Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne believes the Port Elizabeth pitch offers the tourists the chance to make history in South Africa this week.

After the sensational one-wicket victory in the first contest in Durban, Sri Lanka could claim their first Test-series win in South Africa if they can avoid defeat at St George's Park.

Kusal Perera rescued the tourists at Kingsmead with an incredible batting performance that saw him score 153 of their 304-run second-innings target.

Karunaratne hopes the rest of his side's batting line-up will be able to assist more in Port Elizabeth, particularly on a pitch that is not as conducive to fast bowling like the ones in previous Tests.

"We had a tough two games in Australia on fast and bouncy wickets," the skipper told reporters.

"We consistently got pitches where bowlers were bowling 150kph. But I told my team-mates that here it's much easier than in Australia.

"You have to get better, from that experience. You have to keep your head clear and play positively. 

"I think we saw that in the last game. This Port Elizabeth pitch is a pretty good wicket compared to the others, like Johannesburg, which is fast and bouncy. We have a good batting wicket here.

"We came here to win matches, I just want to make sure the boys give their maximum each day."

 

 

Faf du Plessis warned South Africa must raise their game if they are to avoid a first home Test series defeat to Sri Lanka.

Kusal Perera was the hero with a magnificent unbeaten 153 to seal a sensational one-wicket victory in the first Test at Kingsmead.

Du Plessis said the Proteas were taken by surprise in Durban, having gone into the match as strong favourites given the on and off-field issues Sri Lanka have had to contend with.

South Africa have won five and drawn one of their last six Tests in Port Elizabeth, but captain Du Plessis knows they will have to step it up to avoid making unwanted history.

"We're very proud about our record - we have made sure that we've made our home a fortress," said the skipper.

"For the last two years or so, I don't think we played a bad game against Sri Lanka at home. But we need to be better to beat them."

The batsman added: "They surprised us with the way they played in Durban, but here there will be bit of sideways movement.

"In Durban, there's not a lot of that. Kingsmead has always [offered] a five-wicket haul for spinners. Here, although the spinner plays a role, I don't think that much help will be there."

All-rounder Wiaan Mulder could make his South Africa Test debut in the absence of Vernon Philander (hamstring).

 

 

Josh Strauss will be available for Scotland's Six Nations clash with France on Saturday despite losing his passport.

Strauss was in danger of missing the encounter after misplacing his South African travel document ahead of the trip to Paris.

The Scottish Rugby Union on Wednesday confirmed to Omnisport the issue has been resolved and the back row will be in contention to take on Les Bleus.

That will come as a relief to Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, who has already lost Finn Russell (concussion) and Stuart Hogg (shoulder).

Scotland are third in the table after a 22-13 defeat to Ireland before the rest weekend.

Right now the 2019 Cricket World Cup is now the focus for most international sides but England and Australia know this is also an Ashes year.

Plenty can change between now and the first Test at Edgbaston, which starts on August 1, as demonstrated in recent months.

Not too long ago, England were riding high after securing a series sweep in Sri Lanka, while Australia had lost a series at home for the first time against India.

Since then, however, Joe Root's side slipped up against West Indies and Australia returned to winning ways on home soil, crushing the Sri Lankans.

So, before the 50-over game takes centre stage, we grasped the chance to assess the state of the two rival nations.

BATTING

England began their busy winter without a clear idea over the identity of their top three in the order. Now, several months and six Tests later, they seem further away from finding a solution than when they left home. 

Keaton Jennings did make a century on Sri Lankan soil, but his problems against seam bowling were exposed once again in the Caribbean. Rory Burns fared better in the 2-1 series defeat, yet is still far from certain of his place in the Test XI. 

Joe Denly made his debut in Antigua, opening instead of the dropped Jennings, yet ended the West Indies series at number three and made 69 during the second innings in St Lucia.

It all leaves the top-order picture unclear. Candidates from outside the previous two touring parties know a stack of early runs in the County Championship will push them into contention That is easier said than done, though, considering the domestic schedule and pitches favouring seam early in the English summer.

At least the rest of the line-up is more settled. With Root locked in at four, England appear set to have Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, who briefly went up to three before resuming duties behind the stumps, in the middle order. That quartet can power the team to competitive totals, provided they get better protection from those above them.

Much like their opponents, the batting order undoubtedly remains the biggest question mark for Australia, even though the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner from suspension will provide a huge boost.

The series against India and Sri Lanka did little to ease doubts over the top order, with the former's seamers dominating. Opener Marcus Harris was Australia's leading run-scorer against India with 258 at 36.85 but, for plenty of positive signs, his inability to convert starts into big scores hurt the team.

Joe Burns' big ton against Sri Lanka may be enough to get him a spot, while Travis Head has locked down his. Usman Khawaja scored what may have been a place-saving century in Canberra, having looked out of touch throughout the Australian summer.

 

The Australian Men's Cricket team celebrate the end of a successful Domain Test Series against Sri Lanka, winning 2-0 to claim the Warne–Muralitharan Trophypic.twitter.com/XJEMTmV06N

— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) February 4, 2019

Kurtis Patterson also reached three figures versus Sri Lanka and may grab the final spot in the top six, although the remainder of the Sheffield Shield season could be decisive.

Shaun Marsh has surely lost his Test place for a final time, but he has continually scored runs at domestic level - not that that has mattered for the Shield's leading run-scorer this season in Matthew Wade. Aaron Finch, meanwhile, endured a miserable campaign after being asked to open.

Even during the successful series over Sri Lanka, Australia found themselves in tough spots at 76-3, 28-3 and 37-3. But they have been playing without their two best batsmen in Warner and Smith, the latter's ability to steady an innings and make big scores a particular miss.

Their returns may not solve Australia's problems but will help, although English conditions will provide yet another huge test.


BOWLING

Let us start with Australia, who, barring injuries, appear far more settled in this area of their team.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are sidelined with pectoral and back injuries respectively, though their places are safe. Neither reached any great heights during the Australian summer, but Starc did find form against Sri Lanka, grabbing a 10-wicket Test haul in Canberra.

The pace attack was led by Pat Cummins instead, who was impressive and deserved greater rewards against India. Those duly arrived along with Sri Lanka as he took 14 wickets at 7.78. His 28 wickets were the most by an Australian across the six Tests. Such was his form, it was suggested Cummins should be taking the new ball.

In a further good sign on the pace front for Australia, Jhye Richardson replaced Hazlewood versus Sri Lanka and was handy. The 22-year-old took six wickets in the series.

Nathan Lyon enjoyed another strong summer and was, alongside Cummins, Australia's best bowler against India. The off-spinner finished that series with an equal-high 21 wickets – alongside the hugely impressive Jasprit Bumrah – to lift Australia as Starc and Hazlewood largely struggled.

Australia will need more from Starc and Hazlewood during the Ashes, and the latter will certainly enjoy the seaming conditions not often offered on flat wickets at home. But with Cummins also approaching his best, Australia have yet another pace option capable of causing England problems.

England, meanwhile, chopped and changed their attack in overseas conditions, but will likely revert to a more tried-and-tested battery of seamers on home turf.

Stuart Broad may not be a regular on the team's travels anymore, but he will undoubtedly play a leading role in the Ashes, alongside the evergreen James Anderson. 

Moeen Ali also is locked in as the frontline spinner – England are unlikely to pick two unless the conditions at any of the venues are certain to suit – and, while his form with the bat has dipped over the past year, the all-rounder has taken 177 Test wickets in 58 Test appearances. 

With Stokes - fitness permitting - certain to be in the team too, England appear to have one seamer spot up for grabs.

Mark Wood burst back onto the Test scene with a scintillating spell in St Lucia that the national selectors will struggle to forget. The Durham paceman’s injury record makes him far from a certainty to complete such a congested series, even if two fragile-looking batting units suggest there could be a few extra days of rest.

Sam Curran was England's new golden boy at the end of 2018 before his reputation lost a little shine on pitches that failed to suit in the Caribbean, while Olly Stone's tour was cut short by a back injury. Wood was his replacement and may well have skipped to the front of the queue with his five-wicket haul.


CURRENT OUTLOOK

England are favourites to regain the urn on home soil, mainly due to the fact Australia have not won an Ashes away series since 2001.

The hosts prevailed 3-2 four years ago and a repeat result would not be a surprise, considering how both teams are strong in the bowling department. The tourists' hopes may rest on Smith and Warner quickly settling back in, but previous issues for the Aussies against the moving ball may once again come back to haunt them.

Like Swiss cheese, these teams have holes. However, their problems - plus being prone to batting collapses - should make for entertaining viewing.

Lock Iain Henderson is set to be involved in the Six Nations for the first time this year after linking up with the Ireland squad.

Henderson was named in the initial group for the tournament, yet a finger injury kept him out of the opening two matches against England and Scotland.

But having made his return ahead of schedule for Ulster last week, the 26-year-old has been named in the squad to face Italy in Rome this weekend, along with Tadhg Beirne, who has also been out.

A citing complaint has been made against Henderson for an incident in the game against Ospreys on Friday.

It was confirmed earlier in the week that Chris Farrell had been in full training despite a head injury last time out and he makes the 34-man group, but not all of Ireland's fitness concerns have been eased.

Garry Ringrose and Rhys Ruddock are both suffering with hamstring issues and will continue rehabilitation with Leinster.

Meanwhile, Will Addison is not involved as he experiences back stiffness and remains with Ulster.

South Africa have confirmed Vernon Philander will miss the second Test against Sri Lanka due to a hamstring problem.

The injury-prone seamer bowled only eight overs in the second innings of the opening Test at Kingsmead as the tourists chased down 304 to win by one wicket in remarkable scenes.

And if the Proteas are to prevail in Port Elizabeth and secure a 1-1 series draw, they will have to do so without Philander, who has 214 Test wickets at an average of 21.64.

"Injury update from the Proteas camp: Vernon Philander will miss the second Test against Sri Lanka due to a hamstring injury. There will be no replacement added to the squad," read a Cricket South Africa statement.

The second Test at St George's Park gets under way on Thursday.

Stuart Hogg has been ruled out of Scotland's Six Nations contest against France, while Finn Russell will go through return-to-play protocols after suffering a head injury for Racing 92. 

Full-back Hogg sustained a shoulder injury following a challenge from Peter O'Mahony in the 22-13 defeat to Ireland at Murrayfield and will not be considered for selection for the trip to Paris in round three, Scottish Rugby confirmed on Monday. 

Head coach Gregor Townsend may also be without Russell too; the fly-half was injured playing against Top14 leaders Toulouse on Sunday and faces a nervy wait to find out if he can be involved for his country this weekend. 

Scotland have added six players to their training squad for the fixture. Fly-half Duncan Weir, Edinburgh trio Magnus Bradbury, Dougie Fife and James Johnstone have been drafted in, along with Glasgow Warriors front-row forwards Zander Fagerson and George Turner.

Injured Glasgow Warriors duo George Horne (shoulder) and Stafford McDowall (ankle) miss out, as do David Cherry, Murray McCallum and Jake Kerr.

All Blacks and Highlanders loose forward Liam Squire will leave New Zealand at the end of the season to join Japanese club NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.

Squire has played 23 Tests for New Zealand and has agreed to a two-year deal in Japan.

The 27-year-old, a veteran of 44 Super Rugby games, said he was keen to leave the Highlanders on the back of a successful season.

"It seems like the right time to go. I have really loved my time in New Zealand with the Tasman Mako and in particular down here with the Highlanders," Squire said in a statement on Monday.

"It's a club that gave me a chance and I appreciate the support I have had in the south. I am certainly keen to have a really good last season with the guys."

Squire made his Test debut against Wales in June 2016 and quickly established himself as a regular for the world champions.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen is excited by what Squire will bring to his team in 2019, particular with the Rugby World Cup starting in September.

"Liam has grown into an outstanding rugby player since coming into the All Blacks in 2016 and we again look forward to seeing how he goes this year," he said.

"His physicality, pace and skills are a real point of difference and he's a really well-rounded player.

"We wish him all the best for his Japanese adventure next year."

Stuart Broad believes recent events indicate sledging will be less of a factor in the 2019 Ashes between England and Australia. 

The five-match series begins at Edgbaston on August 1 and Broad expects the tourists to be on their best behaviour as Australia continue to rebuild their reputation following last year's ball-tampering scandal. 

But the bowler also pointed to the actions of Joe Root last week, the England skipper earning praise for challenging a comment from West Indies bowler Shannon Gabriel. 

"If the stump mics had been turned up in 2017-18, the umpires would have been a lot busier than they have been this week, the way the Australians went about their business," Broad wrote in the Daily Mail. 

"I don't think it will be an overly verbal series this summer because Australia will be under pressure to maintain their new culture of behaviour, and the kind of guy their captain Tim Paine is, I am not sure he would stand for too much nonsense. 

"As we have seen this week, Joe Root doesn't either and we saw great leadership from him on the field. It wasn't a set-up, he wasn’t told to say that. Those were his natural emotions coming out." 

England avoided a whitewash with a 232-run win in the third Test against West Indies last week and Broad is bullish about the team's Ashes chances on home soil.

"We know it will be fiercely competitive for sure, that they have a strong team and it will arguably be stronger with players like Steve Smith and David Warner coming back," he added. 

"But we know we're a good team and we got back to our strengths this week, with the return of our engine room of Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali at numbers six, seven, eight, and Joe Root coming into the runs at a good time for us. 

"I would imagine we will go in as favourites. Australia haven't won an Ashes series in England since 2001 and it's really tough to win away from home these days. 

"India came to us last year as the world's number one Test team and lost 4-1, then went to Australia and won. Winning away from home is tough and we have to make it as hard for the Australians as we possibly can. 

"The first Test is in Birmingham and that means it’s going to be lively. It's one of the best atmospheres we get and I don't think those in the Eric Hollies Stand are going to allow Smith and Warner to return quietly." 

Kusal Perera deserves all the praise that comes his way for steering Sri Lanka to an unlikely opening-Test win for his "Superman" effort with the bat, said losing South Africa captain Faf du Plessis.

Sri Lanka appeared to be on a hiding to nothing in Durban when, chasing 304 for victory, the tourists fell to 226-9 from 83-3 on day four.

But Perera, on 86 at that point, produced a masterclass for the ages and his unbroken stand of 78 with Vishwa Fernando – a record 10th-wicket, fourth-innings partnership for a winning side in Test cricket – steered Sri Lanka to a one-wicket triumph.

Proteas skipper Du Plessis concedes his side could do nothing to get Perera, who finished a career-best 153 not out, off strike and recognised the match was a great advert for fans of five-day cricket.

"It was an incredible game of cricket. We're very disappointed to end on the losing side, but to have it to go down to nine wickets and a 78-run partnership at the end is great for the game of Test cricket," he said. 

"You could tell the fans were excited about it and, I suppose, as fans, that's the kind of Test match you want to see. 

"Well played to Sri Lanka. Obviously Perera was unbelievable. It took a Superman effort. He deserves all of the accolades that will come to him after this game."

Du Plessis admitted that the manner of the defeat was a tough one to take.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't emotions going through me on the inside. The legs underneath the water paddling, a little bit of that. It's difficult for a captain," he added. 

"You want to protect a lead and then you also understand that you want to try to bowl at the tailender. 

"He played that beautifully. Whatever we tried, he still managed to get one away or a boundary away, every over, every over.

"Towards the end, we got a few balls at the tailender but unfortunately there were a few plays and misses."

Paul Farbrace is to leave his position as England assistant coach after their tour of the Caribbean to take up the role as sporting director at Warwickshire.

The highly regarded coach is taking up a position left vacant by Ashley Giles, who departed Edgbaston to become managing director of England Men's Cricket.

Farbrace initially joined the England set-up as assistant to Peter Moores in 2014 having led Sri Lanka to World Twenty20 glory.

The timing of the 51-year-old's decision comes as somewhat of a surprise with a Cricket World Cup and a home Ashes series against Australia on the horizon in the coming months.

"I have had five fantastic years with England Cricket. It has been a brilliant experience working with world-class coaches, players and support staff," Farbrace, who will start with Warwickshire in March after England's T20I series against West Indies, told the ECB's official website.

"I have been fortunate to taste some genuine success and be part of the development of some excellent players, who have the world at their feet this summer.

"There is never a great time to leave an international set-up and despite what will be a fantastic summer for English cricket, the opportunity to shape the future of one of the game's biggest counties was too much to resist. 

"It would have been tough for me to have turned down the opportunity once Warwickshire showed an interest in me.

"Finally, I would like to thank the ECB, and in particular, Trevor Bayliss, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root and Ashley Giles for their support in what has been a difficult decision to make. 

"I wish them every success this summer. I believe they have the right attributes to create history by lifting the World Cup in July and winning The Ashes that follows it."

Alongside head coach Trevor Bayliss, who will not be renewing his own contract when it expires in September, Farbrace has been instrumental in turning around England's fortunes in white-ball cricket.

Four years ago, England were reeling from being knocked out of the World Cup group stages, but are now the number-one ranked ODI side.

"I would like to thank Paul for all his efforts over the last five years as a key figure in England's success across the red and white ball formats," Giles said.

"Paul was integral, alongside, Andrew Strauss, Trevor Bayliss and Eoin Morgan, in transforming our white ball strategy, which has seen us become the best team in the world leading into a World Cup year.

"His efforts in developing players in the elite environment will benefit him in his new role at Edgbaston.

"I will now start the process to find a successor and work closely with our existing set-up to ensure we have everything in place ahead of a busy summer of international cricket."

Kusal Perera incredibly deflected praise onto his Sri Lanka team-mates despite a phenomenal individual effort in the one-wicket win over South Africa.

Perera, who started and ended day four at the crease, compiled a sensational unbeaten 153 and dominated a 10th-wicket stand of 78 to guide the tourists to an unlikely victory in Durban, after the Proteas had appeared to be in complete control.

Sri Lanka were reduced from an overnight score of 83-3 to 226-9 on Saturday as they pursued 304 for victory, yet Perera almost single-handedly secured an improbable series lead with an astonishing display.

The batsman's breathless exploits had taken their toll by the time of the post-match presentation, but he was keen for his colleagues to be credited, too.

"I'm really tired now," he admitted, before adding: "I don't know what to say.

"All the batsmen gave me good support and, all that time, I believed in myself. We did it. I was just thinking that I did my part, but we were winning as a team.

"We had done a lot of homework in the recent past, so this was a really special win for us. We did a lot of hard work previously."

Captain Dimuth Karunaratne was similarly eager to share the praise as he hailed his "remarkable" star man while also recognising the contributions of debutants Oshada Fernando and Lasith Embuldeniya.

"[Perera] batted really well," the skipper said. "He's one of the most experienced guys in the side, but this hundred is remarkable.

"Getting a hundred in South Africa is not easy against a top-class fast bowling attack.

"But even the two debutants did really well. Oshada batted really well and Embuldeniya clearly did a good job [taking five wickets in South Africa's second innings]. That's what we need. As a team, we need to play as a unit and do our best."

Kusal Perera remarkably dominated a record-breaking 10th-wicket partnership with Vishwa Fernando to carry Sri Lanka to a sensational one-wicket win over South Africa in a dramatic first Test.

Having been set 304 to win in Durban, Sri Lanka's hopes looked to be over when they slipped from an overnight score of 83-3 to 226-9 on day four.

Perera was unbeaten on 86 when the ninth wicket fell but almost single-handedly guided Sri Lanka to victory thereafter, hogging the strike and reaching 153 not out in an unbroken stand of 78 with Fernando, who faced 27 balls to make six.

Sri Lanka were therefore able to claim a 1-0 series lead, with the masterclass from Perera - whose previous Test best was 110 - leaving the hosts stunned.

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed had shared the previous highest 10th-wicket partnership to win a Test in the fourth innings, putting on 57 against Australia in Karachi in 1994.

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke is keen to see Steve Smith and David Warner back in international cricket as soon as possible ahead of the conclusion of their suspensions.

Both Smith and Warner, along with Cameron Bancroft, were handed lengthy bans for their involvement in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year.

Bancroft has now returned from his suspension, while Smith and Warner will be available for selection from March 29.

The pair reportedly will not make their comebacks until Australia face New Zealand in World Cup warm-up matches, rather than playing the last two one-day internationals against Pakistan, but Clarke wants to see them reinstated swiftly.

"It's going to be really interesting to see how the three of them go when they are back in the same team together," Clarke told Fox Sports. "How is the relationship between Warner and Smith or Bancroft and Warner?

"But, for Australian cricket, there's absolutely no doubt that we need them back. They deserve to come back because they've done their crime, and they've suffered their time.

"They'll scores runs, there is no doubt about. They'll walk back into that team and perform straight away."

Yet Clarke is also keen to ease the pressure on Smith and Warner, believing they cannot inspire success alone.

"We're putting a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure on Steve Smith and David Warner [as if] all of our problems will be fixed when they come back," he added.

"The reality is we have got to number five in the world with Smith and Warner in the team. Sports teams are a lot bigger than one or two players."

Mark Wood said he felt like a "superhero" as he tore through West Indies in a ferocious spell to set up a consolation Test victory for England in St Lucia.

The paceman's career has been blighted by injuries, but he made up for lost time by claiming a maiden five-wicket haul with first-innings figures of 5-41 last weekend.

Playing his first Test since last May, Wood provided the hostility the tourists had been lacking and the quick even surprised himself with the pace he generated in England's 232-run win.

He told The Guardian: "You almost feel like a superhero. I've been playing Mario Kart recently and yeah, it's like when you get a magic mushroom and you're just absolutely flying."

Wood added: "I'll never forget the feeling of that spell. If I'm ever down about my bowling I'll re-watch the highlights. 

"I've watched them about 20 times already – probably more. This will sound bad but seeing it back I just thought: 'Wow, that's me.' I couldn't believe how well I bowled and how fast it looked on TV. I was so happy."

Wood's Man-of-the-Match left him feeling emotional after spending so much time in the treatment room over the years.

"I held the ball up and felt so proud, then I got into the pavilion, had a hug with the physio Craig de Weymarn – he's touched me in places my wife never has! – and it all sunk in," said the 29-year-old. 

"It was everything I'd wanted after all I'd been through with injury. I know it's only one five-for and there's Jimmy [James Anderson] and Broady [Stuart Broad] with tons of them, but it was so special.

"I felt I finally belonged in the England Test team. I put the ball in my England cap, sat them next to me and just looked at them. All the emotions came out. I was a bit teary."

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