Bangladesh confront form, selection calls for landmark Test
March 15-19, 2017
Start time: 10am local (0430GMT)
The bigshots of the Bangladesh Cricket Board are arriving to much fanfare, soaring rhetoric about South Asian "brotherhood" abounds. Mementos are being polished, showmen are practicing their lines for the presentation: the celebrations for Bangladesh's 100th Test are all set to go, but after the politically-minded have lavishly slapped each other on the back, there is some cricket to be played as well.
It is the plight of Mahmudullah that will have most Bangladesh fans aflutter. He has been dropped from the Test squad but will continue to stay in the country. So will he play in the limited-overs series? Has the board overridden a coaching decision? Has a senior batsman been dealt with too harshly here? Whatever unfolds over the next 48 hours, Mahmudullah will not play, which means Bangladesh will make changes to the batting order that misfired in Galle - bringing in Sabbir Rahman or uncapped 21-year-old Mosaddek Hossain. Imrul Kayes is likely to replace Mominul Haque as well.
Bangladesh will need a stronger top order, because they are about to play on perhaps the most reliable result pitch in Test cricket. It has been 11 Tests and almost 14 years since a Test at P Sara Oval was drawn. The seamers generally gain good bounce early in the match, and the spinners run riot late in the game. Generally, there are precious few sessions where batsmen can claim to have had favourable conditions.
If Sri Lanka field the same attack, they may pose varied questions to the opposition. Lakshan Sandakan was wayward, but turned the ball viciously at times, while Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera were agents of guile and control. In Lahiru Kumara, Sri Lanka also have a quick who will relish bowling on a track that has a bit of zip.
Their own top order, however, is not quite as formidable as a flattering Galle surface made it seem. If Bangladesh are to level the series, here is the weakness they must exploit.
Sri Lanka WLLLW (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Having batted largely at no. 4 through the Australia series last year, Kusal Mendis is seemingly back for a long stint at first drop. In Galle he produced an innings that showcased why he is so highly rated by coaches, working his way through tough early spells, before opening his shoulders and setting the match up for Sri Lanka. He did, however, benefit from an early reprieve in that innings, and it is that looseness outside off stump that presently appears to be his greatest obstacle. On a Colombo track expected to be better for seam bowling than the previous pitch had been, Mendis may profit from a more discerning outlook at the start of his innings.
His teammates keep throwing their wickets away, and there have been three last-day collapses in the last four Tests, but consistently providing the innings with a spine this year is Mushfiqur Rahim. So far he has two hundreds and a fifty in six innings in 2017. Among the times he didn't reach a half-century was his defiance of New Zealand on day five in Wellington, where he was battered with bouncers, while he batted with an injured hand. If there is to be more substance from the Bangladesh top order in this Test, they could do worse than follow the example their captain has set.
Herath was tightlipped about Sri Lanka's combination before this match, but there may be little reason to change the winning XI. There is a chance Dimuth Karunaratne's is under pressure from Dhananjaya de Silva. It is also possible Sandakan is left out in favour of an extra batsman.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dimuth Karuanaratne, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Asela Gunaratne, 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 7 Dilruwan Perera, 8 Rangana Herath (capt.), 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Lahiru Kumara, 11 Lakshan Sandakan
Imrul and Sabbir are the likeliest batsmen to enter the XI, but there could also be a bowling change in the offing. Subashis Roy claimed only 1 for 137 in Galle, so it is possible Taijul Islam replaces him. Liton Das has been ruled out after suffering a fractured rib while batting in the nets on the eve of the game. That means Mushfiqur Rahim will take the gloves again.
Bangladesh (possible): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Soumya Sarkar, 3 Imrul Kayes, 4 Mosaddek Hossain, 5 Mushfiqur Rahim (capt & wk), 6 Shakib Al Hasan, 7 Sabbir Rahman, 8 Mehedi Hasan, 9 Taskin Ahmed, 10 Mustafizur Rahman, 11 Kamrul Islam Rabbi/Rubel Hossain
Pitch and conditions
This track may be a little more batting friendly than the usual P Sara surfaces, but expect regular breakthroughs nonetheless. Daily pre-monsoon thunderstorms in Colombo may also make an appearance - evening sessions are particularly vulnerable.
Stats and trivia
- Each of the last 14 Tests in Sri Lanka have yielded a result
- Rangana Herath is three wickets shy of a first-class tally of 1000
- Bangladesh's three previous Tests at this venue have ended in innings defeats - their lowest Test total of 62 coming here in 2007
- Mushfiqur has scored 441 runs at an average of 88.20 in 2017. He needs only 51 further runs to make this his most successful batting year.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando