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Sri Lanka's chances in the upcoming England Test series

Sri Lankan players celebrate after their win against England at Leeds, 2014
Manoj Ravi
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 11 May 2016
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The international cricket season is set to resume in little over a week's time with England squaring off against Sri Lanka in a three test match duel. In what seems to be a mismatch to the eyes of many, Angelo Mathews has taken the opportunity to send a gentle reminder about the 2014 series result.

England with James Anderson and Stuart Broad in their ranks, are a formidable side whenever the ball swings or seams. England humbled South Africa in their most recent test assignment and have sweet memories of their victorious Ashes campaign last summer.

That said, the last time England lost a test series in conditions favourable to the faster bowlers was against Sri Lanka in 2014.

A dramatic victory at Leeds, which also happens to be the venue for the opening test fixture this summer, saw Sri Lanka take the 2 test series 1-0, two summers ago. Dramatic not merely for the fashion in which the game closed out which most people tend to remember, but also for the fact that Sri Lanka won after being more than 100 runs behind on the first innings.

Also Read: Angelo Mathews against using points system for Sri Lanka’s tour of England

Team composition

Sri Lanka's 17 man squad features 11 players from the successful 2014 tour. They are led by a resolute Mathews who scored a magnificent 160 in the second innings at Leeds. They still have Dhammika Prasad and Shaminda Eranga in their squad who took 6 and 5 wickets respectively in that Leeds test match.

The focus, though, has been on what Sri Lanka don't have. In the context of the same test match, one man who aggregated 134 runs in the game will be with Surrey while another who collected 101 runs in total will be a story teller and not a story maker, as Harsha Bhogle would say.

It's probably an easier thing to look at what you don't have rather than what you do but it makes a lot of sense when the absentees are Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

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For some, the real challenge for English batsmen starts only when Pakistan are in town later this summer. However, Sri Lanka's bowling might well turn out to be a huge surprise for people who haven't been following their evolution closely.

Sri Lanka's pace battery has all the 4 quicks from the successful 2014 tour and is further boosted by the presence of an ever impressing Dushmantha Chameera. Three Sri Lanka seamers combined for figures of 8/59 on a green top in a T20 against India recently.

Positives from Sri Lanka’s tour of New Zealand

nuwan pradeep
Nuwan Pradeep’s performance in New Zealand was impressive

One could argue claiming that as a one-off performance, in a different format, against a line-up which had just come back after 3 weeks of batting on pitches where the ball came gun barrel straight. Some numbers from Sri Lanka's test tour of New Zealand in December last year could help put that argument to rest.

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In the first innings of the first test at Dunedin, the Boult-Southee pair had figures of 5/123. Sri Lanka had a proportionate reply with Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal combining for returns of 6/181.

Forward to the next test in Hamilton, where Sri Lanka's quicks actually outperformed their Kiwi counterparts. Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera recorded figures of 7/86 in between them in the first innings while Trent Boult and Tim Southee had 5/114 combined in their first innings.

Also Read: Graham Ford says Sri Lanka will face a huge challenge in England

When Sri Lanka played New Zealand at Wellington in January 2015, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep picked 7 wickets as a pair to dismiss New Zealand in under 56 overs on the first day.

Lanka's seamers have been consistently good as evident from those numbers but the batting aspect is their biggest headache. Once again, the New Zealand tests serve as examples.

In the Dunedin test, Martin Guptill and Tom Latham scored centuries. For Sri Lanka, none could. At Hamilton, Kane Williamson took New Zealand home with a classy unbeaten century in the second innings. On the contrary, only one Sri Lankan batsman went past 30 in the second innings.

The batting order

Angelo Mathews appears to be easily their most reliable batsman but the difference in quality between the best and second-best batsman seems to be alarmingly large. However, this tour might just be the breakthrough series for someone like Dinesh Chandimal.

Not long ago, Chandimal did script that counterattacking second innings hundred against India at Galle. His numbers from the New Zealand series make for good reading too: 83,58,47,4. Runs against Anderson and company will do a world of good to his confidence.

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Of Sri Lanka's batting stocks, Chandimal is one of the more lucrative ones. At 26 years of age, it's about time he realises the need for him to step up and become Sri Lanka's batting bank.

Dinesh Chandimal celebrates his century against India at Galle, 2015

I would like to see Chandimal, Mathews and Siriwardana bat at 4,5 and 6. Apart from being a spin option, Siriwardana at 6 makes Sri Lanka look a lot more attacking with the bat. England have Ben Stokes at 6. Not to suggest that Siriwardana is in the Stokes league, at least not yet.

Free-scoring batsmen at 6 or 7 have been instrumental to a team's success in tests in England recently. Stokes has done it a number of times in the last couple of seasons, Ravindra Jadeja did it for India at Lord's in 2014 and BJ Watling did it for New Zealand last year at Leeds.

The case for Siriwardana grows stronger given his last 6 test batting performances: 68,42,35,29,62 and 26.

Sri Lanka seem to be entrusting Kusal Mendis or Niroshan Dickwella with the number 3 responsibility. Mendis had a decent tour of New Zealand with scores of 46,31,46 and 8. Mathews has further said that a fit Lahiru Thirimanne will play as he lends much-needed experience to the batting order.

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In which case, batting him at 7 might be in Sri Lanka's best interests. Having opened in the past, he should be equipped to handle the second new ball which he can expect batting at that position.

Sri Lanka's openers - Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva will do well to replicate what they did two summers ago. Much of England's success has been built on wickets with the new ball. Back in 2014, only once was their opening partnership broken in under 12 overs.

Karunaratne's best on that tour was 45, Silva's was 63 - numbers not indicative of how effective they were in blunting the new ball, something Sunil Gavaskar has high regard for.

Sri Lanka's batting fragility is an issue but the good thing for the tourists is that England have similar issues with their batting too. Only two of their top five seem to be assured of their places in the eleven but England's lower order in Stokes, Bairstow and Ali disguise England's top order problems - a luxury Sri Lanka do not have.

Sri Lanka are playing an extra test this year as opposed to the two tests in 2014. Arguably, a two-test series can be misleading. Had India's test assignment in England in 2014 been a two-test series, India would have won it 1-0 too. After 5 tests though, there were no doubts as to which was the better team.

An escape from jail and one solid performance saw Sri Lanka cruise to a test series victory in 2014. Can Sri Lanka stitch together three solid performances this time? Improbable but not impossible.

Published 10 May 2016, 21:12 IST
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