Sa’adi Thawfeeq reporting from Galle
GALLE: Milinda Siriwardana is set to make his Test debut at the rather late age of 29 for Sri Lanka in the first Test against West Indies starting at the Galle International Stadium on Wednesday.
Although he has been playing first-class club cricket since 2005 it has taken nearly a decade for the national selectors over the years to identify him as a player worthy enough to represent his country.
Initially the left-handed all-rounder came into the national side in July when he made his ODI and T20I debuts during the home series against Pakistan, That recognition came following a wonderful domestic 2014-15 season for Badureliya SC where he topped 1000 runs from 10 matches and averaged 67.29.
Last week Siriwardana strengthened his claims for a Test place with an unbeaten century (105) for Sri Lanka Board President’s XI against the West Indies in a three-day warm-up game at the SSC.
“There’s not going to be too many changes to be honest. In the batting department we’ve got only one change. The no. 6 slot is open. Either Kusal (Mendis) or Milinda (Siriwardana) will come in. Milinda is a strong contender to bat at six tomorrow,” said Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews at the pre-Test press conference.
“Milinda has the edge over Kusal because he got a hundred in the last practice game. He’s been in really good nick so he deserves a call up. Kusal has also been a good talent. Whoever gets the call up I’m sure they’ll grab it with both hands.”
Although Siriwardana is also a pretty handy left-arm slow bowler, Mathews said that he will be slotted into the team purely as a batsman with spin being a second option if required.
Sri Lanka goes into this two-Test series with two back to back home defeats against Pakistan and India.
“We’ve had a few concerns from the last couple of series but I’m not too concerned with how we played the game,” said Mathews.
“I thought we played pretty good cricket even though we lost. It’s just a learning process for all of us. We talk about transition and all of that, but it’s all about learning, about taking responsibility. Now that we don’t have the Sangakkaras and Mahelas we have to put our hands up and take it forward.”
Mathews stated that the vital no. 3 position occupied by Kumar Sangakkara for nearly two decades would be given to Lahiru Thirimanne.
“Because of Sangakkara batting at no. 3 we couldn’t really accommodate Lahiru in the top three. Your best batter always has to bat at no. 3. Now that Sangakkara has gone, Lahiru is pretty much the candidate to bat at no. 3,” said Mathews.
“Lahiru’s form was a bit of a concern in the recent past, but we continue to have faith in him. We know he’s a very good player. He’s played the game for quite a long time, so we’re pretty much sure he’ll come good in this series and deliver for us.”
In the past two series it has been the batting that has let Sri Lanka down but Mathews was confident there would be an improvement.
“It’s just the mindset. It’s how you approach it. It’s all about trying to score runs – and that’s been the talking point for our batters over the last two months,” said Mathews.
“It’s just that any given day you get a good ball and you tend to get out, and that’s the fate of the batsman. You need to just try and score runs all the time and grab opportunities that the bowlers give you – loose balls and try and score off it. Hopefully we can get everything right this series.”
Another area of concern is the bowlers’ inability to wrap up the tail.
“We’ve talked about it quite a lot in our meetings. It’s just that we have to bowl at them thinking they are batters,” explained Mathews.
“The situations are quite different. The batters play a lot different than the bowlers and the bowlers throw their bats around and get a few runs, and a few nicks. In the next minute the whole scenario changes. We’ve been talking quite a lot regarding that and hopefully we can rectify that in this series.”
Assessing the opposition Mathews said, “West Indies are a very good team even though they don’t have the big guns with them – guys like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard. They are a very strong force when it comes to international cricket, and they’re very unpredictable.
“We can’t afford to take our foot off the gas at any given time, because they can come and destroy you. They’ve got the personalities in the team to come and destroy any given team. We have to play very good cricket to beat West Indies.”
The possible Sri Lanka line up for tomorrow: Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews (captain), Milinda Siriwardana, Kusal Perera (wk), Dhammika Prasad, Rangana Herath, Tharindu Kaushal, Nuwan Pradeep.