Sri Lanka have asked for a turning pitch – a proper one this time – and they will go in with three spinners and a lone quick again, but for the hosts to level the series, the batsmen still have to pull their weight.
So said Suranga Lakmal, who has captained three Tests and won all three, thanks largely to his attack. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka’s bowlers have dismissed oppositions for scores such as 93, 73, 123 and 124. One or two batsmen – Dimuth Karunaratne in particular – have scored heavily on one or two of those occasions. But as a group, Sri Lanka’s top order has fallen short of excellence.
“Unfortunately over the recent past we haven’t got what we expected from the batsmen,” Lakmal said. “But we can change that in this match. No one goes to the middle trying to make a low score. I’m trusting that a lot of things will change in this Test.
“What I’d say as a captain or vice-captain is that we need to bat positively. That’s one thing we can do. If you get a good ball, any batsman can get out. Think about that and go to the middle with the intention of scoring runs. Have positive body language. That’s what I expect from our players.”
One batsman who can generally be relied upon for a positive approach, although not always for runs, is Kusal Mendis. While much has been made of Mendis’ poor ODI form over the past few months, his Test output has been modest as well – he has failed to cross fifty in eight innings now. Lakmal hoped Mendis would be among those leading the batting turnaround.
“Any player, bowler or batsman, fails in cricket – in that time it’s the players who are mentally strong who come out of it quickly,” Lakmal said. “In the last match Kusal scored a few runs [19 and 45], and he’s pretty good psychologically. I’m sure he’ll make a difference in this match. He backs his game plan, and I’m trusting that he’ll produce a good innings here.”
On the bowling front there may never have been room in this XI for 21-year-old quick Lahiru Kumara, but that doesn’t mean the curfew-breaking antics that saw him dumped from the squad prior to the series has not caused disappointment within the side. Kumara was among those who bowled well under Lakmal in Barbados, where Sri Lanka’s bowlers helped overturn a 50-run first innings deficit. With any luck, Lakmal said, Kumara will make a comeback, and play a role in such team performances again.