Spinners' experience advantage for hosts - Dilshan
Sri Lanka's captain Tillakaratne Dilshan believes the experience of his slow bowlers will provide a useful advantage over Australia's rookie spinners in the first Test in Galle, which begins on Wednesday.
The hosts are leaning towards playing only two of the three spinners in their squad, as doubts remain over the allrounder Angelo Mathews' ability to deliver significant spells following his recent knee problem. Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv would appear to be the frontrunners for those two spots over Ajantha Mendis, who has played more ODI cricket than Tests of late.
Herath, who made his Test debut against Australia on this ground in 1999, and Randiv both have vast experience of the Galle pitch and the sea breezes that influence the flight. By contrast, neither Michael Beer nor Nathan Lyon had ever set foot in Sri Lanka before they were picked for this tour.
"Yes definitely [experience is an advantage], our spinners have bowled here in practice games and they've played club cricket here," Dilshan said. "They know how to adjust to this wicket and the wind, I think that is a small advantage.
"[Beer and Lyon] bowled well in the practice game, the left-arm spinner and the offspinner. The thing is, we have to bat really well. In the last [home] series against India we faced Harbhajan [Singh], one of the best spinners in Asia. [So] I think our guys can handle their spinners."
Experience was clearly a priority for Dilshan and the Sri Lanka selectors. They chose to omit the fresher-faced trio of Seekuge Prasanna, Shaminda Eranga and Dhammika Prasad who had featured in the limited-overs squads, even after Prasanna and Eranga had impressed in the one-dayers. The 13 that remain will be trimmed on the morning of the match.
"It's an important match starting tomorrow here and I want to try and play the experienced guys who've been playing well for us the past few months," Dilshan said.
Mathews captained the Sri Lanka Board XI against the Australians in their only warm-up match before the Tests, and though he batted solidly on the final day he did not bowl at all. Dilshan said Mathews would only be capable of ten to 15 overs in an innings, hardly the stuff of a new-ball bowler - a role he would have to fill, if Sri Lanka are to play all three spinners - in any conditions.
"He's fit enough to bowl maybe ten to 15 overs for one innings, not long spells. Three-over spells might be his sort of thing," Dilshan said. "Angelo is a good batsman, he has batted at No. 7 in the last few years. I could manage [juggle] a little bit in the middle, he might be available to bowl tomorrow."
History suggests that Galle is all but guaranteed of producing a result, unless the weather intervenes, and Dilshan said he was confident his batsmen would be able to compile enough runs to put pressure on Australia.
"We have had a very solid [Test] batting line-up in the last three or four years," he said. "From No. 1 to No. 6 we've batted really well. Especially in the last series, we batted well with six batsmen in England. I have confidence in my line-up, with Thilan [Samaraweera] in the middle order and Prasanna Jayawardene."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo