Ford, Mathews praise Vaas' efforts
Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford and new captain Angelo Mathews have praised Chaminda Vaas' work with the seam bowlers in the lead-up to the series against Bangladesh, and hoped his long-term involvement would help build a formidable pace battery. Fast bowling has long been Sri Lanka's worst suit in Tests, and they have struggled to find a spearhead since Vaas retired in 2009.
Left-armer Chanaka Welegedara is the closest thing to an attacking lead bowler that Sri Lanka have but, at 31, he has been worryingly susceptible to injury over the past 18 months. In Welegedara's absences, Nuwan Kulasekara, 30, has become part of Sri Lanka's Test plans after spending some time out of the team, and Shaminda Eranga, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep have emerged as younger contenders for regular places in the side.
Vaas' work with the visiting New Zealand side in November had been noted by Sri Lanka's team management, after the New Zealand seamers outstripped the success of Sri Lanka's pace bowlers in their own conditions. Vaas has been a part of the Sri Lanka set-up for three weeks but Ford believes his expertise is already bearing results.
"He's done some fantastically good work, with some of those who are in the squad and some of those who are on the fringes," Ford said. "Sri Lanka Cricket have done a fantastic thing in appointing him. To have his expertise, along with Champaka Ramanayake, in the coaching unit that we have for fast bowling is fantastic."
Sri Lanka have produced several bowlers capable of touching speeds of 145 kph since Vaas, but their lack of control and inability to generate considerable movement has limited their success in Tests. Vaas rarely bowled faster than 130 kph, but was among the most consistent fast bowlers of his time. He developed methods to generate troubling movement even on unresponsive subcontinent surfaces during his career.
"Chaminda's such an experienced cricketer," Ford said. "He's got so much knowledge about fast bowling, swing bowling and seam bowling, and about the conditions - there's just so much for him to pass on. It's really up to the bowlers to absorb all that wonderful information that he has."
Mathews also stressed that Sri Lanka's players had put the contracts dispute behind them and were solely focused on winning the Tests. The captain and 22 other players had been locked out by the board last weekend over a pay dispute, and their involvement in this series was in doubt.
"The past week was not easy because there were some issues, but we have sorted them out. As a team, we are trying to concentrate on cricket now," Mathews said. "We can't be complacent against Bangladesh because they are a talented team and they have done well in the recent past. We've got to play some really good cricket."
Sri Lanka are also set to field an inexperienced team, with the selectors having approached the series as an opportunity to test young talent. Sri Lanka are likely to play four batsmen with less than ten matches' experience in the top seven, including a debutant, while 19-year-old offspinner Tharindu Kaushal is also in the fray for a debut. Mahela Jayawardene misses his first Test in almost 11 years due to injury, while Thilan Samaraweera has retired after the selectors omitted him from the squad.
"Mahela and Thilan are two of our most experienced players, so we will definitely miss them," Mathews said. "Mahela has been an extremely important player for Sri Lanka over the years, but the youngsters we have in the team are also good, and I am confident we can be successful."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here