Vol. 5 Num 64 Fri. July 30, 2004  

SA to start from SL

South Africa have identified their tour of Sri Lanka as a launching pad for their bid to challenge Australia for top spot in the world Test rankings.

England's recent run of Test victories has knocked South Africa out of second position but they will reclaim the spot if they defeat Sri Lanka 2-0 in the two-match series.

"We haven't been playing as good cricket as we are used to and capable of and that is reflected in the ranking," coach Eric Simons told reporters following the team's arrival in Colombo on Wednesday.

"Our focus will be to take each game and series as it comes and our bigger concern has been the big gap between us and Australia -- we need to close that gap," he added. "We don't want to be number two, we want to be number one."

Skipper Graeme Smith expects Sri Lanka to provide his team with a stern test before series against India and England later this year.

"A good tour here would give us a lot of confidence going forward," Smith told reporters. "It is a very tough place for us to come and play but we are certainly looking forward to the challenge.

"We know we are talented cricketers, who can do a lot with the ball and the bat, but our confidence and mental strength needs to match our ability," he added.

"If we can get those two things to match our ability then we will be a powerful side."

South Africa, returning to international cricket after a two-month break, start the first Test on August 4 in Galle and only have one week to acclimatise to the sapping heat and humidity in Sri Lanka.

"Obviously, being winter in South Africa it is not that easy to work in similar conditions to what we are going to work in over here so our preparation before the first Test is going to be very important," Smith said.

South Africa kicked off those preparations with a light workout on Wednesday. Another practice is scheduled for Thursday morning before a three-day game against a Sri Lanka Cricket President's XI starting on Friday.

Five one-day internationals follow the second Test in Colombo.