Mathews calls for other bowlers to support Herath better
Angelo Mathews has challenged the supporting men in Sri Lanka's attack to ease Rangana Herath's wicket-taking burden ahead of the first Test against Pakistan, in Abu Dhabi. Herath has been Sri Lanka's spearhead in the four years since Muttiah Muralitharan retired, and has waged many lone battles as others bowlers were rendered toothless by conditions and the opposition.
Since Murali left the game Herath has three times the number of wickets any other bowler has managed, with 129, and he has also been the team's primary match-winner. Herath has taken seven five-wicket hauls in Sri Lanka's five wins post-Murali, and his 49 wickets in those matches have come at an average of 13.97.
Sri Lanka's attack is far from settled in the lead-up to the match, with five bowlers vying for three positions around Herath. Offspinners Sachithra Senanayake and Dilruwan Perera will compete for the second spinner's spot, while pace bowlers Nuwan Pradeep, Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal are frontrunners for the two fast-bowling places.
"We all know that Rangana Herath is a great bowler but we can't just give the burden of taking all the wickets to him," Mathews said. "We need the help of the seamers and the other spinner who plays. When you compare the Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi wickets, Abu Dhabi has a little bit more pace than the other two. The seam bowlers that we've got have a bit of extra pace, so that will help quite a lot here. Our spinners will come into play in all three Test matches, but if our seamers get a couple of crucial wickets early on and a couple of wickets at the end, that will also help."
Mathews was unperturbed by the prospect of facing the opposition's spin-bowling spearhead Saeed Ajmal, as he banked on his batsmen's experience to nullify Ajmal's threat. Ajmal has been effective against Sri Lanka in the past, taking 47 wickets at 29.53 against them, but Sri Lanka have also played Ajmal more than any other team in the past five years. Since 2009, there have been four completed Test series between the teams and a fifth that was cut short due to the terrorist attack in Lahore.
"Ajmal has been talked about a lot in the team and we've made plans about how we are going to play him. There's good experience in the team, if you take Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Prasanna Jayawardene. Although we no longer have Tillakaratne Dilshan, we've got some experienced players. With that experience and because we are at full strength, we should be able play him well, give him no wickets and make big totals."
Mathews played down suggestions that Pakistan arrived in the series as favourites, and instead suggested that the teams were evenly poised. He did, however, concede Sri Lanka may be short of match practice, having played their last Test in March. Sri Lanka Cricket had organised a four-day triangular first-class tournament during the team's layoff, but those matches had been played in October.
"We've played some four day cricket before we left to Dubai, and we had some match-practice there, but it's not as good as playing a Test match. There will be a bit of rustiness - there might be. But that's the challenge of adjusting from ODI cricket to Test cricket soon as possible. That will be the main challenge for us."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here