Bad news to ponder as Sri Lanka head north

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Old 18-Jun-2014
Bad news to ponder as Sri Lanka head north

Sri Lanka will take heart from the draw at Lord's, Angelo Mathews said at the end of the match. But as the team heads to chilly, unfamiliar Headingley they have enough bad news to temper their mood.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Prasanna Jayawardene's finger injury is more serious than first believed, and he will be unavailable. Meanwhile, Suranga Lakmal's hamstring tear continues to keep him out of the side, even though it was expected to have healed in time for the second Test. It is something of a Sri Lankan trait to be optimistic, but sunny diagnoses have worked against them here. Perhaps Sri Lanka would do well to pick up another team doctor in Yorkshire.

The injuries open up selection quandaries for Mathews and Sri Lanka, but their options will be weighed against their intentions for the match. Sri Lanka have a shot at glory in Leeds. If they win the Test, they will have won their first ever Test series in England (not including the one-off result at the Oval in 1998). But Mathews has so far been unmoved by shots at glory in Tests. The fear of losing has had more influence on Sri Lanka's long-format cricket in recent years.

A loss at Headingley will not have quite undone Sri Lanka's work in the limited-overs series, but it might dampen the tour, and reinforce the notion they remain long-format lightweights. A drawn series, meanwhile, would suit Sri Lanka fine.

England had the better of the running at Lord's and may again at Headingley, but details are eroded more quickly in the public memory than the scoreline. During the first Test Mahela Jayawardene also hinted at the team's frustration of having only two Tests in England, while India, who have a poorer recent record in the country, get five. Sri Lanka partly have their own board to blame for the scheduling, but nevertheless, a squared series might be an effective means of highlighting injustices in the Test calendar.

But Sri Lanka will also know a draw at Headingley is far from a foregone thing. Of the 14 most recent Tests there, stretching back to 1997, 13 games have yielded results. Of those 13, the teams have been separated by an innings five times. Only on two occasions has a game been decided by a slimmer margin than five wickets or 100 runs. These numbers - and a cloudy forecast - suggest Sri Lanka might do well to adopt all-out aggression, because a draw seems even less likely than a victory.

Sri Lanka's fast bowlers are now accustomed to vitriol from outspoken former players, whenever they tour overseas, but Shaminda Eranga's fourth day spell at Lord's was perhaps the best of the match until James Anderson's reverse-swing laced burst on Monday. Having regained his line and rhythm after a wayward first innings, Eranga will again be tasked with leading the pace attack. Which quick men he should have in support, is what Sri Lanka must ponder.

Nuwan Pradeep was penetrative on the first day at Lord's and despite a familiar dip in speed in the second innings, he remained economical enough to warrant selection in Leeds. But Nuwan Kulasekara's place in the side will be under more intense scrutiny.

There is no doubt Kulasekara can move the ball further than his teammates, but he does so at such a gentle pace, he posed few troubles for a green England top order. He would, on the surface, appear the safe choice for Sri Lanka. If the conditions do not allow for movement, he is supposed to be the man to lock up one end. Though he travelled at 4.33 runs an over in the second innings, Mathews spoke highly of his efforts after the match.

"Nuwan Kulasekara bowled pretty well, along with Eranga," he said. "They were hitting the right lines and lengths and bowling with a lot of pace. That was encouraging."

Dhammika Prasad, who bowls with considerably better pace than Kulasekara, and also had a successful outing in Northampton, may be in prime contention to make the XI on Friday. Sri Lanka's worry with Prasad, is that he is something of a wild card: intense and intimidating on some days, but fodder for good players of pace on others. With an unpredictable Pradeep already in the attack, Prasad may seem a risky choice. Sri Lanka also have left-armer Chanaka Welegedara in their ranks, but it is unclear whether he has regained full pace following a spate of lengthy injuries.

There are also vulnerabilities in the batting that must be addressed, but given the men on tour, Sri Lanka almost have no option than to go with the expected top seven. Dimuth Karunaratne keeps getting in and getting out. Lahiru Thirimanne combusts every time James Anderson lines him up. And though Dinesh Chandimal - who will likely take the gloves - still averages over 50 in Tests, his horror run in limited-overs cricket will take some getting over.

Headingley, with its reputation for cloudy days and vicious swing, seems an unlikely place for a Sri Lanka win. If the visitors are to give themselves some chance, they cannot afford to tactical missteps before the match has even begun.

Old 18-Jun-2014
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