When India went to Sri Lanka in July-August and beat them 3-0, they won by some staggering margins: 304 runs, an innings and 53 runs, an innings and 171 runs.
Just over a month later, Sri Lanka beat Pakistan 2-0. What changed in between? What did Sri Lanka learn about themselves from those three massive defeats to India that allowed them to go to the sapping heat of the UAE and beat a team that had never lost a series there?
“The one thing is, we just tried to play five bowlers, because if you’re playing against a good team you need to take 20 wickets to win,” Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka’s captain, said on the eve of the first Test of his team’s return series against India. “That’s the one area we looked at, and our fielding – we need to keep our energy levels up for five days, so those are the areas we improved on as a team, and looking forward to implement those things in this series.”
Kolkata in mid-November, with overcast skies and persistent rain, will be rather different to the UAE at any time of the year. The Eden Gardens pitch also promises to be very different: green and likely to help the quicker bowlers. Even so, Chandimal suggested Sri Lanka would want to continue playing five bowlers.
“Especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we all know the weather – it’s really hot and that’s why we used five bowlers and six batters, so, you know, that’s the combination we’re looking at, especially if you want to win a series you need to get 20 wickets. We haven’t decided anything. We need to see the pitch first and decide tomorrow morning who’s going to play. We saw the pitch yesterday – it was green and hard, so maybe the seamers will come into play in this game.”
By deploying the offspin-bowling allrounder Dilruwan Perera at No. 7, Sri Lanka managed to play two seamers and three spinners in the first Test against Pakistan, and three seamers and two spinners in the second.
The pitch and the overhead conditions at Eden Gardens are likely to favour playing three seamers, and Sri Lanka could approach this in two ways. The first would be to continue batting Dilruwan at No. 7, and play three specialist quicks in Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Gamage and Vishwa Fernando.
Chandimal, however, had said in an earlier press conference that the quality of India’s bowling could make them think of playing an extra batsman. In that case, Sri Lanka have the option of playing Dasun Shanaka, a middle-order batsman who bowls seam-up, instead of one of the three main quicks.
If he wasn’t so dogged by injury, Angelo Mathews could have offered them that option, but he will play this series as just a specialist batsman. Chandimal expected the former captain to return to batting form after a difficult couple of years.
“If he’s bowling, it gives us more confidence, and we can balance the side really well, but unfortunately, with his injuries, he can’t bowl, especially in Test cricket,” Chandimal said. “But to be having his experience, you know – he was unbelievable in 2013 and 14, so I’m sure he will put his hand up and do his best in this series, and for the batting unit, it gives us very good confidence.”
He also indicated that Mathews would move up one spot from his usual No. 5 position.
“He’s going to bat at No. 4,” Chandimal said. “That’s [what] we are looking at, because he’s got all the experience. It’s better to send him top of the order and get the maximum out of him.”