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Match Analysis

Kasun Rajitha and Asitha Fernando, Sri Lanka's unlikely new-ball pair, show their mettle

They shared nine wickets to help the visitors bowl Bangladesh out for 365 in the first innings of the Mirpur Test

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Kasun Rajitha rattled the Bangladesh line-up on the first morning of the Mirpur Test  •  AFP/Getty Images

Kasun Rajitha rattled the Bangladesh line-up on the first morning of the Mirpur Test  •  AFP/Getty Images

When they arrived in Bangladesh earlier this month, Kasun Rajitha and Asitha Fernando wouldn't have expected to form a bowling partnership. Vishwa Fernando's concussion in Chattogram, however, brought them together, and the two fast bowlers have delivered impressively for Sri Lanka.
If Ebadot Hossain wasn't run-out to end Bangladesh's innings on the second day of the Mirpur Test, Asitha and Rajitha would have been the first fast bowling pair from Sri Lanka to share all ten wickets in an innings. Rajitha picked up his maiden five-wicket haul and Asitha missed his by one wicket. But the two helped their side bowl Bangladesh out for 365.
They might not have vast experience to draw from but they showed maturity by keeping an upright seam, and bowling tight lines and lengths. While they largely bowled an attacking line around off stump, they didn't hesitate to use bouncers. In fact, they overdid the latter on the second day, but that was probably Sri Lanka sending the home side a message.
Before the Mirpur Test, Rajitha had played exactly ten Tests, ten ODIs and ten T20Is. Asitha had four Tests and four ODIs. The nice symmetry aside, it mainly shows that neither has really nailed a place in the national team in any format. The last ten days, however, might be the corner that Rajitha and Asitha were looking to turn.
When Suranga Lakmal retired from international cricket earlier this year, Sri Lanka didn't really have a real successor. Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa were being groomed to take over the baton but Kumara's career hasn't really kicked on while Chameera is more of a white-ball bowler.
In this phase of uncertainty, these two rookies have put their hands up. After impressing in the first Test, Rajitha as a concussion substitute no less, they exceeded expectations in Mirpur, even stepped in when the Sri Lanka spinners couldn't quite provide breakthroughs.
When Rajitha removed Mosaddek Hossain on the second morning, it was not just his maiden five-for. It was also the first by a Sri Lanka fast bowler since Lakmal took one more than a year ago. At the Shere Bangla National Stadium, it was only the second five-for by a fast bowler in the last eight years.
Asitha has been around since his ODI debut in 2017, but he made his Test debut only last year because when Lakmal was playing, Sri Lanka generally picked out-and-out fast bowlers, like Chameera or Kumara.
Rajitha is slightly more experienced, having started his Test career in 2018 with 11 wickets in two Tests against West Indies. In the seminal South Africa series in 2019, he was Sri Lanka's second-highest wicket-taker behind Vishwa, with nine wickets at 23.22. But in the following South Africa tour last year, Rajitha had bowled only 2.1 overs before a groin injury ruled him out for the rest of the year.
He always had the height and ability to move the ball off the seam, but what stood out in these two Tests is his consistency in bowling probing lengths. Even more impressive was how he was able to extract help from the usually unresponsive Chattogram and Mirpur pitches. These are enough reasons to believe Rajitha has come back from injury as a better bowler.
In the past too, Sri Lanka's fast bowlers, like Chameera, Kumara and Vishwa, have made instant impacts in Test cricket, but following it up has been a major challenge. Specifically, fitness has been a concern. Rajitha too had his share of fitness issues in 2021. So, that's one thing he has to be careful about.
Sri Lanka play most of their Test cricket in conditions that favour spinners. But this series must have given them the confidence to prepare tracks that have something in them for fast bowlers too.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84