South Africa will host Sri Lanka for the first Test in Centurion from December 15, 2011. (AP Photo)
Centurion: South Africa captain Graeme Smith describes Sri Lanka as a "pretty crafty team." But the tourists will likely need all their guile to deal with the Proteas pace attack on a fiercesome-looking pitch when the first Test starts on Thursday.
Smith said on the eve of the series-opener that the Sri Lankans would be targeted by his fast bowlers in helpful home conditions. A very green wicket at SuperSport Park has reinforced predictions of an onslaught by South Africa's quicks.
"That's the reality that Sri Lanka face, that our pace bowlers are in their own conditions and want to exploit that," Smith said.
Yet even South Africa's skipper would have been surprised by how fast bowler-friendly the Centurion surface appeared on Wednesday after plenty of rain this week at the stadium just north of Johannesburg.
"The wicket is looking pretty green. I think the groundsman has got a small panic going on at the moment," Smith said. "It could be interesting, especially day one; it looks like it might do a little bit."
With everything pointing to a straight battle between South Africa's fast bowlers and Sri Lanka's batsmen, Smith warned that his fired-up attack should not get too carried away after strike bowler Dale Steyn promised to make things as uncomfortable as possible for the Sri Lankans.
"I think control is a big word. For our bowlers not to get too emotional, to execute their plans well, to be aggressive in the right mindset," he said.
Sri Lanka's touring Test team — now without Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga — has been seen by some as one of the country's weakest in recent history. A raft of injuries to fast bowlers has further hampered the Sri Lankans ahead of their first Test series in South Africa in nine years.
The Proteas, meanwhile, failed to close out recent home series against Australia, India and England — and lacked the killer instinct, Smith said — but the hosts still have the status as clear favourite against an unknown and unpredictable Sri Lanka.
"They always find a way. They're a pretty crafty team," Smith said. "We've all played enough cricket to know that if you don't give things the right amount of mental attitude and concentration, you could easily slip on that banana.
"(Recently) we've been neither here nor there. We've been successful but haven't had enough to get over the line and really dominate and win those series at home."