrated win. Sri lanka lost the series, of course, but they had at least shown there was a crack in the dam wall.

No Asian  team has ever won a series inside these shores. In fact, only two out of 17 have been drawn which gives you an idea of what they are up against. But records are there to be broken…

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