July 27, 2002

Sri Lanka rest nine players for second Bangladesh Test

Sri Lanka will gamble on a second-string side when they face Bangladesh in the second Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club starting Sunday, resting nine established players and awarding three new caps as the selectors look to the future.

The selectors, keen to avoid player burnout in the coming months, when Sri Lanka will play flat out until the 2003 World Cup, resisted pressure to include star Muttiah Muralitharan, who took ten wickets in the first Test.

Captain Sanath Jayasuriya voiced his unhappiness with the changes, particularly the exclusion of Muralitharan so soon after recovering from his shoulder injury, appealing directly to sports minister Johnston Fernando to intervene.

But Fernando, although publicly supportive of Muralitharan's inclusion, refused to directly interfere with selection, as chairman of selectors Guy de Alwis signaled a willingness to resign over the issue.

The others to sit out include vice-captain Marvan Atapattu, veteran Aravinda de Silva, who scored 206 in the first Test, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Russel Arnold, Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa and Dilhara Fernando.

The changes provide an unprecedented opportunity for Sri Lanka's emerging players - three of whom will be making their debuts, in addition to two players playing only their second games - to stake a claim for a regular place in the national squad.

Jehan Mubarak, a 21-year old left-hander, will win his first cap in the unfamiliar role of opener alongside Michael Vandort, 22, who played his only Test against Bangladesh last year, scoring 36.

Another left-hander - all five of Sri Lanka's top order will be left-handers - Naveed Nawaz, 28, who has played three ODI's, will bat at number three in his first game with the experienced Hashan Tillakaratne and Jayasuriya at four and five.

Spinning all-rounders Upul Chandana, 30, and Thilan Samaraweera, 25, who averages 87.16 after nine Test matches, both come into the team.

The only other change will be the introduction of Chamila Lakshitha, a 22-year-old fast bowler who topped the domestic averages last year claiming 64 wickets at 11.64.

Jayasuriya, keen to focus on the cricket after a week of controversy, said: "The youngsters have been given a tremendous opportunity and they need to capitalise on it. It's a Test match and they will have to put in a lot of hard work."

Coach Dav Whatmore identified the bowling as the department with the most to prove after a wayward display in the first Test match.

"It was evident to all those that watched the first game that area where we can improve our game is in the field, particularly the ability to bowl a disciplined line and length over a sustained period of time, building up pressure on the opposition," he said.

Bangladesh are also set to make changes, the likelihood being that the experienced middle order duo of Akram Khan and Aminul Islam will be axed in favour of younger talent.

"There will be a few changes," announced coach Mohsin Kamal. "Akram and Aminul played in all the side matches and the first Test and, being experienced players, their performances have been disappointing."

Akram, 33, has played in six Tests without passing fifty once, whilst Aminul, 34, has not missed a Test since scoring 145 in Bangladesh's inaugural Test.

Number three Ehasanul Haque and fast bowler Alamgir Kabir are also expected to be left out of the final eleven.

Mohammad Ashraful, 17, the youngest ever Test centurion, returns to the side with leg-spinning all-rounder Alok Kapali, 18, and fast bowler Tapash Baisya, 19, both of whom have just arrived in Sri Lanka, set to make their debuts.

Mohsin played down the absence of Muralitharan: "It doesn't matter whether Murali or the others are playing - our players will be trying to make a mark in the side."

Although Sri Lanka's decision to blood youngsters may provide Bangladesh with their best chance so far in 13 games of winning a Test, Mohsin played down the importance of the result: "Even if we don't win, we are looking forward to playing a good side and performing well over five days."

He's already seen enough talent on his first tour to be optimistic about the future: "Some of the youngsters on this tour have already shown that they have to the ability to play continuously for Bangladesh in the future. But we need more competitive cricket to make sharper minded cricketers - this Test series is an opportunity for that."