It is the eve of a rare 2013 Sri Lankan Test series and usually a series against Bangladesh doesn’t come with a whole lot of fanfare and excitement. This one however comes with more anticipation than most; not only are Bangladesh in with a chance of recording a historic Test win (to be fair, all of their Test wins tend to be historic) on foreign soil, given the various happenings in Sri Lankan Cricket in the recent weeks and months, the SL will have a learning curve of its own to undertake. This of course is primarily down to having a new captain and vice-captain partnership and the possible Test debuts handed to promising young cricketers like Tharindu Kaushal and Kithuruwan Vithanage. New blood is something that the national side have been calling out for a while and obviously some of the senior figures would have to miss out. With Mahela already out injured, the two who were cut from the side happened to be Prasanna Jayawardene – who has since signed a contract with a club side in Lincolnshire and has reiterated his desire to make a Test comeback – and Thilan Samaraweera who has announced his retirement from international cricket. Given the lack of Tests in the calendar it was to be expected that the two Test specialists would have to make way. No point dropping players who might come in handy in limited overs cricket, given that makes up most of our cricket for this year.
In the past I have often bemoaned Samaraweera’s presence in the squad. His tendency to thrash the lesser Test nations and be found wanting against the better sides. But since about 2008 I’d argue that he has genuinely warranted his place in the side, all of which culminated in what I’d say was his greatest moment representing the national side – the 2011/2012 tour to South Africa. Now anyone who has read some of my earliest posts on this blog will know that I rank the win in Durban which was our first in South Africa as one of the finest moments in SL cricketing history and up there with the Oval in 1998 and perhaps even the ’96 World Cup. In a first innings where Marchant De Lange ripped through the batting line up with 7 wickets, Samaraweera’s 102 set the scene for Welegedera and Herath to decimate South Africa and give us a first-innings lead upon which Sangakkara capitalized on in the second. He scored 339 runs during that tour, which remains the third best batting performance by an SL player outside Asia, behind de Silva and Gurusinghe in the 1991 tour to New Zealand. And to be fair to the man he did add some steel to the batting lineup when we do our usual thing of losing a flurry of wickets up the order. He gave everything to the cause (and the cause very nearly took everything away from him).
It didn’t come as a surprise when he announced that he was retiring from international cricket. It had been on the cards after a disastrous tour of Australia. But what was more surprising was his admission that the selectors wanted him to stay on and perhaps face Pakistan later in the year, but was not willing to give up his place for younger players in the meantime, which is understandable. I wonder if he misunderstood the reason why he was dropped from the squad for Bangladesh. He probably took it as a slight on his current ability when in reality it was so that SL could bring in new faces. If our schedule was more Test-focused this year with say a West Indies tour included the board might not have been so quick to drop him and he might still be an international cricket. As it is, I think it probably is the right time for him to be moved on. He has plenty more to offer in First-Class cricket, and is in excellent form in the Premier League Tournament, with 3 centuries taking the SSC to second in the Group B table. He is off to Worcestershire soon to play in the County Championship and his form will play a significant part in whatever aspirations they have for the upcoming season. He is just the sort of seasoned professional that they need and it will be interesting to see how he fares. A letter he sent to SLC goes some way to showing the class of the man – dare I say the sort of man Sri Lankan cricket needs at the very top? Needless to say that he goes with the best wishes of everyone who is involved with and has watched the SL team.
So now on to the matter of sending the Bangladeshis home and avoiding the mother of all slip-ups against a team who have shown in recent meetings that the fear factor when playing against Sri Lanka is fast dissipating. Bangladesh have produced a few promising players of their own. They’ve taken the interesting and commendable step of banning players from the IPL during overlapping national duty and so far I don’t know of any tension between the BCB and players that this decision has caused. Perhaps the placate the players following the announcement, the board also announced that fees paid to players following wins and draws were to be increased, giving them further financial incentives. Players like Anamul Haque, Sohag Gazi, Mominul Haque and Abul Hasan are going to need to step up if results are to improve and losses turn to draws. Mohammed Ashraful’s career hasn’t perhaps gone the way that many predicted it would back in those days when comparisons to Sachin were being made, but he is still a very talented player who could feast on ill-disciplined bowling on sub-continental conditions. Sohaig Gazi does look a very promising prospect from what I have seen of him and this series poses as good as Test as any of where Bangladesh are and where they want to be. If the tour match against the SL Development Emerging XI is anything to go by, the batting seems to be in good nick, although both sets of bowlers had a tough game.
Sri Lanka rarely lose at Galle, even against the best so Bangladesh are up against it, despite SL’s new additions. It is not too much to expect the new SL setup to deliver a 2-0 win but you can never tell. After making a century in the tour match against Bangladesh, Kithuruwan Vithanage will probably make his debut for the senior team, and along with Tharindu Kaushal who has had a sterling start to his First Class career with Nondescripts. Ajantha Mendis might star with Rangana Herath but Sri Lanka are on the look out for a new spinner to take them forward and there are high hopes for the 20 year old.
I’m not one for predictions but I reckon that SL will take the series 1-0. A win in Galle and a draw at the Premadasa (by the way, the ICC should surely make it mandatory for all Test series to be at least 3-0 matches long). The three ODIs and sole T20 should prove more competitive. I’d say a 2-1 win for SL in the ODIs (weather permitting) with the tourists taking the T20 in Pallekele. Composite XIs are also something I don’t have much time for, but listening to the World Cricket Show has made me soften my stance on them. So my Test Composite XI would be:
Tamim Iqbal, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews (c), Mahmadullah, Shaminda Eranga, Sohag Gazi, Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal, Chanaka Welegedera.
Make of that what you will. Roll on the cricket.