For all the talk of “rebuilding” that has followed Sri Lanka around, on the bowling front, at least, there is now considerable experience. The two leading fast bowlers, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep, have now each toured the UAE twice before, even playing important roles in the 2014 victory in Dubai. Lead spinner Rangana Herath, meanwhile, is by far the most-capped cricketer in the series – all of 83 Tests and 389 wickets to his name. If Sri Lanka’s first-choice attack is available through the two Tests, those three bowlers represent a reliable – if not quite menacing – attack.
Beneath that core group, however, there are a few raw bowlers. Most notable among these is left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan, who after a promising debut series against Australia, has been a victim of fickle selection – Sri Lanka playing him only in the matches in which they field three spinners. He has not exactly run through sides, but he has created chances in the first innings, which is an area Sri Lanka have struggled in. Ahead of the first Test, captain Dinesh Chandimal talked Sandakan up, and expressed confidence in the bowlers on tour.
“Herath did really well in the last seven to eight years but we also have another spinner, Lakshan Sandakan, and he is a very good upcoming bowler,” Chandimal said. “Our fast bowlers Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep did well here in the last series. Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Gamage and Dilruwan Perera are there as well. As a bowling unit, I feel we have a blend of experienced and inexperienced players. I’m sure they will put their hands up and do their best.”
They will be pleased, too, to not be bowling to India anymore. Virat Kohli and co. batted first and mounted gigantic totals in each of the three Tests in Sri Lanka, though in each of those games, Sri Lanka’s attack was hamstrung by some sort of injury. Pakistan, who are very much in the process of working out what their batting order will look like over the next few years, should present less of a challenge. Or so, at least, Chandimal hoped.
“Actually we can have a very good advantage because Pakistan’s main two batsmen are not there in their batting unit,” he said. “Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq are wily old foxes, and they have played really good cricket throughout their careers. We will have to step up in our as a unit and we have something in our powers to do that.”
No matter what state Pakistan’s batting is in, however, Sri Lanka are unlikely to succeed in the UAE unless their fielders support the bowler. Across formats, Sri Lanka have dropped 57 catches this year – at least one of the most memorable drops coming against Pakistan during the Champions Trophy. It has become a pre-series cliché for Sri Lanka now, but an assurance that catching would be better this time was again issued.
“We learnt a lot from the India series – we have especially done more work on our fitness and fielding,” Chandimal said. “All the players are in a good shape. All we need to do is win one game and everything will fall into place. Pakistan has played some good cricket in the last two series and we never underestimate them.”