Ill-judged shots, inconsistent bowling, dropped catches, and batting collapses – one shouldn’t be surprised if such flawed performances occur in the upcoming two-match Test series between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, starting Wednesday in Pallekele. However, given the unpredictability of the two teams, an odd heroic performance cannot be ruled out either.
Bangladesh come into the series, having lost their last eight international matches across formats. The wheels came off during the white-ball tour of New Zealand, but the confidence had already been shattered during their 2-0 Test series defeat against West Indies. Bangladesh were favourites at home, given their tactics were developed around spinners. But they looked like a team without a Plan B when the West Indian rookies fought back in Chattogram and Dhaka.
What will particularly hurt Bangladesh is the absence of Test allrounder Shakib Al Hasan, who is currently playing in the IPL. On paper, Sri Lanka hold the edge as Bangladesh will miss the balance Shakib brings to their playing XI. Without him, the visitors will rely heavily on Tamim Iqbal, Mominul Haque, and Mushfiqur Rahim .
In the batting department, Iqbal will be expected to provide stability at the top although he hasn’t had a set opening partner for a long time, and the No. 3 position also remains uncertain. Haque’s home and away record carries a Jekyll and Hyde reputation, which would leave Rahim, one of Bangladesh’s best batters on foreign soil, with some heavylifting to do. There are concerns in the bowling department, too. Mehidy Hasan and Abu Jayed are the only bowlers who are confirmed inclusions in the XI, leaving at least three spots vacant.
Bangladesh’s woes open up an opportunity for Sri Lanka, who had recently lost to England at home, and drew 0-0 in the West Indies. A few fightbacks notwithstanding, Sri Lanka have mostly struggled to get going in the recent past. At home, South Africa were the last visitors they truly dominated, in February 2019. After a 2-0 win in that series, they drew against New Zealand and lost to Pakistan, too.
The emergence of Oshada Fernando and Pathum Nissanka have helped the team strike a balance between youth and experience, with Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews, and Dinesh Chandimal also in the mix. Nissanka, in particular, has shown promise to take Chandimal’s place in the line-up. Mathews returns to the squad after missing out on the West Indies series. Lahiru Thirimanne’s three fifties against West Indies was also encouraging, but for Sri Lanka to do better, these batters have to score big.
Much of the hosts’ bowling would depend on Suranga Lakmal in the absence of the injured Lasith Embuldeniya, who has been their highest wicket-taker this year so far. Vishwa Fernando, Wanindu Hasaranga, and Lahiru Kumara will also have to lend support to Lakmal’s new-ball efforts.
(last five completed matches)
Sri Lanka DDLLL
In the spotlight
Suranga Lakmal was adjudged the Player of the Series earlier this month for his eleven wickets against West Indies. He will be expected to do a similar job against Bangladesh in conditions that might assist pace bowlers. Lakmal wouldn’t be keen to bring down his bowling average of 50.87 in 23 Tests at home.
Mominul Haque has two things to work on: reviving his captaincy after losing five out of the last six Tests, and his dismal away record as a batter. There will be considerable pressure on both fronts but as he has proved in the past, Haque has the depth of character to turn things around.
Sri Lanka may go in with three specialist quicks, though this would be a highly unusual strategy at home. Lakmal will be the first-choice pacer, while Vishwa Fernando and Lahiru Kumara might also feature in the XI. On the batting front, they will try to squeeze into the side the in-form newcomer Nissanka. Dinesh Chandimal, who had a decent tour of West Indies, could likely make way for Nissanka.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Oshada Fernando, 4 Dinesh Chandimal/Pathum Nissanka, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Lahiru Kumara, 11 Vishwa Fernando
Soumya Sarkar’s axing once again opens up the debate on the opening combination. Pallekele’s green pitch may tempt them to play three pace bowlers.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Shadman Islam, 3 Najmul Hossain Shanto, 4 Mominul Haque (capt), 5 Mushfiqur Rahim, 6 Mohammad Mithun, 7 Liton Das (wk), 8 Mehidy Hasan Miraz, 9 Ebadat Hossain, 10 Taskin Ahmed, 11 Abu Jayed
Pitch and conditions
The photo of Dimuth Karunaratne inspecting a greenish Pallekele pitch two days before the first Test left many wondering if seam, swing and bounce could play a part on the first morning. Though it rained around the Pallekele area, the weather is likely to be clear over the next five days.
Stats that matter
- This will be Bangladesh’s first overseas Test since the pandemic began. They lost the home series against West Indies 2-0 in February.
- Suranga Lakmal’s recent Player of the Series award was the first for a Sri Lankan fast bowler since Nuwan Kulasekara won it in 2014.
- No Bangladesh bowler has taken a five-wicket haul against Sri Lanka since 2014.
“Technically, he’s outstanding. Physically, he’s very good and his fielding standards are exactly where they need to be. He’s slotted in nicely. Yes we’ve had to chip away and polish a little bit, but whatever Nissanka did with his coaches through the ranks has been pretty good. They’ve prepared him very well for international cricket.”
Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur on newcomer Pathum Nissanka.
“I have come to Sri Lanka to play cricket. We will play according to our plan. I am only concerned about these things, and not much else. I don’t need to think about other things as a professional cricketer.”
Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque, when asked if the BCB’s scrutiny of the players would put extra pressure on them.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84