Cricket makes poignant return to Matara
Bangladesh's three-day practice match at the Uyanwatte Stadium in Matara has as much poignancy for the locals, as it has importance for the visitors' build-up towards a promising next few weeks.
This will be the first match of a Test-playing team at this ground since the 2004 tsunami that claimed more than a thousand lives and damaged more than 2800 homes in this town. The rebuilding process has been ongoing for the better part of the last decade, so in terms of cricket the revival has taken its first major step.
Before the disaster, Matara used to be a stopover for touring sides of all levels, since 1973 when a Pakistan Under-25 side took on Matara Sports Club. The last team to open the tour here was the West Indians in November 2001
This game has its own importance for Bangladesh. They are about to play their first longer-version match away from home in nearly two years and have been on edge a week before they landed in Sri Lanka because of a spate of injuries. The surprise, however, has been the calmness among the touring party; the quietness coming from a developing winning habit over the past 15 months.
Without Shakib Al Hasan, the team will be slightly weaker, and that was exacerbated by injuries to Naeem Islam, Shahriar Nafees and Enamul Haque. It opened up spots for someone like Mohammad Ashraful, who missed the last Test series against West Indies at home.
He has a slight advantage over his team-mates. Ashraful is the only one in this side to have been in this town before, played at this ground, and stay at the same hotel to boot. During the 2000 Under-19 World Cup, he made an inauspicious four-ball duck against Namibia. A 12-year international career has brought him back to this venue, now with an eye to re-establish a place in the team.
Ashraful sees this as an opportunity to upset the hosts. "I think, for the first time in my career of 13 years, we have a team which could do well in Sri Lanka," he said. "When we used to come here before, all the talk was surrounded on Murali and how we will be able to play him. But this time, our team is confident and more comfortable."
From the individual point of view, the three-dayer has consequence for the young batsmen Anamul Haque, Mominul Haque, Marshall Ayub and Jahurul Islam and the young medium pacer Robiul Islam. Anamul will look to confirm the opening slot with Tamim Iqbal, who is nursing a wrist injury, while Mominul, Marshall and Jahurul are set to battle for one middle-order slot. Rabiul will look to regain his position in the Test side, returning after more than a year.
Bangladesh will try to ensure all their batsmen and bowlers have some match practice ahead of the two Test matches, so the management will ask the home side to let them play 14 players if possible. The only man missing would be Tamim. He handled the spinners in the nets, as part of his recovery from injury and looked to be hitting the ball long but without flourish. He was the only concern during training until Elias Sunny walked away from slip catching practice after being hit on the hand. However, he later bowled in the nets, giving Vibhav Singh, the physio, a breather from more medical duties.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent