Sri Lanka’s tour of England is sure to bring stiff challenges to its players, the ones, if properly faced, will make them stronger and courageous for the future. By the time this article is read, the visitors will have finished playing three days of Test cricket at Headingley. And if things did work out to their plan, they would have shown the Englishmen what stuff they are made of.
Sri Lanka needs to strengthen its backbone in the absence of retired Mahela Jayawardane and Kumar Sangakkara. Finding replacements for the duo isn’t that easy. However, one of two plus points in favour of the visitors at present are that nine who did duty for them when they toured England in 2014 are in this squad. The other is that the top and middle order scoring runs in the warm-up matches which were played against Essex and Leicester. This is good news given that the selectors and even critics had reservations about how the Sri Lankan batters would perform on English wickets before they took wing to England.
Skipper Angelo Mathews will have to play the sheet anchor role on England’s seaming wickets given that his charges don’t carry that much experience. Senior batsman Lahiru Thirimanne is struggling for form, but Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella and Dasun Shanaka have given the Sri Lankan batting line-up respect by making some decent scores in the side matches. Sri Lanka would end up being pushovers if they don’t manage to get 350 plus runs on the board when batting.
Mathews has his hands full, being told to lead the side in all three formats of cricket. The all-rounder has given every indication that he still loves his cricket. He has shown that rallying the players together to play all three forms of cricket is not beyond him, as yet. And at a time when the Sri Lanka batting has been questioned, a solid knock from a player in the likes of veteran Rangana Herath (55 against Leicester) is sure to fuel Mathews’ thoughts of seeing the batting run deep.
It’s good to have a man who loves Test cricket more than other forms of the game in charge of the players. Mathews had a memorable tour to England in 2014 where the Sri Lankans triumphed 1-0. He is the only Sri Lankan batsman inside the world top 10 batters in Test cricket. He brings fond memories from his last appearance at Headingley, which was in 2014. He was the man who troubled the hosts, making 160 with the bat and returning career best bowling figures of four for 44.
England on the other hand has a score to settle against the islanders. Alistair Cook has as his coach Trevor Bayliss, whose coaching is not complicated. One of the pluses in having Bayliss handling a side like England is that he treats everyone as individuals. He also allows players to play the game with a sense of pleasure.
All eyes will be on world’s best Test batsman Joe Root who has just been named ‘Player of the Year’. England have depth in their batting. Players in the likes of skipper Cook, Moeen Ali, Johnny Bairstow, Nick Compton and Alex Hales have the potential to contribute towards making a challenging total.
England (rated 4th in Test cricket) are confident, but will be cautious throughout this series where they are hosts. Sri Lanka bowled them out twice in Headlingley in 2014. The ‘Lions’ (rated 7th in Test cricket) will have those memories still etched in their minds. Living in a dream world and harping on past laurels makes you feel good. But it is also a dangerous thing to do, especially when you are in your opponents den. Sri Lanka should focus on playing the game with passion and always find ways to be in the battle against England.