PALLEKELE: Sri Lanka have long been feared for their spin bowlers but the team has decided that speed is the future, and it will be tested against Bangladesh at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium from Wednesday.
Off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan has the most Test wickets and Rangana Herath is the most successful left-arm spinner. But since Herath’s retirement three years ago, Sri Lankan spin has lost its potency.
So Sri Lanka have embraced pace strategy for the two Test series against Bangladesh, to be held in a bio-secure bubble at the Pallekele ground.
And the shift towards pace is a long-term strategy, according to skipper Dimuth Karunaratne.
“Spin used to be our strength but not anymore,” Karunaratne said. “Our seamers have done a pretty good job in recent months. We have Suranga Lakmal who bowled so well in the Caribbean and was named player of the series. So we are backing our seamers and see what we can get out of them. The spinners we have are young and raw.”
Lakmal is backed by Lahiru Kumara, who frequently clocks 150 kilometres per hour and is making a comeback having missed a just concluded West Indies tour after testing positive for coronavirus.
Lakmal and Kumara are expected to share the new ball with Vishwa Fernando, the left-arm seamer who would provide variety.
Karunaratne said he expects former skipper Angelo Mathews to bowl as well although the veteran has only been used sparingly in recent Tests.
Mathews returned early from the Caribbean for personal reasons and Pathum Nissanka who replaced him scored a hundred on his debut.
With Nissanka keeping his place and Mathews returning, one of the batters has to give way.
All the indications are that former skipper Dinesh Chandimal will lose his place. But the hosts could also make Chandimal wicket-keeper and axe Niroshan Dickwella.
Bangladesh have not won a Test match overseas since their victory in Sri Lanka in 2017.
They are without star all-rounder Shakib-Al-Hasan, who has taken more than 200 Test wickets and scored almost 4,000 runs. He has preferred the Indian Premier League.
On the greenish wicket, left-arm quick Mustafizur Rahman would have been ideal but he too has stuck with the IPL.
Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque, who has scored three of his 10 Test hundreds against Sri Lanka, expects a competitive series even without Shakib and Mustafizur.
The visitors included rookie pacer Shoriful Islam in their 15-man squad for the opening match as they are in dire need of some good results in Sri Lanka, having won just one of their last nine Test matches.
They suffered a home series defeat against a depleted West Indies side in February and lost all their matches in a tour of New Zealand in March.
Shoriful, a member of Bangladesh’s Under-19 World Cup-winning squad, made his limited over debut during the recent tour in New Zealand but has yet to play any Test.
The squad also included uncapped batsman Yasir Ali, who took part in a tour of Ireland in 2019 but did not play.
The team travelled to Sri Lanka on April 12 and played just one intra-squad match as part of their build-up for the series.
“We didn’t have a great preparation but given the circumstances, we have prepared well. We trained for a couple of days, and then played a practice match,” skipper Mominul Haque said in a virtual press conference on Tuesday. “You always have to adjust both mentally and physically in international cricket. I think it is best to be optimistic rather than worry about it.”
Pallekele will also host the second Test from April 29.
SRI LANKA: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Lahiru Thirimanne, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Pathum Nissanka, Roshen Silva, Dasun Shanaka, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Asitha Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Dilshan Madushanka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Ramesh Mendis and Praveen Jayawickrama.
BANGLADESH: Mominul Haque (captain, Liton Das, Mohammad Mithun, Mushfiqur Rahim, Tamim Iqbal, Shadman Islam, Abu Jayed, Taijul Islam, Najmul Hossain, Mehidy Hassan, Taskin Ahmed, Ebadot Hossain, Saif Hassan, Yasir Ali, Shoriful Islam.