The two-match series in Pallekele will present two uncertain teams a stiff examination of their Test-match mettle Sri Lanka are seventh in the Test rankings, and have not won a match against top-nine opposition since August 2019. Bangladesh are ranked ninth and are coming off a difficult 2-0 Test defeat at home to West Indies. ESPNcricinfo looks at some of the biggest challenges the two teams will attempt to overcome through the course of their two-Test series in Pallekele.
To win in Sri Lanka, spinners generally need to take a lot of wickets. One of Sri Lanka’s problems has been that since the retirement of Rangana Herath, their spin attack has fallen away somewhat. Where their spinners collectively averaged 27.80 at home in Herath’s last three years, they average 32.62 since his exit.
In this series, they will be without Lasith Embuldeniya, their most promising slow-bowling prospect, after he picked up a serious soft-tissue injury in the Caribbean. They are also without Dilruwan Perera, whose effectiveness had dipped substantially (he averages 32.17 at home since Herath’s retirement in November 2018). They’ll likely rely on wristspin via Wanindu Hasaranga or Lakshan Sandakan (or both), with Dhananjaya de Silva’s offspin in support. But neither Hasaranga nor Sandakan have seemed up to leading a Test attack so far, partly because their control has been inconsistent between spells.
Although this series is being played in Pallekele where seamers may play more of a role than they do in Galle, Sri Lanka will likely need big wickets from the spinners too.
Although since December Sri Lanka’s batting has been sporadically impressive, such as in the first innings at Centurion or the second innings at North Sound, these successes have been interspersed with dramatic, harrowing collapses. In their last 12 Test innings, Sri Lanka have failed to make 200 on five occasions. Two of the worst nosedives came in their last series at home, against England, against modest bowling, when they were out for 135 and 126 – innings in which they surrendered the series. If they go into self-destruct mode again, they could cede another match.
Coach Mickey Arthur has been adamant that players raise their standards, and have ruled certain players out of contention purely on fitness grounds. And still, Sri Lanka’s long history with muscle and soft-tissue injuries continues to plague them. In addition to being without Embuldeniya in this series, they are also missing seamer Kasun Rajitha, while rookie batter Pathum Nissanka has been struggling with a niggle as well (but is expected to be fit for the series). There are many theories on why injuries seem to plague Sri Lanka more than most other teams. Some find fault with the conditioning, others point to a lack of recent cricket, or to developmental issues going back to the players’ formative years. Whatever the case, rare is the series from which Sri Lanka emerge with all their key players intact.
Bangladesh’s Test record is such that it is considered inevitable they will not threaten on foreign soil. They have won only one away Test in the last five years, and since that one win, which came in Sri Lanka in 2017, they have lost each of their nine Tests on the road, all by heavy margins.
A big part of their problem is the inability to take 20 wickets abroad – a feat they have only managed five times in their history. Their spinners have been effective on favourable pitches at home, but these have left the fast bowlers with little to do. This lack of bowling at home translates into a lack of rhythm and effectiveness abroad. It has been eight years since a Bangladesh fast bowler won them an overseas Test.
The Shakib-sized hole
What would make it more difficult for Bangladesh in Sri Lanka this time is Shakib Al Hasan’s absence. His stature as a Test allrounder makes him particularly difficult to replace. Mehidy Hasan Miraz performed admirably against West Indies recently but he has a lot to do to earn the allrounder’s tag. This time the selectors have picked the 34-year old Shuvagata Hom as a batting allrounder when five years ago, during his last Test appearance, he was counted as a bowling allrounder. This is the sort of confusion that can arise when Shakib isn’t around; no Shakib is always an advantage to the opposition.
Bangladesh’s catching was one of the most worrying aspects of their disastrous New Zealand tour last month. They dropped ten catches in the ODIs and T20Is, which cost them results and momentum, and netted a bit of embarrassment as well. When the team returned from the tour, newcomer Nasum Ahmedoffered an explanation for the dropped catches that was the stuff of internet memes: “Their sky is very clear and their weather is nothing like ours.”
The real story, however, was different. The 2-0 home defeat to West Indies in February shook the team, leading to a team-wide lack of confidence. As is often the case in cricket, this lack of confidence made for a poor fielding side.
Under 19 Division III cricket tournament to be concluded after schools reopen
The knockout stage matches of the Under-19 Division III cricket tournament will be played only after the schools reopen, the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) said.
The SLSCA managed to conclude the Under-19 Division I and II tournaments before the third wave of the Covid 19 pandemic forced cancellation of all public events. But the Division III tournament largely consisting of outstation and up and coming schools was stranded at the quarter-final stage as the schools were closed due to the third wave of Covid 19.
The Sri Lanka Cricket conducted Under-19 Inter Provincial Tournament too was postponed due to the third wave of the pandemic.
Nishantha Kumara, the Under-19 tournament secretary of the SLSCA said that the Division III Level one and two tournaments will be concluded after schools reopen.
He said that there were no health issues emanating from the concluded phase of the tournament as the matches were conducted according to guidelines stipulated by health authorities.
“We were able to conclude the Division I and II tournaments successfully as all schools, players and parents of players and match officials cooperated well to conduct the tournament according to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education,” said Nishantha.
“We will try our best to conclude the Division III tournament in a similar manner after normalcy returns,” said Nishantha.
Meanwhile player registrations for the Under-15 and 17 tournaments is now on. The SLSCA has introduced an online registration method for the schools to register their players for various age category tournaments.
“We invited officials from schools to introduce the system before hand and now those officials nominated by the respective schools are conducting the registrations online successfully. We are requesting all schools to conclude the registration process. So that we can commence tournaments when the authorities grant permission,” an official of the SLSCA said.
The SLSCA conducted the Under-19 tournament as a curtailed limited overs tournament after the Ministry of Education granted permission to hold events within a short period of time from March to April. Generally the Under-19 tournament commences in September and concludes in April with matches of two innings format (of two-days of duration) being played in a league tournament.
Schools cricket tournaments remained suspended for a year from March 2020 due to the pandemic. (RF)
Karunaratne closes in on top 10 of ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings
Dimuth Karunaratne has closed in on a top-10 spot in the ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings after a successful second Test against Bangladesh in Kandy which Sri Lanka won by 209 runs to clinch the two-match series 1-0.
The opening batsman struck 118 and 66, moving up four slots to 11th position in the list led by New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. Karunaratne’s career-best ranking is sixth, attained in August 2019. He is the top-ranked Test batsman from Sri Lanka with Angelo Mathews next in the list in 24th position.
Niroshan Dickwella (up four places to 31st), Oshada Fernando (up 10 places to 58th) and Lahiru Thirimanne (up 13 places to 60th) are the other Sri Lanka batsmen to advance while left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama’s player of the match haul of 11 for 178, the best figures by a Sri Lankan on Test debut, sees him enter the rankings in 48th position.
Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal’s knocks of 92 and 24 have helped him gain three places to reach 27th position while Mushfiqur Rahim and captain Mominul Haque have inched up a slot each to reach 21st and 30th positions, respectively, in the latest men’s weekly update that includes the first Test between Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
Pakistan fast bowler Hasan Ali’s haul of nine for 89 in the first Test against Zimbabwe in Harare not only won him the player of the match award for starring in the innings victory but also enabled him to gain 15 slots and reach a career-best 20th position among bowlers.
Left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Afridi (up two places to 31st) and left-arm spinner Nauman Ali (up 12 places to 54th) have also advanced in the list for bowlers while left-handed batsman Fawad Alam continues his fine run, moving up 31 places to a career-best 47th position after scoring 140, his fourth century in 10 Test matches. Abid Ali is up six places to 78th position.
For Zimbabwe, Regis Chakabva has gained two slots to reach 97th position while fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani has progressed 26 slots to reach 55th position with figures of four for 73.
The story of Devapathiraja’s rise to glory
by Reemus Fernando
When the Devapathiraja team visited Colombo for the knockout stage matches of the just concluded Under-19 Division I tournament Lumbini and Wesley generously provided free lodgings for the team. When they host teams, Richmond come to their rescue providing accommodation for the visiting teams. Foundation of Goodness has been providing them team kits. Except the umpire fees, all their other expenses on cricket are met by the cricketers’ not so well to do parents. Their coach had done a voluntary job for a better part of the last two decades. In return, Devapathiraja College, Ratgama boxing their way up in the country’s schools cricket rankings have not disappointed.
When schools with over 100 years of rich cricket history and substantial funds to nurture the sport struggle in lower divisions in the premier Under-19 cricket tournament, Devapathiraja, a little known entity at the start of the millennium, have improved by leaps and bounds during the last two decades. Their latest achievement was reaching the final of the just concluded Under-19 Division I Tier ‘B’ cricket tournament.
Devapathiraja were the babies of the Tier ‘B’ of the Division I tournament inclusive of power houses of cricket namely Ananda College, Thurstan College and St. Peter’s College from Colombo and strongholds of Southern Province, Mahinda, St. Servatius’, St. Aloysius’ and Dharmasoka. Against many odds Devapathiraja reached the final. After being bowled out for a low score they made Mahinda College, Galle toil hard for victory.
Devapathiraja started playing cricket when their current coach Ranjan Lasantha de Silva was a student at the school. Many schools started playing hard ball cricket following the 1996 World Cup win. Ranjan, like the rest of the youth of his era was craving to play cricket. Unfortunately there was no cricket team or facilities for the sport at the school. He requested in writing that cricket be started at his school. Fortunately the principal, late T.A.C.N. Gunasekara had come from a cricket playing school (Revata College) and facilitated the start. Like the majority of schools which started playing cricket after 1996, the sport started with a Big Match against Sri Sumangala College, Hikkaduwa in 1997. But the sport did not really kick off until the correct combination of coach, Master in Charge and the sports loving youth got together a couple of years later.
With no previous coaching experience Ranjan after leaving school started training the school’s teams. By 1999 the school had started training all four age groups.
“I was influenced and helped by the likes of Tedlal Silva and Viraj Chaminda to pursue qualifications in coaching. So I did the Level I coaching course conducted by Sri Lanka Cricket. Also followed whatever other courses available to be qualified for the job. I must also thank former District Coach Lasith Chaminda and officials like, Jayananda Warnaweera for their support,” said Ranjan in an interview with The Island.
When cricket Devapathiraja commenced playing cricket they did not have a proper ground and the teams took refuge at the Ratgama Public ground. The school received a boost when Nishantha Kumara, who had the experience in running cricket at Neluwa National School received a transfer to Devapathiraja in 2000. He did all the necessary correspondence for all age group teams to play in Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association conducted tournaments and worked hand in hand with Ranjan until they were promoted to Division I.
Devapathiraja achieved their first breakthrough when they reached the final of the Under 19 Division III tournament in the 2013/14 season. They were the runners up to Debarawewa National School that season and earned the all important promotion to Division II the following year. It did not take too long for them to graduate from Division II to Division I.
“You have to play in the Division I category for your players to get recognition. Players in the lower divisions too are called for selection trials but it is highly unlikely for them to get the selectors’ nod. That realization compelled us to strive for Division I qualification,” said Ranjan.
However by the time they had reached the top Division they had already produced several cricketers to club level and one of their products, Tharindu Kaushal had played several Tests for Sri Lanka.
They were the Division II champions in the 2017/2018 season and commenced their Division I campaign in the 2018/19 season where they struggled but managed to avoid relegation.
Devapathiraja have done well in the lower age category tournaments as well and has produced players who have represented the Sri Lanka Schools Under-15 teams and National Youth Teams. Dilshan Kanchana, Umesh Mayurakantha, Pathum Madusanka, Raveen Yasas and Thikshila de Silva are among them.
According to Ranjan, cricket at Devapathiraja survives thanks to the contributions made by the cricketers’ parents who are not from well to do families. “The Schools Development Society provides umpire fees. But all other expenses are taken care of by cricketers’ parents. But there are others who help like the Foundation of Goodness which provides several scholarships for students and playing kits. Principal of Richmond College and the Masters in Charge of Cricket of both Mahinda and Richmond support us when we host teams. When we went to Colombo for the knockout stage matches Wesley College and Lumbini College provided lodging” said Ranjan.
Ranjan also appreciated the support given by the school’s Principal Sam Silva and current Master In Charge of Cricket Ranjith Kumbalathara.
Ranjan said that cricket at Devapathiraja has not only helped the national team find raw material but has also helped youth of the area to engage in sports in a meaningful way.
Sudeera Weeraratne (Captain), Irushka Thimira, Dinitha Prabanka, Pawan Sandesh, Jeewaka Shasheen, Sasanka Nirmal, Tharindu Rukshan, Matheesha Saranga, Darshaka Sandeepa, Sandaru Theekshana, Chaminda Sandaruwan, Pathum Shaminda, Pradeep Rangana, Hiran Chamikara, Chanuka Sulakshana, Simash Dilunja.
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