New pitch an unknown quantity
Sri Lanka, perhaps for the first time, will find themselves in alien territory despite the fact that they are the home side when they meet West Indies in the second Test starting at the R Premadasa Stadium on Tuesday.
There's a new laid pitch and construction work going all round the area to get the stadium ready for the 2011 World Cup and playing a Test match amidst such a set up is not the ideal scenario. But the Sri Lankans are keen to test the pitch ahead of their World Cup so there was little choice but to play this Test match here.
"As long as play doesn't get disrupted and the match referees and teams are happy with the situation when we start the game that should be okay," said captain Kumar Sangakkara. "We have to keep our focus mainly on what's happening out there in the middle and the best of what we have here. This venue was picked most probably because it is a World Cup venue to try and see whether the pitches and everything was upto scratch. We'll have to come tomorrow and see how the wicket behaves and then take it from there.
"You've got trust the curator to give us the best wicket possible," he added. "It was a bit damp today and hopefully the sun will dry it out and have it Test match ready by the time play is due to start tomorrow.
"Being in Sri Lanka usually the wickets are nice and dry and they turn. This might be different from that, we don't know yet. The final proof of what the pitch is doing is to actually play on it. It would have been a nice reference to have if a domestic game was played here before the Test. But that's the beauty of playing international cricket. Sometimes you have to take things on the chin and just get on with the job."
Sangakkara felt that where his team fell behind West Indies in the drawn first Test at Galle was their failure to focus on the game plans and executing them. "We expect to play a lot better from ball one of the game, to make sure we are focused on our game plans and executing them," he said. "That's where we fell behind West Indies in the last game. They outplayed us on those little details. Those are the things we have to tighten."
Sri Lanka are likely to go with their usual combination of two seamers and two spinners despite the attack failing to trouble West Indies for a long periods last week. "It is sometimes tempting to go with fast bowlers but we should not get carried away by what we see," said Sangakkara. "We need to plan out a team that can handle situations for all five days and not just one innings but four quality innings of batting and bowling. "Our best combination is two seamers and two spinnners. Angelo Mathews might just be able to bowl a bit more in this Test match. We really need to know what the pitch is like when we leave and if there is rain tonight and how it turns up tomorrow."
West Indies are also planning on using two spinners for this Test and Sangakkara believes it is good for the game that the slow men are having such a key role to play. "It's great, for all the talk of Twenty20, that we are finally seeing a new era for spinners. They are really dominating cricket in every format of the game.
"In the shorter versions they have been more dominating than ever. It's encouraging for sides and for countries where there are youngsters who are good spinners who haven't had much of a go. It's good for Sri Lanka, West Indies and other countries we see some great spinners now playing Test cricket."
West Indies' preparations have been overshadowed by Shane Shillingford, the offspinner, being reported for a suspect bowling action but Sangakkara preferred to focus on the bowler's skills rather than controversy. "He is an interesting bowler the lines he bowls and the little bit of variation that he has in pace. He is a bowler who can probably change direction at the very last minute the way he bowls. We had a good chat about him. We got a few plans in a few different areas to try and defend and then attack him as well."
With left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn expected to return to the team after serving a one-Test suspension, Sangakkara added: "Benn is also quite a good bowler when the conditions suit him. He is coming back after a long break so whatever combination they play it will be a tough challenge. We have also to think about their fast bowlers who bowled exceptionally well and how to combat that. They've got a very good bowling attack and we got stay a step ahead as far as we can."