Injury-free Prasad eases into SL pace spearhead role
Dhammika Prasad once rode the Sri Lanka fast bowlers' injury carousel. He would come into international contention briefly, play one or two Tests, then disappear into the shadows with another ailment only to be replaced by the next quick who would play for a little while before fading out of view.
Last year Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal were Sri Lanka's best fast bowlers. In 2015, they've each been ruled out through a litany of complaints, or usurped during the months they spent out of the match.
In the meantime, Prasad has found a way to exit the carousel. Following excellent home series against Pakistan and India, he has become the pace attack's new leader. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that he has now played in each of Sri Lanka's last 11 Tests - a sequence that goes back to August last year. Having come through this stretch in one piece, Prasad has set himself new goals.
"My main target used to be to stay fit, but thankfully I don't have problems with that now," Prasad said. "Now I have other targets. At the moment, out of the Sri Lankan quicks, Chaminda Vaas has the highest number of wickets. Behind him are Lasith Malinga and Dilhara Fernando, who have around 100 wickets. I think I should get the chance to go past them and become the second-highest wicket-taker out of the Sri Lankan quicks. That's something I've set for myself."
Prasad is currently at 70 wickets, and though his overall average is 37.51, he has taken is 36 wickets at 26.41 this year. That excellent run, he said, had to do with building rhythm during his long stretch in the Test team, which he thanks the SLC physios and trainers for.
"It came to a point when I had a chat with the team physio and the team trainer and analysed my previous injuries to work out the weaknesses in my body," Prasad said. "We then tailored exercises for me, which I started to use in the gym and training sessions.
"I used to struggle a lot with my hamstring and my back and my side. So when I got a programme that was tailored to me and my body type, that helped a lot. Before I just lifted weights. That's what you think the gym is for. But only when I sat down and talked about this with them that I realised that you need to do specific exercises geared towards cricket and fast bowling. So that's what I am doing."
Working with Champaka Ramanayake, who was reappointed bowling coach following the World Cup, has also helped, Prasad said.
"He's not a new coach to me at all. Even when I was playing Under-19 cricket, Champaka was coaching me. He knows a lot about me, so it was very easy for me to work with him. We had a partnership, and that helps when I'm trying to sharpen my bowling up.
"When I started out, all I was trying to do was bowl fast. With time and experience you work out how to set up a batsman for a dismissal. So those are the things I speak with my coach. He's always reminding me to be consistent with my lines and lengths and keep stacking those dot balls."
Prasad has recently struck up a partnership with Nuwan Pradeep, whose own bowling has been more successful this year. Pradeep has had injury concerns over the past few months, but they have not upset his bowling, Prasad said.
"Nuwan Pradeep has been in very good rhythm recently. When I bowl my over, I really enjoy watching him from the other side of the field. His action and his rhythm is great to look at. I think he'll be able to go far with the way he's bowling."
Prasad and Pradeep are both expected to play in the second Test against West Indies at the P Sara Oval beginning on Thursday.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando