Every Galle Test win for Sri Lanka can be credited to the spin heavy attack, which was the case when they last faced Australia here in 2016. But unlike other times, their spin attack this time around is inexperienced in Test cricket, while in spin friendly Bangladesh conditions, it was their pace bowlers who stepped up to seal the series.
Nevertheless, skipper Dimuth Karunarathne is optimistic about the ability of his spinners and is set to go in with three spinners, with Dhananjaya de Silva too providing off spinning option in the first Test for the Warne-Murali trophy which gets underway today here in Galle.
“Our spinners couldn’t perform well in Bangladesh. We found out what our shortcomings were and were able to rectify before the next series. Our spin bowling coach Piyal Wijetunge worked hard with our spinners. When I batted in the nets, I noticed that there was some improvement. I think they will do the job for me in the match,” said Karunarathne ahead of the first Test in Galle yesterday.
Karunarathne reckoned that bowing in right areas is the key for their success in dry wickets like this.
“Yes, there is a gap, but we have home advantage. What we need to do is to bowl in the right places on these wickets, that is what the experienced bowlers like Rangana (Herath) and Dilruwan (Perera) also did and constantly troubled the batters. If we do these things right, I don’t think whether we have experience or not will matter that much,” added Karunarathne.
Sri Lanka will be playing quite a few Test matches. After playing two Tests against Australia, they go on to another two Test series against Pakistan with just three days’ rest in between, where Karunarathne emphasized on managing the workload.
“That’s a bit of a concern because we are playing two back-to-back series and it is going to be tough in these conditions, but the boys knew that and they have prepared well and maintained their fitness; they are in good shape. Very rarely we get Test matches like this. It’s a good opportunity for the players to come and enjoy themselves,” said Karunarathne.
Australia’s Mitchell Starc is set to return. Starc’s reverse swing in the 2016 Galle Test got him 11 wickets, and this time around Sri Lanka will be wary of a repeat performance.
“He has done really well in these conditions. Hhe knows how to use the breeze. We have a few plans as most of the players have played against him. So, they have the confidence and the experience to counter him,” said Karunarathne.
On team news, Sri Lanka is set to welcome Pathum Nissanka to his usual opening slot to partner Karunarathne, while Kasun Rajitha or Asitha Fernando who impressed in Bangladesh will play as the only paceman in the team, with Jeffrey Vandersay, Lasith Embuldeniya and Ramesh Mendis providing spin bowling option.
Australia are set to play the same team that played against Pakistan earlier this year, with the only possible change being the inclusion of Glenn Maxwell in place of Travis Head if he a fails fitness test, which is highly unlikely as he completed a full training session on Saturday.
Australia skipper Pat Cummins said that they have to trust their own methods to counter these conditions. “A lot of our preparation work has been around trusting our own methods. We might go about it a little bit differently to Sri Lanka. They’re going to pose a challenge but we are up for it,” said Cummins.
Cummins said that their role as pace bowlers might have to change depending on spin friendly conditions. “Maybe our roles as quick bowlers change a little bit. You have to find other ways to be creative. Maybe it is more bouncers, different field placement, and we use Swepo and Lyno to attack a bit more. So, it’s going to be part of the fun,” added Cummins.
The series is being played for the Warne-Murali Trophy. Sri Lanka have dedicated the first Test here in Galle to the late cricketing legend Shane Warne. Billboards were up in Galle covering most parts of the ground with pictures of Muttiah Muralitharan and the late Shane Warne, the most successful bowlers in Test cricket.
“I think it does (add more significance). Two guys our generation grew up watching the No.1 bowlers of our time. The two highest wicket takers ever in Test cricket. I think seeing some legends of the game on the trophy always hits home that what we are doing is pretty special. We are privileged; we’re part of a long past and we’re very grateful,” said Cummins.
“I think it’s a good thing (dedicating Test to Warne). Shane Warne is a legend. We know the contribution he has made to world cricket. To dedicate the Murali-Warne Trophy to a cricketer of that stature is a very good gesture,” said Karunarathne.
The Test match may see some rain interruptions as Galle stadium experienced a sudden heavy shower around 4.30 pm yesterday where ground staff had difficulty in covering up the ground due to heavy wind conditions.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunarathne, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella (WK), Ramesh Mendis, Lasith Embuldeniya, Jeffrey Vandersay, Kasun Rajitha/Asitha Fernando
Australia: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head (subject to fitness)/Glenn Maxwell, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (WK), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathon Lyon, Mitchell Swepson
By Anjana Kaluarachchi in Galle