Rex Clementine, in the Sunday Island, 8 May 2016, where the title reads “When Sri Lanka had a bone to pick with England”
Sri Lanka’s two-month long tour of United Kingdom gets underway today as the national cricket team will take the 30 minute bus drive from London to North West in Chelmsford where they will play a three day warm-up game against Essex. Following the disappointments of Asia Cup and the World T-20, where the defending champions of both events crashed out early, there have been several initiatives made to put the performance of the national team back on track.
After the disastrous recent campaigns in Bangladesh and India, a high demand has been placed on players’ fitness. Sri Lanka’s cricketers have been made to work so hard that the day before their departure to London, skipper Angelo Mathews and deputy Dinesh Chandimal had to visit the gym for fitness work.
The preparation ahead of the tour was also impressive as they left grass on wickets at Pallekele and started practice games early. However, getting used to the cold in England will be a tough ask. Only a few days ago it snowed in London and the Sri Lankans will get a first taste of what to expect playing in England when they take the field today with a temperature of 12 Celsius.
Sri Lanka have dropped to number seven in ICC Rankings in Test cricket and a series win or draw will help them to improve their standings.
The tourists will play a second warm-up game against Leicestershire at Grace Road ahead of the first Test at Leeds that starts on the 19th May, The next two Tests will take place at Durham and Lord’s. There’s a nine-day gap between the second and third Tests.
Prior to the ODIs against England, Sri Lanka will travel to Ireland to play two ODIs. The ODI series against England gets underway on the 21st of June in Nottingham and will be followed by games in Birmingham, Bristol, The Oval and Welsh capital of Cardiff. The one off T-20 International will be played in Southampton.
Head to head, England have won 10 Tests and Sri Lanka eight. In ODIs, the Sri Lankans have the edge having won 34 of the 64 games. Of the seven T-20 Internationals four have been won by Sri Lanka and three by England.
Lack of planning has hurt the national team as after the 2015 World Cup the selectors instead of adopting a youth policy, went back and tried out some of the aging players. The end result was defeat in home Test series against India and Pakistan. India, in fact, triumphed in our shores after 22 years. To add insult to injury, a golden opportunity to blood in young players was wasted.
Top order batsman Lahiru Thirimanne, who had an horrendous World T-20 where he managed just 14 runs in four innings, has come under immense pressure, but in tough conditions his technical brilliance will be important for the team at number three position. There will be lot of focus on vice-captain Chandimal. He was the standout performer in Tests last year. After setting up the Galle Test against India with an outstanding 162 not out, Chandimal made 151 against West Indies and was the leading batsman in New Zealand where in two Tests he made 83, 58, 47 and 4.
In 11 Tests last year, Chandimal made over 900 runs with two centuries and five fifties with an average of 47. Captain Mathews was the Man of the Series when Sri Lanka triumphed in England last time. He made a match saving century at Lord’s but reserved his best for the final Test at Leeds where his 160 set up a 100 run win for Sri Lanka.
Usually, Sri Lanka’s bowling heavily relies on Rangana Herath. The left-arm spinner requires three more wickets to become the third Sri Lankan to take 300 Test wickets after Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. Conditions early in the summer might not suit the 38-year-old much, but Herath with his accuracy can play the containing role while fast bowlers give Mathews the attacking option.
Plagued by injuries, fast bowler Dhammika Prasad returns to the side. He had an outstanding 2015 as he picked up 41 wickets in nine Tests at an average of 24. He was the highest wicket taker for Sri Lanka last year and was among the top ten wicket takers in the world. Other fast bowlers like Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga also have returned from injuries giving Mathews many options. However, the bowler to watch will be seamer Dushmantha Chameera, whose pace and accuracy has impressed many.
Editor’s NOTE: The cricketing world of Test-playing nations is not — repeat not — a level playing field. Sri Lanka seems destined to tour UK during the early summer when conditions are tougher for Asian nations. This is in part due to the weight of India’s teeming millions and the implcications for dollar returns.