COLOMBO - Before South Africa can even allow the lessons of a deflating ODI series loss to sink in, twelve of their one-day squad must now gather themselves for battle in a different format. The teams will play three matches over the next five days, beginning with a game at the R Premadasa Stadium, which has not only been the scene of two mammoth South Africa defeats in the past two weeks, but also a venue that only brought them sorrow in the World Twenty20 last year.

Worse for the visitors, Twenty20 has become Sri Lanka's strongest suit. They have been the top-ranked side in the format since October last year, and have arrived at a short-form formula few teams have successfully countered. The diversity in their attack is Sri Lanka's greatest forte, but the top order packs a punch as well, and with two bona fide Twenty20 finishers in addition to Nuwan Kulasekara, lower down, they are not far from being a complete Twenty20 side.

Chief among South Africa's concerns has been their batsmen's inability to handle Sri Lanka's spinners, and they will hope the format's demand for aggression will help them shake their funk against the slow bowlers. Ajantha Mendis was their primary tormentor in the ODIs, and though Mendis' record has worsened in the longer formats overall, his Twenty20 statistics remain as daunting as they have ever been. Teams have unsettled Mendis by attacking him early in his spells in the past, but in order for South Africa to be in a position to do that, they must ensure the top order provides a more stable foundation than they have managed so far in the tour.

Mahela Jayawardene could not make a significant score in the ODIs, and will want to emphasise his continuing importance to the side as the two other seniors have already done during the tour. He has been Sri Lanka's best Twenty20 batsmen in the past, but his best innings have come when he has opened, which he may not do on Friday. He did not play in the fifth ODI and perhaps that short break will assist a return to form. AB de Villiers had been woeful with the bat in his first four innings in Sri Lanka, but indicated he had finally come to grips with the conditions with a run-a-ball 51 in the last match.

He has been adamant that he is hitting the ball well in training, but may need to shoulder greater run-making responsibility as the most experienced batsman in the Twenty20 side. He will also be rid of the captaincy that appears to have worn him thin in the last fortnight, and perhaps a less burdened mind can spark the sort of innings his side expects from him.

Sri Lanka may think about batting Kusal Perera in the middle order, given that is where he has prospered in domestic cricket, but will also be tempted to try him at opener once more. Kulasekara is available for the first time in three weeks, but whether he plays or not will be determined by whether his batting now is deemed good enough for him to replace a batsman. Lahiru Thirimanne will likely make way if so.

De Villers will likely open the innings alongside Henry Davids, as he did in South Africa's last Twenty20 against Pakistan. Imran Tahir is likely to play as well, and will provide the attacking spin option South Africa have lacked in the ODIs, but the pace bowling spots are less secure, with at least four frontline fast bowlers vying for spots there.

SRI LANKA: Kusal Perera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Angelo Mathews, Lahiru Thirimanne, Nuwan Kulasekara, Thisara Perera, Sachithra Senanayake, Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga

SOUTH AFRICA: AB de Villiers (wk), Henry Davids, Faf du Plessis (capt), JP Duminy, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.