There is a sense of apprehension surrounding Sri Lankan Cricket in the buildup to the 2nd and final Test between Bangladesh at the R. Premadasa tomorrow. This new era in the country’s cricket was supposed to go off with a spirited kicking of Bangladesh in Galle, paving the way for a wrap up win in Colombo. It was always going to be trickier given the lineup selected. Selecting Nuwan Kulasekera in front of either Welegedera or Lakmal and Ajantha Mendis in front of either Tharindu Kaushal or a third seamer was a backwards step. Kulasekera remains a very useful limited overs bowler but like Mendis was found out at Test level a long time ago, and being milked around Galle by Bangladesh should in theory put them on the backbenches for future Tests to come. Then we come to the pitch, which was an appalling a wicket as I have ever seen on the island for any team. I don’t know what the curators were thinking of. As a Test team, Sri Lanka have for a long time struggled to bowl teams out twice over for a relatively comfortable target, and to provide a wicket that made their tasks 10 times harder was pure folly. Galle was always a slow wicket, with the conditions close to the sea meaning that on occasion the seamers could find a bit of swing. But by and large the pitch was a turning wicket which offered spin. This was exacerbated in the 2011 Test vs Australia where the conditions were too bowler friendly. The Australian quicks ripped through the Sri Lankans and SLC received an official warning from the ICC for a “poor pitch”. In this case the pitch went completely the other way. A lifeless corpse that puts more nails in the Test cricket coffin.
Thankfully, the pitch at the Premadasa is supposed to be a lot greener, carrying more grass than the Galle track. As a result, Angelo Mathews has hinted that Sri Lanka might go with one front-line spinner in Herath and a seam trio of Kulasekera, Eranga and one of Lakmal or Welegedera. Whilst I think that going with three seamers is the right idea, Kulasekera should be the one to make way, with both Lakmal and Welegedera (injury-permitting) playing. Welegedera is coming off the back of taking 4-52 & 3-35 in his last First-Class match for Tamil Union vs Kurunegala Youth. Suranga Lakmal is his bowling partner at club level too, and was wicketless in that match. Both seamers are not in First-Class action for the current round of matches, but Ajantha Mendis is playing for the Army vs the Moors Sports Club suggesting he will not be in the 2nd Test.
If the selectors are feeling particularly brave, they might want to consider a 6-5 lineup; dropping Kithuruwan Vithanage, who did himself proud with an attacking 50 in his debut Test innings, showing a capability to play shots all around the wicket. But if Sri Lanka really are serious about going for Bangladesh’s throats, an extra bowler could be helpful on this pitch. Or, braver still, giving Dilshan a rest and promoting Thirimanne or Chandimal to open, meaning Vithanage moves up the order and leaves a place for another bowler who would be Kaushal. The extra bowler would be useful especially with Bangladesh’s already confident batting lineup being further bolstered by the return of Tamim Iqbal, but this is fanciful thinking; I don’t for a second believe that any of the batsmen will be dropped and SL will go with a 7-4 lineup.
Whatever the team and whatever the pich, the last thing Sri Lanka needs in this situation is to be complacent. They may remember easier times against Bangladesh but this being the last and final Test could provide Bangladesh with a ‘second-wind’ and shock the hosts. A win in this match means a historic series win and an utterly embarrassing debut for Angelo Mathews. In fairness to him, though he does deserve some credit for toiling through the run-fest during Bangladesh’ innings. Many captains at such a young age might have wilted under the pressure and the heat, but Mathews kept a stable head, and just made the best of what he had. I do wonder, though how long he can carry on being batsman, bowler and captain in Test cricket – another reason why a 6-5 team selection would be useful.
All in all, this should be a very interesting match. From a Sri Lankan point of view it is an opportunity to look at the new-look team under what will inevitably be a pressure situation – pressure not to fail. Bangladesh will smell blood and the chance for the biggest Test scalp of their history – a scenario which could see some interest from neutrals around the world. But for the locals in Colombo, they will get to watch the national team play for completely free. In a forward-thinking move by SLC, all five days will have free-entry so I would expect quite a decent atmosphere. However, if the ground remains relatively empty on a Saturday then it will be the starkest reminder yet the challenge Test cricket faces on the sub-continent.
My SL team for the 2nd Test would be:
Karunaratne, Dilshan, Sangakkara, Thirimanne, Chandimal†, Mathews*, Eranga, Kaushal, Herath, Lakmal, Welegedera