Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath who retired from international cricket at the end of the first Test at Galle is the leading wicket-taker at Pallekele with 20 wickets (avg. 14.80) from 3 Tests and following him is Lakshan Sandakan, who bowls left-arm chinaman with 12 wickets (avg. 19.91) from 2 Tests.
In fact the top five wicket-takers at Pallekele are spinners. The most wickets a fast bowler has taken is 6 by Australia’s Ryan Harris in 2011 and Pakistan’s Junaid Khan in 2012.
Thus England’s hopes of playing both James Anderson and Stuart Broad their two key fast bowlers in addition to the left-arm pace of Sam Curran could change, and they could stick to the combination they had at Galle – two quicks and three spinners.
One needn’t venture too far to predict the nature of the pitch that is being prepared for today’s second Test for Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain Suranga Lakmal said it all in one sentence: “We’ve asked for a pitch that favours the spinners, and I think that’s basically what we have got here.”
“Because the pitch is a turner, what we’re talking about right now is playing just one seamer. Though we haven’t chosen the team yet - that decision will come late in the day,” Lakmal said.
Circumstances have anyway made Sri Lanka two enforced changes with skipper Dinesh Chandimal being ruled out of the series with a groin strain and Herath retiring.
“Instead of Chandimal we’ve got Roshen Silva and Charith Asalanka in the squad. We haven’t decided which of those will play, but it will be one of them. For Rangana we’ve got Lakshan Sandakan and Malinda Pushpakumara. We haven’t picked between them either. We’ll make that decision tonight,” said Lakmal. “We haven’t thought much about other changes. To a large extent it’s those two changes that we’re looking to make.”
Sandakan with his better track record on this ground holds an advantage over left-armer Pushpakumara.
Lakmal is confident that the batsmen will put up a better performance than they did at Galle where they were dismissed for totals of 203 and 250 and only former captain Angelo Mathews made any sort of contribution by scoring back to back fifties.
As a team we’ve talked about the batting a lot over the last few days. We’ve prepared a plan, and we worked hard on it. I think because of that we’ll be able to play better here than we did in the first Test,” said Lakmal.
“Everyone - batsmen, bowlers and fielders are trying to give their best for the team. Unfortunately over the recent past we haven’t got what we expected from the batsmen. But we can change that in this match. No one goes to the middle trying to make a low score. I’m trusting that a lot of things will change in this Test,” he said.
Lakmal didn’t want to delve too much into what has gone wrong with the Lankan batting but said, “I can’t talk about that much because we’ve got a batting coach who looks into that. What I’d say as a captain or vice-captain is that we need to bat positively. That’s one thing we can do. If you get a good ball, any batsman can get out. Think about that and go to the middle with the intention of scoring runs. Have a positive body language. That’s what I expect from our players.”
Questioned how spinner Akila Dananjaya was taking up the reporting of his bowling action by the umpires, Lakmal replied, “The umpires have taken that decision, but Dananjaya can play in this game. I talked to him and said don’t worry about anything - just focus on this game. I’m sure he will get cleared for the next match. He’s bowled well in the past and he has to do that again. Getting reported is just another thing. Forget that and bowl well in this game.
“There’s no firm decision on when he is to be tested. He can play in this game, and maybe he’ll have to go while the next match is on. He’s got 14 days.” Dananjaya who bowls a variety of deliveries, Lakmal said he has been reported for his off-spin.
Lakmal is confident that the team can lift itself from being 0-1 down in the series and compete on even terms with England.
“Just because we lost a match we haven’t fallen psychologically. No matter what, we are still playing at home. Just because we’ve lost a game, that doesn’t mean we’re mentally low. This is a vital match for us because we’ve got to stay in the series,” said Lakmal. “The stuff happening around the team - like the change in manager - is out of our control as players. Our job is to do what we can to win on the field. That’s how I want to take my team forward.”
It was under Lakmal’s captaincy that Sri Lanka who were trailing West Indies 0-1 in the three-Test series in the Caribbean levelled it by winning the third and final Test at Barbados. Sri Lanka will have to do a repetition of that performance if they are to keep the series alive.