By Shehan Daniel reporting from Galle
Amidst an ever-present threat of rain, Sri Lanka and New Zealand open their World Test Championship campaigns at the Galle International Stadium tomorrow, each having their own reasons for optimism for an early series lead.
With the skies oscillating between heavy rain and drizzle the playing surface remained neatly tucked under the covers for almost the entire day today, and if weather forecasts prove to be accurate, could be the reality for much of tomorrow as well.
That Sri Lanka have, for now at least, found a captain who they can build a team around in Dimuth Karunaratne is in itself is a source of optimism, but so was the result and nature of performance in their last Test series – a 2-0 win in South Africa which was Dimuth Karunaratne’s first outing as captain – bringing renewed confidence in the team in the longer format.
Now, with the added context of the Test Championship, Karunaratne hopes his team will remain competitive throughout the series against a tough opponent.
“We have to be competitive in the series. We need to do basics right. The Test Championships is a big thing and we are looking forward to it,” Karunaratne said.
Lasith Embuldeniya, who was injured during the South African series, looks set to return and will partner the more experienced Akila Dananjaya as the front line spinning options, with Dhananjaya de Silva, a likely third spin outlet.
Niroshan Dickwella seems to have won the jostle among the aspirants for the wicket-keeping position – the squad includes four players in this squad who can, and have, donned the gloves recently – which could result in former captain Dinesh Chandimal being overlooked once again.
“Most likely Niroshan Dickwella will play as the wicket-keeper batsman. We have also have Dinesh Chandimal and Kusal Janith Perera so we can make changes if the need arises,” Karunaratne also said.
Despite their formidable record in Galle, Sri Lanka lost their last Test here, against England, and Karunaratne said it was an over-emphasis on attacking the opposition that had left them vulnerable in that defeat.
“We were too attacking perhaps in our last game here. We couldn’t for example stop the flow of runs. Now we have plans to move forward and all the spinners are in good shape. We need to dry up runs and we were perhaps too aggressive with the bat (against England). Adaptability is the key to succeed in Test cricket,” he also said.
New Zealand have yet to win in Galle – they have not been within a sniff of even a draw, suffering uncomfortable defeats in three matches they have played here – but their Captain Kane Williamson believes that his team, buoyed by a run of five consecutive series wins, including a 2-1 series win against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, has the quality to crack the code which none of his predecessors have been able to do.
“There’s lots of experience in the seam bowling department which is a good thing to have, albeit over here though the majority of overs are from the spin bowlers. The guys that are here were part of a fantastic series in the UAE where spin bowling was the dominant art. They are really looking forward to the opportunity in another country where the conditions will be slightly different again. They are still fairly new to the international arena – a lot of those spinners in this format. But at the same time they are quality bowlers and they are looking forward to bowling at a strong side. Hopefully they get a bit of assistance off the surfaces,” Williamson added.
A 2-0 series sweep would also see New Zealand move to the top of the ICC Test Ranking, ahead of India.
Reflecting on what this would mean for New Zealand, Williamson said, “If that happens, that would be great. The thing with rankings is that they fluctuate throughout a season, and are purely a reaction to the cricket that you’re playing. For us, we’re just focused on the cricket because that gives us the best chance of success. We’re looking forward to the challenge here against Sri Lanka, which is changing conditions.”