England captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood inspect the Galle wicket yesterday. Pic courtesy ECB.
Cricket is a funny game. Two weeks ago, the Sri Lankans hardly needed the services of a spin bowler. That was on the hard and bouncy surfaces of Wanderers and Centurion. But Galle, the paradise of spin bowlers, will see them using as many as three spinners in the opening Test match against England that gets underway on Thursday.
Off-spinner Dilruwan Perera, who did not play any of Sri Lanka’s four Tests last year, is set to make a comeback. The 38-year-old will be the lead spinner and he will be supported by Wanindu Hasaranga and Lasith Embuldeniya – as Sri Lanka have all bases covered with leg-spin and left-arm orthodox spin supporting the veteran offie.
Suranga Lakmal has regained full fitness ahead of the series opener but may not find a slot in the starting eleven as the selectors seem to back Asitha Fernando. The 23-year-old debuted in South Africa and has impressed the coaching staff with his ability to bowl tight spells and get reverse swing from the old ball.
With Dasun Shanaka able to share the new ball, Vishwa Fernando will be unlucky to miss the opening Test match. Vishwa claimed a five wicket haul in the last Test match and not very often a bowler gets axed soon after claiming a five wicket haul.
Former skipper Angelo Mathews returns after missing the tour of South Africa and so does Dinesh Chandimal. They will occupy number four and five slots. The selectors are backing Kusal Mendis and it won’t be a surprise if he gets another go in the first Test despite picking up three ducks in a row in South Africa. Spin will be a key factor in Galle and Mendis being one of Sri Lanka’s best players of spin bowling is set to get an extended run.
Sri Lanka’s preparation has been not so great ahead of the series. They had just two full practice sessions in Galle as inclement weather restricted their movements. England meanwhile have had adequate time training in Sri Lankan conditions having arrived in the island ten days ago.
All-rounder Moeen Ali, who was tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival is still in isolation and the news from England camp is that he will not be available even for the second Test match. Moeen was a key player when England beat Sri Lanka 3-0 two years ago. His off-spin fetched eight wickets. He also has a decent record against Sri Lanka with the bat having averaged 35.