Sri Lanka head into first Test without Vaas
Sri Lanka will have to make do without their most experienced fast bowler, Chaminda Vaas, who misses tomorrow's first Test against South Africa at Colombo with a hamstring injury. Although he has partially recovered from the injury, and has resumed bowling in the nets, the Sri Lanka management do not want to take the risk of playing him too soon.
"It's a huge blow with the experience that Vaasy possesses and the way he played in England especially with the bat," Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain said. "There is a slight tear in his hamstring. He has recovered from it in the last week or two. He started bowling three days ago and he is bowling very well. It is just that we want to give him the adequate time to recover. We have to properly manage him because there is a lot of cricket ahead of us."
In Vaas's absence, the fast bowling department will be led by a trio of inexperienced seamers: Lasith Malinga, who impressed in England, Dilhara Fernando and Farveez Maharoof. "All three have been bowling well in England," Jayawardene said. "Lasith will head the attack and he is something special. Maharoof and Dilhara haven't been regulars and are coming back to the Test side."
Sri Lanka have also left out Michael Vandort, the left-handed opening batsman, in their squad of twelve for the first Test to allow Sanath Jayasuriya back into the side. Though he is Sri Lanka's oldest player by some margin, Jayasuriya's remarkable form in the one-day series against England last month has left the selectors with no choice but to recall him to the Test side.
"What we felt was that if we are going to play Sanath he has to open the batting. He has been successful in that position. If you have to get the best out of him I think that's the position he should occupy," said Jayawardene. "It is going to be a bit harsh on Michael who's got a hundred and hasn't got a decent run under his belt. It's very unfortunate but I am sure the talent Michael has he will get the opportunity in the future to play for Sri Lanka for a long period of time."
Perhaps the most interesting development is the selectors' decision to relieve Kumar Sangakkara of his wicketkeeping duties; Prasanna Jayawardene will take over the gloves in the meantime to allow Sangakarra to concentrate solely on his batting. "It's a demanding job and [Sangakkara] was finding it a bit difficult because of the amount of matches we are playing," Jayawardene explained.
While Sri Lanka will miss Vaas's control and experience, South Africa are similarly depleted with Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis all missing the first Test. Jayawardene is under no illusions that the visitors will continue to play attacking cricket, despite losing three of their most experienced players.
"They are a team who will never give up. They always come back really hard at you at any given time. We have to win every session to put pressure on them," he said. "The three-day practice game gave us an insight into which of their players are in form. We know exactly what we are up against and we got our own game plan against them."
Meanwhile the stand-in South Africa captain, Ashwell Prince, has hit back at critics who have written his side off - even before the first Test has got underway.
"That is actually not a bad thing. South Africa is a very proud sporting nation. We don't give up so easily," said Prince, who will become the first black South African to lead his country in a Test match on Thursday.
"For someone who dared not dream of playing international cricket as a youngster it's a big honour," he admitted. "When I was growing up I never thought I would play a Test match because apartheid South Africa was banned at that time and there was no first-class cricket in the country.
"I was about 15 when we were admitted back to world cricket in 1991 and I clearly remember South Africa's first match against India in Calcutta. That's when the desire to play cricket grew stronger and I was very determined because there were many obstacles in the way. I had to prove myself to make it big. In the beginning, you never knew whether you were there in the side because of the quota system or you were really good enough to play. But when I grew older and became mature, I realised I did not have to prove anything to anyone."
Prince added that his elevation to captaincy won't affect his role as a batsman. "I still have to go out there and bat and field well," he said. "The only change is the toss, making bowling changes and things like that. We know we are without three of our best players but we have to get on with the game."
Sri Lanka (from)
Upul Tharanga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Kapugedera, Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Malinga Bandara.
South Africa (from)
Boeta Dippenaar, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Ashwell Prince (capt), Abraham de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wk), Nicky Boje, Andrew Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn, Andrew Hall.