Sri Lanka were left to sweat on the fitness of some of their key fast bowlers ahead of the three-match Test series against India starting in Galle on Wednesday (August 12) after Shaminda Eranga who was shaping up well from a back injury to make a comeback complained of a strained groin.
“There is a cloud of uncertainty over Shaminda. He had rehabilitated from a back injury but after Wednesday’s practice session he complained of a groin injury. We don’t know how serious the injury is, we are awaiting a report from the physio,” said chief selector Kapila Wijegunawardene.
Apart from Eranga’s latest injury Suranga Lakmal has been ruled out of the first Test with a left side strain, the same injury that is keeping another fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera out of the Galle Test as well.
“Dushmantha is bowling now at the nets and we are hoping that he will be fit for the second Test. We don’t want to push him we want him fully recovered before we pick him. It’s not necessary to risk by playing him too early before he is ready,” said Wijegunawardene.
The way it stands at the moment Sri Lanka will be hard pressed to find a suitable combination of fast bowlers for the first Test.
“We have Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep, but before making the final call we need to wait for the report on Eranga. If Eranga does not come through we will have to come up with some other replacement. The formation of the Test squad will depend on the injury report that we get,” Wijegunawardene said.
Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews who is recovering from an injured wrist is expected to be fit. “It’s nothing serious just a little discomfort in his left wrist.”
Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath who was rested from the ODI and T20I series against Pakistan will spearhead the spin bowling department with Tharindu Kaushal as the second spinner. Herath had a poor Test series against Pakistan capturing just two wickets for 218 runs as the opposition batsmen found ways to counter his spin that had been the determining factor in previous encounters which had resulted in a loss for them.
Herath’s record against India is not that impressive. He has captured 12 wickets in four Tests at a cost of 54.91 that includes one five-for (5/129) at Kanpur in 2009.
Wijegunawardene was confident that Sri Lanka had the bowling to upset the strong Indian batting line-up.
“In terms of results Pakistan had a much better track record but having said that India has a formidable batting line-up. Naturally our bowlers will have to bowl to their potential. It’s not going to be easy but we have the bowlers who are capable of upsetting their batting,” said Wijegunawardene.
“During the Pakistan Test series our bowlers performed consistently throughout, I am confident we have the bowling power to counter their batting. We will have to naturally bat and bowl well to beat them in the series. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope they deliver.”
It was largely the Lankan batsmen’s inability to counter the leg-spin of Yasir Shah that brought about their downfall and India have included leg-spinner Amit Mishra in a three pronged spin attack that also has off-spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh.
“They are looking in terms of using spin against us but looking at their squad at the same time they also have fast bowlers in their line-up. We need to see what strategy we need to adopt in order to counter whatever strengths they have,” said Wijegunawardene.
Indian captain Virat Kohli left little doubt that they had closely followed the Pakistan series when he said, “Home work on the Sri Lankans has been done, we’ve seen the Test matches against Pakistan and how it went. We have a lot of data nothing different to be done as far as our game plan is concerned. Holding onto crucial catches is one area we have to work on in Tests.
“One area we have not capitalised is being on top in those crunch moments. That’s been the difference in us winning Test matches, drawing and losing. We’ve played in a very competitive way but those small mistakes matter a lot in a way.
“For the Indian team every series is a part of the plan that we are looking to put in place for the next 5-6 years and build a really strong unit that will continue to play for a long time. So the prime focus is to go out there and back ourselves and execute our skills and have a really competitive side,” he said.
The upcoming series will naturally focus on batting icon Kumar Sangakkara who will play in the first two Tests before winding up a marvelous international career. The fear is that his farewell Test will not be marred by the aftermath of the general election euphoria. Elections are scheduled for August 17, a day after the first Test ends at Galle. The second Test at the P Sara Oval starts on August 20.
Sangakkara is expected to bat at his customary position at no. 3 but in the third and final Test at the SSC, Sri Lanka will have to decide on who’s going to occupy that vital spot. During the series against Pakistan Upul Tharanga was slotted into that position and made two scores of forties.
“We have a general idea Kumar has always batted at 3 and once he retires we will have to take a decision going forward. Naturally Lahiru Thirimanne would be one of the frontline contenders there would also be others to look at,” said Wijegunawardene.
“Upul Tharanga came as no. 3 against Pakistan, for the Indian series those are options available to us. We have clearly not sat down and worked out the combination it’s a toss between Thirimanne and Tharanga for the no. 3 spot.”
Wijegunawardene said that Jehan Mubarak who played a crucial role at no. 6 in the third Test against Pakistan will be one of the middle-order batsmen.
“It all depends on how we perform in the first couple of Tests and what the combination we need to settle on.”
Dinesh Chandimal will continue to keep wickets as he did in the series against Pakistan.
Sri Lanka and India will be meeting in a Test series after five years. The last series took place in 2010 and it was drawn 1-all.