Stand-in captains from the tour of Zimbabwe Rangana Herath (left) and Upul Tharanga talk before the team disbands | Mathews (left) and Ford meet on the sidelines

Sri Lanka’s new-look cricket team may have returned like conquering heroes from a less fancied tour of Zimbabwe but the pitfalls of an ensuing sojourn in South Africa will be a haunting factor, the players will have to come to grips with as the side regroups.
Minus injured batting heavyweights Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal along with fast bowlers Dushmantha Chameera and Dhammika Prasad, the Sri Lanka team returned from a successful tour of Zimbabwe where a Test series was bagged 2-0 and a triangular tournament that also featured a scaled-down West Indies outfit was also pocketed.
But three weeks down the line, the Sri Lankans will be venturing into formidable territory to meet a South African team that is swallowing up opponents with Australia being its latest victim in a three-match Test series which the Proteas won 2-1 down under.
Sri Lanka has won just a solitary Test against South Africa in 2013 but overall a tour of the Rainbow nation has always been the most dreaded of challenges now made stronger with the upsurge of the host country’s players even in the absence of batting great AB De Villiers and fast bowler Dale Steyn.

But Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford, interestingly a South African himself, will not hide the fact that his players will have to show more character than what they did across the border in Zimbabwe.

“We got a huge challenge coming our way and everybody knows just how well South Africa are playing. The boys are aware that they got to improve,” said Ford as his team moved in to a welcome reception from the tour of Zimbabwe.
Sri Lanka will be up against South Africa in three Test matches, starting on December 26 (Boxing Day) followed by five One-Day Internationals and three T20 games making it the most demanding tour the island’s players have faced since becoming part of the global cricketing arena in 1982.

While the results in the three Tests will matter the most after Sri Lanka swept aside, Australia in a cozy comfortable home series in August this year, the team will be hard-pressed to improve in all three components of the game with fielding to receive more emphasis than batting and bowling.

Ford will offer no excuses.

“Fielding is something we can improve on, particularly in the One-Day (50 over) format to create the pressure. If you got to be a really top team, you have to improve in all three disciplines. Having seen the boys the way they get about, I know there’ll be progress and we will improve in all three areas”, said Ford.
Having spent 36 hours boarding flights to return home from Bulawayo, the players deservedly earned a few days rest before they could pad-up for net sessions where a high-powered bowling machine awaits them.

The machine is part of the revitalizing process of the team and can strike down bullet-like balls to a player at a 160 kilo-metre velocity rate reminding batsmen of the formula that awaits them in South Africa.

Mathews and Chandimal, the two most charismatic players in the team, are expected to recover from injuries and make it to South Africa as will be fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera while a cloud hangs over the fitness or selection of the most energetic of pace bowlers Dhammika Prasad.

While acknowledging that the South African tour won’t be like the Zimbabwe series, Sri Lanka Cricket president Thilanga Sumathipala thinks he has something to smile at after welcoming the players back home.

“We won after experiencing difficulties and injury to players. This means so much to Sri Lanka cricket. It’s a huge victory for our morale even though it was against West Indies and Zimbabwe before the South Africa tour,” said Sumathipala.