Dimuth Karunaratne’s Sri Lanka will be looking to build on their winning momentum at Galle as the hosts take on Pakistan in a likely spin battle in the opening Test starting Saturday.
Cricket has remained a welcome distraction for Sri Lankans around the island nation’s political unrest and unprecedented economic crisis with the sport providing some smiles.
Sri Lanka head into the Pakistan series after two contrasting results in Galle where they first lost to Australia on a vicious turner and then bounced back to hammer the tourists on Monday.
Former Pakistan captain Aamir Sohail said the touring batsmen will have to overcome their weakness against left-arm spin to succeed in the two-match series.
“Both the teams have grown up on spin wickets and have a hang of these types of pitches,” Sohail, a left-hand batsman who played a key part in Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup triumph, told AFP.
“But I believe Pakistan will have to work hard if they have to make an impact and win this series.
“We historically know that Pakistani players have a weakness against left-arm spinners, so they have to tackle it. So they should prepare well and batsmen should take responsibility.”
Sohail’s analysis comes after debutant left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya returned a match haul of 12 wickets to hand Australia a thumping defeat by an innings and 39 runs in the final match.
Jayasuriya, 30, was one of the three Sri Lankan players including mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana and all-rounder Kamindu Mendis to get a first Test cap in the previous match after the team suffered a Covid outbreak.
Kamindu also made a mark in the series-levelling win with his gritty 61 in a 133-run stand with Dinesh Chandimal, who hit his maiden Test double century — 206 not out.
– Advantage Sri Lanka –
Sri Lanka named an 18-member squad for the two matches Thursday with Pathum Nissanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jeffrey Vandersay and Asitha Fernando back in the team after recovering from Covid.
The visitors, led by Babar Azam, have bolstered their spin attack by giving veteran leg-spinner Yasir Shah a comeback into the Test team.
Babar himself has been in roaring form with the bat and recently hit 196 against Australia in the team’s home series, which they ended up losing 1-0 in March.
Openers Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq have also been among the runs and Sohail insists the batting is not a one-man army.
“Last series Imam-ul-Haq was very consistent, Abdullah Shafique showed his ability. There is Rizwan and he has responded well and there is Azhar Ali,” said Sohail.
“So I will not say there is over reliance (on Babar), but because Babar has become such a big name, the expectations have grown bigger that he does something special in every match.”
Karunaratne admitted Pakistan will be tougher opposition than Australia in the two Tests but believes playing in Galle for the third straight time will be an advantage for the hosts.
“Pakistan is a strong side. (But) playing three games in Galle is good for a team. We know how conditions are in the last few games,” said Karunaratne.
“Pakistan don’t have that opportunity. Big advantage for us. We need to turn that in our favour.”
Sri Lanka squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Pathum Nissanka, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kamindu Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Ramesh Mendis, Maheesh Theekshana, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Dilshan Madushanka, Prabath Jayasuriya, Dunith Wellalage, Jeffrey Vandersay