On the eve of a series which Angelo Mathews embarks upon without his two best seam bowlers of the past 18 months, Sri Lanka's captain has called on the coaching system to raise its game.
Sri Lanka's quicks have been among the most injury-prone in the world over the past few years, with several spending up to 12 months in triage, and others regularly missing entire series with recurrent complaints. While many of these injuries have been difficult to avoid thanks to a busy schedule, Mathews said, there remained room for improvement in player production.
In addition to the absence of Dhammika Prasad and Dushmantha Chameera, Sri Lanka are also without Shaminda Eranga, who was recently suspended for an illegal action. The selectors have had no choice but to pull two seam bowlers out of the ongoing A team tour of England, to replace the absent frontliners in the national squad. With Suranga Lakmal also in doubt for the first Test due to a hamstring complaint, either Asitha Fernando or Vishwa Fernando may make their Test debut.
"The coaches in the back end have to do a lot of work to produce players, and also try to get them fit," Mathews said. "We need more players coming through the ranks, so the coaches have a bigger job to play for the next one-and-a-half years. If the fast bowlers are injured, we need fast bowlers. At the international level, I can't go as a captain and say we don't have bowlers. If we don't have them, we need to know how to produce them."
Prasad will now miss his third full Test series in a row, after having also withdrawn from the New Zealand and England tours before the first Test. Chameera left the England tour after the first Test, and legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay, who was being prepared for Test entry in this series, has also now been ruled out thanks to a finger injury.
"It has been a very frustrating few months," Mathews said. "Not only one bowler, we've lost so many. Vandersay is one of our key bowlers in the spin department. It's very frustrating to see them going down. The workload has been very high when they play all three formats. When they play continuously, the body eventually gets tired. It's very hard to divide those players when it comes to Tests, one-dayers and Twenty20s. We haven't got a wide range of choices to make and pick from. The bowlers who are fit - they've got no choice but to play all three formats.
"Actually, as back-up staff, we need to try and look for more new players and get them ready and fit. We can't always keep saying, 'the bowlers are injured, we haven't got that many bowlers'. We need to try and find them if we don't have them."
Of the bowlers that do remain however, spinners Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera are expected to feature through the series. Herath recently surpassed 300 Test scalps, and Perera has largely proved himself an able second spinner in Asian conditions.
"I think the spinners will have a lot of workload on this pitch," Mathews said. "If it's spinning or seaming, we've got a couple of key bowlers in Rangana Herath or Dilruwan if it spins. They've got enough experience. We have set up a few plans and hopefully we can execute them."
Sri Lanka's batting appears more settled than the attack, with Mathews confirming that Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal will bat at nos. 3 and 4, as they had through much of the tour of England. Openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva have also now played more than 25 Tests each, and are currently unchallenged at the top of the order.
"I'm actually happy with the current opening pair," he said. "Especially in England - in tough conditions - I thought they put up some good efforts. All the batsmen lacked getting those big hundreds. If we can be more consistent and convert those 30s, 40s and 50s into 100s and 150s, that would be ideal. Our opening combination is going to be the key part in our batting unit. If they can get the shine off the ball and try and send the bowlers into their second and third spells, that would be ideal."