Sri Lanka and South Africa will come face-to-face in the first Test match at the Galle International Stadium on Wednesday in a much-anticipated contest, not because of two high-quality sides facing each other, but because it will start a new era for both teams.
The Proteas will be playing their first Test under new skipper Hashim Amla, while former Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene will be appearing in his last few matches in whites for the Islanders.
Graeme Smith, after captaining the Proteas side for more than a decade, decided to end his international career after the series against Australia in March. The Africans will be missing the broad shoulders of the southpaw in the dressing room, and it will be interesting to see how Amla, who has been in sublime form lately, copes.
The new Proteas skipper is heading into the two-match series on the back of a couple of fine hundreds in the ODI series, which the touring party won. However, the visitors are sweating over the fitness of AB de Villiers, who inspired them to a historic series win in the third one-dayer.
De Villiers felt discomfort on his hamstring during his 71-ball 108 knock in the third match and missed wicket-keeping drills in the practice sessions. The team management will take a call on his fitness before the match and if the stylish right-hander misses the match, Quinton de Kock will replace him in the team.
There will be a lot of pressure on the Proteas batsmen in the absence of Smith and Jacques Kallis. the performance of Faf du Plessis, in particular, will be under scrutiny as he is occupying the number four slot, which earlier belonged to Kallis.
The visitors are expected to use two spinners in the series opener, with leggie Imran Tahir certain to play, and Dane Piedt could be the second slow bowler for the Africans. Piedt has the carom ball, the top-spinner and the doosra in his arsenal, and importantly he can bat.
Lankan captain Angelo Mathews has termed the pitch as "the typical dry Galle wicket", and with Rangana Herath in the side, the Proteas will need all their brilliance to stop the left-arm spinner. Mathews is also banking on his pacers Shaminda Eranga, Suranga Lakmal and Dhammika Prasad to deliver but it is unlikely that he will field three seamers.
South Africa will be aiming to finally end their woeful record in the Island nation and prevail over Sri Lanka in the two-match series.
Mathews stressed his side were not at their best in the limited-overs series and stressed the team will give a much better performance in the longest format as they are a balanced outfit and know the conditions far better than their opponent.
"We didn't deserve to win the ODI series, but we got a fresh bunch of about 6-7 players who have joined the squad, and we are going to start off fresh," Mathews said. "We know the conditions but we've got to play good cricket to beat them. South Africa are a balanced team. Hopefully the guys will turn up, sharpen their game and win."
Squads: Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Kaushal Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Shaminda Eranga, Mahela Jayawardene, Rangana Herath, Dhammika Prasad, Lahiru Thirimanne, Chanaka Welegedera, Suranga Lakmal, Ajantha Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Kithruwan Vithanage, Upul Tharanga and Suranga Lakmal.
South Africa: Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Quinton de Kock (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Kyle Abbott, Alviro Petersen, Vernon Philander, Dean Elgar, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Dane Piedt and Stiaan van Zyl.
Where to Watch Live
The first Test is scheduled for 10:00 am local (10:00 am IST, 4:30 am GMT) start with live coverage on Ten Cricket and Ten HD in India. Catch ball-by-ball update of the match online HERE. Catch the action live on TV on Ten Sports in Sri Lanka, while viewers can also live stream the action HERE.