By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
Winning the opening Test of a series could always be dicey especially if you are playing for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has a habit of winning the first Test of a series which is always played at Galle and then conceding the next Test and sometimes the series in the latter matches.
In the past five years it has happened to them on three occasions against India in 2010 and against England and New Zealand in 2012.
Having won the curtain-raiser match of the current series against India at Galle, the second Test starting at the P Sara Oval on Thursday is one game the Lankans cannot afford to lose.
The Test marks the farewell appearance of one of the greatest cricketers produced by Sri Lanka and in the world Kumar Sangakkara.
Sri Lanka will want to give him a memorable send-off like they did to two other cricketing icons Muthiah Muralitharan in 2010 and Mahela Jayawardene in 2014 with a win.
“The best we could do is to try and win the game so that we win the series that will be the best farewell for him. We are trying our best to do that,” said Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews at the pre-match press conference.
“The boys are all well prepared, we trained extremely hard in the past two days on all aspects of the game even though it rained yesterday and we are ready to go.”
Heaping praise on Sangakkara, Mathews said, “It’s going to be an emotional game for all of us. He is a great servant for the country, for the team, and a great human being saying goodbye to the team. We can’t thank him enough for what he has done for Sri Lanka cricket and the team over the past so many years. We thank him truly and wish him all the very best in his future endeavours.”
How was Sangakkara reacting to his farewell?
“From what I can see he just wants to score a hundred tomorrow, he’s worked extremely hard and is so determined to do that I truly wish and hope he does it,” said Mathews.
“It’s going to be an emotional game for him as well. He ‘s been with us for so long and with the national team, he’s been the backbone of Sri Lanka cricket’s batting over the past 15 years. It’s going to be a tough game for him as well emotionally but all good things have to come to an end unfortunately.”
Mathews said the win at Galle had given confidence to his team for the series.
“When it comes to confidence yes, it was a great turnaround for us. When you win a game and pull a rabbit out of a bag it’s tremendous for the confidence of the team. We can’t be thinking of the last game we’ve got to move on. We are starting a fresh game tomorrow.”
Mathews expects India to come back hard at them after losing a match which they should have won hands down at Galle and find themselves trailing 0-1 in the series instead of being 1-0 ahead.
“India had us by our throats for 3½ days and the courage and the character the boys showed is unbelievable to come back within three sessions to win the game,” said Mathews.
“We have already shoved that under the carpet and its history we got two more games to go and we got to play very good cricket to beat India. No matter where we play home or away it’s a tremendous challenge for all of us to beat India. It’s going to be a tough ask so we will give it our best shot. We have to play really good cricket to win against them,” he said.
Sri Lanka will be without fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep who according to Mathews is struggling with a hamstring injury.
However Pradeep’s injury will make way for the return of another fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera.
“Unfortunately he got injured when he played his first game against Pakistan but he is back. He’s got a lot of pace bowls 145 plus consistently and he is very exciting. Extremely happy to have him back fit,” said Mathews.
Sri Lanka’s batting is likely to remain unchanged.