Want to give Kusal Mendis every opportunity - Samaraweera

Sri Lanka's batting coach said the 23-year-old's ability was the reason he was pushed up to open the batting

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva run between the wickets, Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Chittagong, 2nd day, February 1, 2018

Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva run between the wickets  •  Associated Press

Sri Lanka's new coaching set-up believed that Kusal Mendis would benefit from opening the batting in Tests. He has responded by scoring 196 on return and Thilan Samaraweera, the batting coach, said that although he would be disappointed at missing out on a double-century for the second time in his career, the change in batting position would benefit him in the long-term.
Mendis' career-best score, however, made him the second Sri Lankan after Kumar Sangakkara to get out in the 190s at least twice. He has done it in the space of 11 months too, but what is most encouraging is his proclivity towards making big hundreds - three of his four centuries are over 175 runs. Samaraweera said that Mendis' ability against spin gives him the added advantage.
"I think full credit goes to Dhananjaya [de Silva] and Kusal Mendis after we lost an early wicket," Samaraweera said. "They put on a 300-run partnership. After Bangladesh made 513 runs, we told the team that we should keep batting. Those two players set the tone, especially after losing the in-form man from last year.
"I think he is disappointed. The bigger picture is that if he had scored those two double-hundreds, it would have been very special for a 23-year-old. We want to give him every opportunity. We believe he has a lot of ability, which is why we put him in the opening position."
Samaraweera said that Sri Lanka don't have a set target but would be taking a call on that if they can bat comfortably till the lunch session on the fourth day. "The first two hours are important tomorrow," he said. "We have to keep building partnerships. We have to bat normally because 180 is a lot of overs. We have three quality spinners."
But the Bangladesh camp wasn't planning in the same way. Given that they have only picked up three wickets, the home side are already looking ahead to their second innings which they expect to start at some point on the fourth day. Khaled Mahmud, the technical director, said that they are hoping the pitch plays similarly over the last two days, which may make it easier for their batsmen to take them to safety.
"Sri Lanka are in a better position given how the game has panned out. Tomorrow is very important for us to see how quickly we can bowl them out and then bat well in the second innings. I think a lot will depend on how the wicket plays on the fourth day. I believe that it still hasn't deteriorated that much at this stage.
"I don't want to give excuses and complain about the wicket. It is a batting-friendly wicket. I think we wanted a slow wicket with a bit of turn which would have helped us. Nevertheless we batted well on this wicket. We have to play good cricket in the last two days."
One of the major problems for Bangladesh was the one-dimensional shape of their attack. Offspinner Mehidy Hasan has bowled only 19 overs so far, while the two left-arm spinners Sunzamul Islam and Taijul Islam have bowled 88 overs combined.
Mahmud said that it was captain Mahmudullah's decision to bring Mehidy in as late as the last 15 minutes in the first session, perhaps because there were two right-handers at the crease.
"It was nothing to do with strategy. The captain took the decision. Maybe because there were two right-handers at the crease. But I always say that's not the main thing. Miraz [Mehidy] is a fine Test bowler. I think the thinking was to bring him in later."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84