SL looking to take ODI momentum to Tests - Mathews
Five months of limited-overs dominance has set spirits soaring in the Sri Lanka camp, but on the eve of their biggest away series of the year, their perch seems less secure. In ODIs and T20s, a spurt of young talents have suggested a future beyond the senior men's retirement is not one to be feared. In Tests, though, several new players are yet to nail down their place.
From the likely top six batsmen, three are yet to play a Test in England and one other - Lahiru Thirimanne - has only one match in the country. Among the bowlers, only Rangana Herath has played more than 20 Tests, and the seam attack is far from settled. In the wake of Suranga Lakmal's injury, only Shaminda Eranga seems certain to play on Thursday.
The Test side had hinted at improvement during their series in the UAE in January, most notably in the pace-bowling ranks and Angelo Mathews' batting. But a world away from those torpid surfaces, Sri Lanka are now set to discover exactly how good they are in this format. An uncommonly green Lord's pitch will be the first scene of their self-exploration. Mathews hoped the speed Sri Lanka's cricket had gathered in the other formats would help propel them to better results in Tests as well.
"It's an important series for me and the team," Mathews said. "We play a lot of cricket in the subcontinent and we're used to slow, low wickets. Now we're playing in different conditions against a different team. We just want to take our momentum from the ODIs to Test cricket.
"A lot of us are inexperienced - especially the bowling attack. Except for Mahela and Sanga the others have not played that many Test matches. Playing England in England is a huge challenge for us."
England's own state of flux appears to have improved Sri Lanka's chances. As many as three cricketers may debut for the hosts on Thursday, but Sri Lanka remain wary. Chris Jordan, who caused trouble in the ODIs, is among those set to play, and the fast bowling may be tipped with added venom, thanks to the spiky end to the ODI series.
"They've used the short ball and the pace against us in the ODI series as well, and I think we dealt with that pretty well. We can't be too worried about their pace attack. They've got some good fast bowlers, but we'll try to play positive cricket."
Mahela has two hundreds and a fifty at Lord's, averaging 75 across six innings, but Sangakkara has fared poorly at the venue in the past, hitting only 140 in three Tests. Sangakkara has had better preparation for the Test series than any other batsman in the squad, thanks to a two-match stint with Durham, for whom he hit a century last month. He had also hit form in the ODIs, striking a brisk match-winning ton at Lord's and is desperate to have his name on the ground's honours board, on what will likely be his final Test there.
"If we can win the series, that'll be the best send off we can give them. Kumar is dying to get a hundred at Lord's. He hasn't done it before, but Mahela has," Mathews said. "They have served the country for ages. More than 15 years. Both have got more than 10,000 runs in ODIs and Tests. Mahela got brilliant century in the finals of the World Cup. He always saves the best for last. They are big game players, they want to make maximum out of every opportunity. I am sure they will get hundreds if they get in."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando