Sri Lanka would eye a recovery after the home series defeat to South Africa © AFP
Sri Lanka suffered a series defeat against the visiting South Africans a week ago. They will be raring to prove that it was just an anomaly while taking on Pakistan for what will be Mahela Jayawardene’s farewell series. Shiamak Unwalla analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the home side.
Sri Lanka have been possibly the most consistent side of 2014. Winning the ICC World T20 2014 was impressive enough; following it up with a series victory in both the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Tests in England was the icing on the cake. But then came a shock to the system. South Africa toured Sri Lanka, and emerged victorious for the first time since 1993. Suddenly, the side that was almost unbeatable at home had lost a series to a side that had failed to conquer them for over two decades.
That being said, it was just a two-match series, and rain played spoilsport in what ought to have been a straightforward Sri Lankan victory in the second Test.The squad that will take on Pakistan is very similar to the one that lost to Sri Lanka, but it is a squad that could still prove extremely difficult to defeat, especially in home conditions.
The Lankan batting is led by the sublime Kumar Sangakkara and the silken Mahela Jayawardene. The two stalwarts will be playing together for the final time in a Test series, and that should motivate both men to put in an extra effort. Angelo Mathews is already looking like someone who will hold the Sri Lankan line-up together in years to come. However, the rest of the batting leaves much to be desired.
Upul Tharanga has promised much over the years, but has failed to live up to his obvious potential. Kaushal Silva has a habit of scoring very attractive 30s and 40s, but finds ways to get himself out without getting a substantial score. Kithuruwan Vithanage is a powerful striker, and makes a good case for himself to be included in the squad; whether he is good enough to be a part of the playing XI for an extended time remains to be seen.
Lahiru Thirimanne is good enough to be compared to no less a batsman than Sangakkara. However, what Sangakkara possesses in spades, Thirimanne seems to lack: the mental toughness to overcome any opposition. Wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella was impressive with the bat in his maiden outing, but was unduly vociferous behind the stumps. He will benefit from being a bit calmer in times to come.
Sri Lanka’s most potent weapon is their spin attack. Rangana Herath might be the best spinner in the world at the moment — possibly rivalled only by Saeed Ajmal. Dilruwan Perera was very impressive in the series against South Africa, although the Pakistani players are likely to play him better than the Proteas did. However, he will provide good support to Herath should Sri Lanka choose to go in with two spinners.
Suranga Lakmal is unavailable for the series after failing to recover from his injury in time, thereby reducing Sri Lanka’s pace battery by one. However, Shaminda Eranga is likely to be fit for the game, which is excellent news for the hosts. Dhammika Prasad showed in England that he possesses the ability to rattle the opposition, and is someone who steams in hard and puts the ball in the right areas.
Chanaka Welegedara last played Test match in 2012, but his left-arm swing bowlinglends a bit of variety to a slightly one-dimensional attack. Nuwan Pradeep is quick, but might be found lacking on a slow pitch.
Overall, this team has enough firepower to overcome the Pakistani challenge, but as usual they depend a little too much on the quartet of Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Mathews and Herath — a quartet which will be playing together for the last time.
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)