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Three questions for Sri Lanka, three questions for Bangladesh

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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.

Sri Lanka
Spin bowling

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.

Batting collapses

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.

Fitness

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
Overseas troubles

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.

Catching

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.

 

(ESPN Cricinfo)



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Kamindu Mendis needs to be persevered with

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Kamindu Mendis playing his first T-20 International in three years almost put Sri Lanka over the line on Wednesday at Dambulla

by Rex Clementine

A decade or so ago, Richmond College, Galle was winning all the silverware in school cricket. They played by a different set of rules. Often scoring 1000 runs and taking 100 wickets in the season had been seen as hallmark of a good player. But Richmond didn’t care for the personal milestones. They played to win. There were bold declarations, attacking field settings, free scoring batsmen and ambidextrous bowlers. Richmond thought out of the box.

Many of their players graduated to the Sri Lankan side after school cricket. Some of them have gone onto become household names of the game. Kamindu Mendis could go onto become the next big name in cricket from Richmond.

With Sri Lanka having taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three match T-20 series against Afghanistan at Dambulla, Kamindu Mendis was given a break in the dead rubber. He proved his mettle with an unbeaten 65 off 39 balls and nearly pulled off a win. It was his first game for Sri Lanka in three years.

For a 25-year-old on a comeback trial, the pressure didn’t take to Kamindu. He rotated the strike well and waited for the loose balls. His judgements were pretty good something that you can not tell about many young players these days.

One problem facing Sri Lankan cricket is that in white ball cricket among the top seven players there are not many bowling options. If you take successful Sri Lankan teams, among the top seven there were at least three bowling options. These were genuine batsmen who could bowl and that helped the selectors to balance the side.

Kamindu Mendis solves this problem for the current side. He is ambidextrous and can bowl finger spin from both hands and the left-arm spin is quite impressive. It’s a pity that he doesn’t bowl much these days in domestic cricket.

We all marvel that Sanath Jayasuriya took more ODI wickets than Shane Warne. Sanath’s bowling was largely neglected too until a certain Duleep Mendis called him to a side and told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to work on his bowling. Gradually Sanath improved his bowling. Maybe it’s time for Sanath to borrow a leaf out of Duleep’s book and give Kamindu a piece of his mind.

More than skill what impresses you about Kamindu is his temperament. He seem to have got a good head above his shoulders and these kind of players are rare these days in our backyard. Kamindu is a former Sri Lanka under-19 captain and authorities should start grooming him for bigger things.

Kamindu did get a chance in the Test side when the Aussies were in town in 2022. He made a polished 61 in the only innings Sri Lanka batted and never got to play Test cricket again. Let’s hope he doesn’t suffer the same fate in white ball cricket.

A solid batsman, someone who gives you plenty of bowling options and a secure fielder, you can not ask for more than that in white ball cricket. Kamindu has covers all the bases and needs to become a permanent fixture in the T-20 format. With Sri Lanka’s openers in ODI and T-20 cricket being right-handed, a left-handed option at number three isn’t a bad idea.

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Dialog powers historic Royal – Thomian for 19th time

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Lasantha Thevarapperuma – Group Chief Marketing Officer, Dialog Axiata PLC handing over the sponsorship to Rev. Marc Billimoria – Warden, S. Thomas’ College and Thilak Waththuhewa - Principal, Royal College. Also pictured (L) Rehan Gunasekera – CoChairman, Royal Thomian Match Organizing Committee From RC, Arjuna Waidyasekera – Co-Chairman, Royal Thomian Match Organizing Committee from STC

Dialog Axiata PLC, Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, has extended corporate backing for the 19th year as official sponsor of the country’s blue ribbon cricket encounter, the 2024 ‘Battle of the Blues’ between Royal College, Colombo, and S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia—played for the prestigious Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake Memorial Shield on March 7, 8 and 9 at the SSC Grounds, Colombo. The limited-over ‘Mustang’s Trophy’ match will be on March 16, also at the same venue.

The 145th cricket encounter will be aired LIVE on Dialog Television – ThePapare TV HD (Channel Number 126), live-streamed on ThePapare.com and the Dialog ViU App.

Further, Dialog initiated the ‘Play for a Cause’ charity initiative with a mission to uplift school cricket across Sri Lanka. Through a generous pledge of Rs. 1,000 for every run scored and Rs. 10,000 for every wicket taken, last year’s encounter raised a substantial donation of Rs. 1,128,000. The proceedings were distributed in consultation with the Principal of Royal College and the Warden of S. Thomas’ College. This commendable effort helped support and empower four deserving schools in the country.

In this year’s encounter, the boys from Mt. Lavinia will be led by Mahith Perera, while the lads from Reid Avenue will play under the captaincy of Sineth Jayawardena, the U-19 Sri Lanka skipper.

The ‘Royal-Thomian’ series spans an impressive 144 years, making it the second longest uninterrupted cricket series in the world, behind the annual encounter between St. Peters College, Adelaide, and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, Australia, which began just a year earlier. This esteemed tradition kicked off in 1880 with a match at Galle Face, where the Taj Samudra Hotel is presently located. Both teams are said to have rowed boats over the Beira Lake to compete in the match. This storied rivalry predates even the renowned Ashes Series between Australia and England, underscoring its significance in the world of cricket.

The historic rivalry has been a testament to the enduring spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie. The annual cricket match has been a symbol of excellence and mutual respect between the two institutions for over a century. The playing fields of the ‘Roy-Tho’ have the distinction of birthing cricketers who later became eminent heads of state, with S. Thomas’ producing the father of the nation, the late Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake MP whom the Shield is named after—and his son, the late Hon. Dudley Senanayake MP). Both were Prime Ministers of post-independent Ceylon. Meanwhile, Royal College produced the late Rt. Hon. (General) Sir John Kotelawala MP, also Prime Minister, and Sri Lanka’s first Executive President, the late J. R. Jayewardene.

The current tally between the two schools has Royal leading with 36 wins to S. Thomas’ 35, with the highly-debated match in 1885— where Royal College was all out for nine runs and refused to play on the second day—considered a win by S. Thomas’ and a draw by Royal (as described in the respective souvenir books of the two schools). In the 144th Battle of the Blues, under Dasis Manchanayake, Royal recorded a comprehensive 181-run win to register their first victory since 2016. The shield is presently displayed like a crown jewel amidst the silverware in the Royal College trophy cabinet.

Played in the highest tradition of excellence, the two schools have formed a bond of mutual respect, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and friendly adversaries on and off the field, which has stood for almost one-and-a-half centuries. As remarked by a yesteryear Principal of Royal College: “There is no Royal without S. Thomas’ and no S. Thomas’ without Royal.”

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Spinners put England in command on Day 2

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Shoaib Bashir bagged four wickets on Day 2 (Cricbuzz)

England’s spin duo of Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley put India in trouble on the second day of the fourth Test in Ranchi by sharing six wickets between them. After getting bowled out for 353 in their first innings, England kept striking at regular intervals despite Yashasvi Jaiswal’s efforts at the other end.

England made a positive start to the day with Ollie Robinson opening up to hit a flurry of boundaries to catch India off guard. He ended up stretching the stand over 100 runs alongside overnight centurion Joe Root with the latter taking a backseat on the second morning. In the process, Robinson ended up registering his first-ever fifty in Test cricket with India desperately searching for a breakthrough. That breakthrough arrived in the form of Ravindra Jadeja as Robinson gloved one to the ‘keeper while attempting to reverse sweep.

Jadeja then made quick work of the tail as Bashir first miscued one hoick and James Anderson got trapped lbw, leaving Root stranded on 122. England would have still been fairly pleased with the score of 353 though given they were reeling at 112/5 at one stage on the opening day. They received a massive boost with the ball too as Rohit Sharma ended up nicking Anderson behind very early in his innings.

Jaiswal on the other hand though got off to a bright start yet again. Having already smashed two double tons in the series, the opener was in great touch prior to the lunch break. He carried on the same vein post resumption as well but ended up watching a procession from the non-striker’s end. Bashir hurt India big time in the second session as he first trapped the well-set Shubman Gill lbw before getting rid of Rajat Patidar and Jadeja, who had smashed successive sixes prior to that.

Those three wickets put India on the backfoot and the onus was on Jaiswal again to revive the innings. The opener did  continue to pile on the runs but England managed to keep Sarfaraz Khan quiet at the other end. The visitors then took full control of the game when Jaiswal dragged one back on to his stumps to fall for 73. With half the side back in the pavilion and almost 200 runs still behind England’s tally, India needed a massive contribution from the lower order. However, England cashed in on their advantage as Hartley drew the outside edge of Sarfaraz before trapping R Ashwin leg-before-wicket. Kuldeep Yadav and Dhruv Jurel put up a brave fight batting out almost 18 overs before stumps but India still need a huge effort from the duo on the third morning to bridge the gap.

Brief scores:
India
219/7 (Yashasvi Jaiswal 73, Shubman Gill 38; Shoaib Bashir 4/84) trail  England 353 in 104.5 overs (Joe Root 122*; Ravindra Jadeja 4/67) by 134 runs

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