Mathews backs 'fearless' youngsters to shine
Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath are the only men on tour to have played more than 30 Tests, but it is two inexperienced players who have buoyed Sri Lanka ahead of the first Test.
Both are young players who were picked on potential, despite modest first-class records. A former captain of Sri Lanka's Under-19 team, and a Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, 21-year-old Kusal Mendis has been spoken of as a potential No. 3 for the series. He has now strengthened his claim on that role with two half-centuries in three warm-up innings.
Lower down the order, 24-year-old Dasun Shanaka has made a push for the No. 7 batting position. Having made his name as a limited-overs hitter, Shanaka struck 112 from 132 balls against Leicestershire, to lift the visitors from 192 for 8 to 367 all out. His seam bowling may also be viewed as an asset - to be used when the frontliners have tired.
"Dasun Shanaka was a standout for me, and so was Kusal Mendis," Angelo Mathews said on the eve of the Headingley Test. "They are both still very young. Their first tour to England, and it's never easy, but they've showed a lot of character in the first two practice games.
"We've got lots of new players, but also 7 or 8 who were there in the 2014 tour. We've got a fearless set of players who are willing to take the English on."
Acclimatisation is one of the major pre-Test objectives for Sri Lanka sides touring England. Having had relatively good weather towards the south of England in the warm-up games, the forecast suggests they are in for a colder, wetter week at Headingley. Temperatures are not expected to climb further than the low teens, and rain is predicted to make an appearance during the weekend.
"We all know that you can't get comfortable in England straightaway," Mathews said. "You've got to work your way through, so experience also counts. We've got so many guys who are touring England for the first time with the national team.
"But no matter how long you spend in the cold you can never get used to it. We've had a few good days in Essex and also in Leicester, where the sun was out. Hopefully the nice weather will come back to us. Whether it's the cold weather or the sunny weather, we do have to take on the challenge. The weather will be our main challenge."
Though no bowler in Sri Lanka's seam attack has more than 80 wickets to his name, there is significant expectation on the likes of Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Pradeep to cause trouble for England's top order, in helpful bowling conditions. Dhammika Prasad has been ruled out of the match with a shoulder complaint, however.
"Prasad's injury is a setback for us," Mathews said. "He's our premier fast bowler. He's performed well against England here at the same venue. He'll be a big loss. Hopefully he can be ready and fit for the second Test."
Mathews will see some familiar faces across the battlements during this tour. England coach Trevor Bayliss had been Sri Lanka's coach from 2007 to 2011. England's current assistant coach Paul Farbrace had been Bayliss' assistant in Sri Lanka as well, before he took the top job himself for two months at the beginning of 2014.
"Those coaches have played a massive part in my career," Mathews said. "Trevor was the first coach of my international career. He didn't fiddle with my batting or bowling abilities too much. He just wanted me to go and express myself, play with a lot of freedom. Farby was the same. They are great human beings and great coaches, whom I really enjoy working with. We've seen the impact that they've had in the past 12 months with England."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando