Fri, Aug 04, 2006 - Page 22 News List

South Africans face uphill battle to level series

AFP , COLOMBO

South Africa are set for another agonizing battle when the second and final Test against Sri Lanka starts today at off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan's home club.

The Sara Oval at the Tamil Union Club, where Muralitharan plays his domestic cricket, is regarded as a spinners' haven tailor-made for the prolific star.

That won't be good news for the beleaguered Proteas, already reeling under Muralitharan's 10-wicket haul in the first Test at the Sinhalese sports club (SSC) which Sri Lanka won by an innings and 153 runs.

The hosts will be further boosted by the return of experienced left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas, who missed the first Test with a hamstring injury.

`Class act'

"Vaasy is a class act and it is great to have him back," said Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene of his leading seamer.

"We missed him in the first Test because of the pressure he applies on batsmen from one end. He is a superb wicket-taking bowler," he said.

Sri Lanka are expected to leave out Farveez Maharoof to accommodate Vaas, but leg-spinner Malinga Bandara may also be considered if the wicket promises turn early in the match.

All-rounder Shaun Pollock returns for South Africa after opting out of the first Test following the birth of his second daughter.

Pollock, who is six wickets away from becoming the first South African to reach the 400 mark, will lend experience to a squad missing captain Graeme Smith and all-rounder Jacques Kallis because of injuries.

Pollock watched from the sidelines as Sri Lanka ran up 756-5 declared at the SSC due to Jayawardene's brilliant 374 and his world record stand of 624 with Kumar Sangakkara (287).

"With Shaun back, we will go into the Test with greater confidence," said stand-in captain Ashwell Prince, who may use Pollock as a stock bowler after giving the new ball to Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn.

400 wickets

Pollock, who is likely to replace Andre Nel, said he did not expect to reach 400 wickets in this Test but stressed that was not his main priority.

"It would be nice to get to 400 at some stage. I am not sure I can get the six here," the 33-year-old said. "It's more important to help the team do well in the match."

South Africa are looking to opening batsman Herschelle Gibbs to come good after he made 19 and 18 in the first Test.

Gibbs, who was dropped for the home series against New Zealand in April, has averaged only 26.5 in his last 14 Tests. He is now expected to deliver as South Africa attempt a series-levelling win.

There was a glimmer of hope when South Africa lasted 157.2 overs in the second innings of the first Test to make 434 after being shot out for only 169 on the opening day.

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