Battle-hardened Bangladesh threaten Sri Lanka's home run
March 7-11, 2017
Start time: 10am local (0430GMT)
The last time Bangladesh came to Galle, they played on perhaps the flattest pitch seen in Sri Lanka this decade - one which saw the visitors amass 638, while Mushfiqur Rahim hit his nation's first ever international double-hundred.
Four years later, things have changed. Bangladesh no longer need a placid surface to prosper. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, has consistently thrown up the most difficult batting conditions in the world. Despite frequent rains, and relatively early sunsets, each of the last 13 Tests in the country have yielded results, and only once since 2013 in that period has 500 been breached by any team.
Following Sri Lanka's awful run in the South Africa Tests, it is perhaps tempting for Bangladesh to see the hosts as particularly vulnerable, but maybe this is overstating it. Sri Lanka have, after all, won each of their last five home Tests, whitewashing Australia and West Indies. In those matches, they also have settled on something of a home formula: bat first, score quickly before the pitch turns, set Rangana Herath and the spinners loose, and watch them gobble the opposition up.
But where Bangladesh may stick it to Sri Lanka, is with their attack. Australia and West Indies had quicks, but neither had bowlers as skilled at wreaking havoc on dusty tracks as Mustafizur Rahman, Shakib Al Hasan or Mehedi Hasan. Their batsmen are more accustomed to Asian tracks as well, and envenoming the visitors in their back room is a man with intimate knowledge of Sri Lankan conditions, and the Sri Lankan system.
Sri Lanka LLLWW (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Some say he is Sri Lanka's most frustrating player. Others will claim he has been treated terribly by the selectors. Whatever the case, Upul Tharanga is set to come home to the opening position, this time, you hope, with a little more conviction than he has sometimes brought to the top order. Sri Lanka has been one of the toughest places in the world for an opening batsman, in recent years, so it won't be a party exactly. But 32 years old now, and with a very good ODI hundred in his recent history, Tharanga will hope he can bed down in this position until the end of his career.
A double-ton in his last match at this venue, outstanding hundreds in each of his 2017 Tests, Mushfiqur Rahim should be approaching this game on a soaring cloud of confidence, only he has also just had the wicketkeeping gloves taken off his hands. The reasoning behind that decision is sound. Mushfiqur is perhaps capable of raising that batting average to well over 40, if he only has one discipline to focus on in the longest format. A reduced workload may also prove beneficial to his leadership. How Mushfiqur responds to a forced modification of his role may make for intriguing viewing.
There is some talk in the Sri Lanka camp of playing only six batsmen for the first time in what feels like centuries. However, with Asela Gunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva both capable of contributing with the ball, Sri Lanka may just stick with tradition and go with the 7-4 split. Dilruwan Perera is the incumbent second spinner, and is unlikely to be displaced. Lahiru Kumara may partner Suranga Lakmal on the pace front.
Captain Herath also confirmed Niroshan Dickwella will take the gloves in this match, meaning Dinesh Chandimal is likely to bat at No. 4.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Dimuth Karuanaratne, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Asela Gunaratne, 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 7 Dhananjaya de Silva, 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Rangana Herath (capt.), 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lahiru Kumara
Mushfiqur said at the pre-match press conference that Bangladesh will wait till the last minute on the exact number of fast bowlers. Surprisingly, it is Subashis Roy who is being considered as the third seamer ahead of Kamrul Islam Rabbi. If they go for three specialist spinners in the XI, Taijul Islam is the obvious choice.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Soumya Sarkar, 3 Mominul Haque, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (capt), 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Mahmudullah, 7 Liton Das (wk), 8 Mehedi Hasan, 9 Taijul Islam/Subashis Roy, 10 Mustafizur Rahman, 11 Taskin Ahmed
Pitch and conditions
This is a slightly unusual Galle surface, in that there was live grass on it two days before the match. As such, it may hold together for longer than the most recent Galle surfaces, but with sea breeze blowing in, and the intensity of the March sunshine that is forecast to fall upon the venue, expect it to be a dustbowl by the end of day four.
Stats and trivia
- In 16 Tests between these teams, Bangladesh have lost 14 games. However both draws have come in the last four years.
- Herath has 357 Test wickets - five short of the tally of Daniel Vettori, who is presently the most successful left-arm spinner in history.
- This is the first time Mustafizur and Mehedi are available to play in the same Test
- Chandimal averages 128.33 against Bangladesh, with three centuries in five innings.
"Shakib and Mehedi have done well recently, and I'm sure they will be up for the challenge here as well. I see a lot of improvement in their team. Chandika Hathurusingha has done well for them. I am glad that he has helped them improve as he is one of our former players."
Sri Lanka captain Rangana Herath is not taking Bangladesh lightly
"It is probably a bit different than the 2013 Test. It is still a nice wicket to bat on, although I think there will be something for the quicks in the first two days. The wind might also help them with movement. As the days progress, spin will also come into play."
Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim on the Galle pitch
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando