A trial by spin awaits England and Sri Lanka as the first Test begins in Galle today, but rain could play a part in the first home Test in more than a year.
Sri Lanka’s last home Test was against New Zealand in August 2019, in a two-match series that was evenly shared.
Wet weather has already restricted Sri Lanka’s preparations for today’s Test, and while the forecast suggests dry conditions at the start of play today, there is rain forecast over the course of the match.
"We have had only a day and half of practice. We were not able to practice at all today," Team Manager Ashantha de Mel told the Daily Mirror last evening.
Both teams have talked up the importance of spin bowling in the lead up to the series, and Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne was wary of the options England had in that department, even if it was not the same attack that outdid the hosts in 2018.
“I don't think so (that this English spin bowling attack is less potent). (Jack) Leach is there, and he did a lot of work in the last series. Dom Bess has done well for England, and we don't underestimate their bowlers and we know what they are capable of doing,” Karunaratne
told the media on the eve of the Test.
But he also added that Sri Lanka were prepared for what was ahead.
“We have some plans against them and we just want to play our fearless brand of cricket.”
Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, along with Leach, made up a three-pronged spin bowling attack in their 3-0 series whitewash in 2018 over the hosts.
Sri Lanka are likely to field three spin bowlers, in Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya and leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga, with the only questions being who would bat at number three and who will fill the sole specialist fast-bowler’s spot.
“We have to manage Suranga Lakmal’s workload, because we haven't been able to train properly the last few days. We have trimmed the squad down to 13, but we haven't decided who will fill that fast-bowling spot. We want to play Suranga, but if he isn't fit then we have to choose from Asitha Fernando, Vishwa Fernando or Dushmantha Chameera,” Karunaratne said.
Whoever is selected will be partnered by fast-bowling all-rounder Dasun Shanaka.
“We saw Dasun bowled well in South Africa and he batted well, and since we are going with a spin heavy bowling attack, Dasun gives us the balance and I am confident that Dasun will fill the void (of a second frontline seam bowler)," Karunaratne added.
With Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal returning to the team, Kusal Mendis and Lahiru Thirimanne will vie for the number three slot, though given Mendis’ poor run in South Africa, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he missed out.
England captain Joe Root had indicated that the visiting team had yet to finalize their composition for the first Test due to the threat of rain over the coming days.
“We have to consider conditions again, we’ve had quite a lot of rain over the last 24 hours, so we’ll have another look at the wicket and make sure we’re really clear on the XI we want to go into the game with,” Root told the media.
Root also reiterated that his team needed to be ready for the challenges that came with batting in sub-continental wickets.
“That’s one of the big challenges of coming and playing in Sri Lanka, and in the sub-continent, is that the rhythm of the game is so different to playing in English conditions,” he said.
“There is a lot more spin, a lot more double spin and that’s part and parcel of playing in this part of the world.
“Last time we felt like whoever adapted quickest and grabbed those big moments in the game won. And hopefully we can repeat that this time around.”