Opening slot and fielding concerns for SL
The opening conundrum
While Tillakaratne Dilshan has been slapping and scooping his way through opposition attacks since 2009, Sri Lanka have rifled through opening batsmen at the other end. Lahiru Thirimanne and Dimuth Karunaratne have had their dash, Mahela Jayawardene has sometimes stepped in to replace misfiring batsmen mid-tour, Kusal Perera began with promise but is yet to deliver consistently, and Upul Tharanga has been in and out of the side. The only surprise so far is that chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya has not reinstalled himself atop the innings. This tour though, sees Sri Lanka seek a definitive answer to the question of who deserves to partner Dilshan during the World Cup. Tharanga, coming in on a cloud of form from the A side, will probably have the first choice to impress, but if he fails in the first few outings, Kusal will be in the wings, awaiting his turn.
Normally in possession of the best death bowler in the world, Sri Lanka are rarely troubled in this department, but surgery on Lasith Malinga's ankle has put his World Cup plans on ice, and as Malinga himself suggested, Sri Lanka would be wise to blood a replacement. Thankfully, one thing a tour of India is good for is providing a stern test of whether bowlers can keep the runs down and maintain accuracy through considerable duress. Dhammika Prasad appears the most likely candidate to assume Malinga's position at the back of an innings, but Sri Lanka have taken along Lahiru Gamage, who delivers sharp medium pace.
Sachithra Senanayake had played a key role in Sri Lanka's limited-overs successes in 2014, and with his career now under a cloud of uncertainty, Sri Lanka require a canny, accurate slow-bowling replacement, who can also penetrate during the middle overs. Suraj Randiv, who is on this tour, may be the answer. He does not have Senanayake's mystery, but he is reliable, achieves the kind of bounce that might make him a threat in the Antipodes, and has a better ODI record than Senanayake to boot. Left-arm orthodox allrounder Chaturanga de Silva may also have a chance to impress, but if Rangana Herath is viewed as the premier left-arm spinner in the World Cup squad, de Silva may have his opportunities limited.
Once by a distance the best fielding side in South Asia, Sri Lanka's catching, in particular, has deteriorated significantly in 2014, with chances regularly shelled across formats, and avoidable boundaries conceded. The fielding had got so bad, the board advertised for a new fielding coach and trainer as part of a coaching overhaul, prompting the existing coach Ruwan Kalpage to take up a position with Bangladesh. Mathews has repeatedly marked fielding as an area of concern, and unless Sri Lanka take steps to arrest their slide, in this series, they may be punished in matches against the better-drilled teams in the months to come.
Sri Lanka's age-old ODI bane. Since even before Russel Arnold's retirement Sri Lanka have combed through the domestic system, trialling everyone from Chamara Kapugedara to Dinesh Chandimal at Nos. 5 and 6, only to find they are approaching another World Cup with the "soft underbelly" in their batting order intact. Mathews' increasing skill at finishing the innings has eased Sri Lanka's woes in the area somewhat, but they are yet to nail down a firm candidate. Ashan Priyanjan has dazzled in a few innings, and may be the first batsman Sri Lanka try out in that position, in this series, but there is a chance Niroshan Dickwella may be taking guard in his first ODI, if Priyanjan does not fire in the first few games.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando