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‘We can turn the tables on England. This series is 50-50’ – Mahela Jayawardene

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Jayawardene isn’t keen on taking up a permanent role in the Sri Lankan setup despite his status(Getty)

Sri Lanka are raring to go ahead of facing an under-prepared England for a two-Test series, and the hosts see an opportunity for an upset. 

England head into the series without Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes and with less than two days of match practice, while Sri Lanka are keen to bounce-back after a series defeat to South Africa. 

Sportsmail’s Nasser Hussain caught up with Sri Lanka legend and Mumbai Indians coach Mahela Jayawardene ahead of the series. 

 

NH:

I know Sri Lanka have asked you in the past, and you felt they hadn’t taken on board some of your proposals, but in the long term would you like to coach the national side?

MJ:

For me the biggest hurdle is to be involved full-time, whether it’s franchise cricket or a national team. I don’t see myself being a coach who’s going to be involved with one team for 12 months a year. That’s not enjoyable for me.

It’s got nothing to do with Sri Lanka Cricket as such, and I’ve always said I’m happy to contribute and help the team — as long as what I see is wrong has been corrected. It hasn’t happened over the years.

I don’t want to walk in and be a figure in a process where I know the system hasn’t allowed cricketers or the team to evolve.

NH:

The talent in Sri Lanka has always been remarkable. What is it like at the moment?

MJ:

The raw ingredients are there. It’s just that a lot of the guys struggle with the pathway after school. The domestic structure has so many teams, so the quality gets diluted pretty quickly, and people make wrong decisions.

Not all the coaches are good enough, so we lose a lot of talent in that process. It’s not a professional setup at that level, and a lot of the guys give up and do other things, like league cricket in Australia or England.

NH:

Is Test cricket still financially viable in Sri Lanka?

MJ:

We still have an appetite for Test cricket. Because of the history of Sri Lanka’s Test team, they all want to play cricket at that level. But if you don’t improve and evolve, five or 10 years down the line we will have guys who only want to play white-ball cricket.

The recent T20 Lankan Premier League was good. We’ve needed something like that for the last 10 years, to make the game at that level financially viable.

NH:

The Test team have just come back from South Africa with a lot of injuries. Where are they at the moment?

MJ:

I was pretty pleased with the way they started in South Africa, putting nearly 400 on the board at Centurion. But the bowlers broke down, and that was a real issue. Guys who played at the LPL still had niggles, and they went into the second Test quite depleted.

For the English tour, we’ve got Angelo Mathews coming back after the injury, and Dinesh Chandimal should be fit as well — two experienced guys in the middle order to support Dimuth Karunaratne at the top. It’s about that discipline in the longer format: how do you cope with pressure for four to five days?

NH:

Any promising players England fans might not have heard of?

MJ:

It’s unfortunate that Dhananjaya de Silva has a long-term injury, but Kusal Mendis is a talent, and has scored seven hundreds in his short Test career. He knows how to go big.

And Sri Lankan have found two all-rounders: Wanindu Hasaranga, the leg-spinner, who bats at seven, and seamer Dasun Shanaka, who bowled really well in South Africa.

NH:

Is Mickey Arthur the right man to coach them at the moment?

MJ:

Yeah, he’s one of those guys who’s quite methodical and regimental, but he’s a good coach — a players’ coach. We need to give Mickey some time with the team, because he’s proven himself with a lot of international teams.

NH:

And he tends to speak his mind. He did an interview the other day when he said ‘I don’t think the pitch at Galle will turn: I know it will turn.’ Are you expecting a bunsen burner at Galle?

MJ:

You know Galle: it’s going to slow down, and start turning. So those first two days are crucial, and after that it’s going to be a grind. It will be quite interesting to see how the second Test match is going to pan out, because you’re playing at the same venue.

They’ll definitely make sure Sri Lanka have that advantage of playing at Galle, but the England boys have played there many times.

NH:

Where do you see England at the moment, and in particular their playing of spin. Is that still a nemesis for them?

MJ:

I think it can be. It depends on the tempo they want to play. The modern England team plays at a different tempo, but you still need someone to grind out an innings — Cooky (Alastair Cook) has done that in the past. Someone has to do that now, whether it’s Rooty (Joe Root) or someone else.

The other guys are much more high-tempo players, so how you balance that is crucial. And which way do you go with the bowlers? You don’t have the pace of Jofra (Archer), so who’s going to take up that role on a slow wicket? Sometimes you need extra firepower to get something going.

NH:

As you say, there’s no Jofra, no Ben Stokes, and Moeen Ali is ill. Is this an opportunity for Sri Lanka, on a turner, to get payback for England’s 3-0 win there in 2018?

MJ:

Yeah, it is. Even though Sri Lanka didn’t do well in South Africa, they’ll see this as a very good opportunity.

The first two days will set the tone. But England have two good experienced bowlers in Broady (Stuart Broad) and Jimmy (Anderson), who understand what needs to be done in these conditions. They will fall back on them. It’ll be interesting to se if they pick both in the same Test.

NH:

How much did the 3-0 defeat hurt Sri Lanka, and how much is it feeding into their mindset now?

MJ:

It did hurt Sri Lanka a lot, although it feels like a lifetime ago now. They had opportunities in that series, but never grabbed them, and England had that experience to control sessions. They were dominant.

But these two Test matches are at Galle, whereas last time it was in three different places, and Sri Lanka have a much better record at Galle. It will suit the current group of players. I don’t think Sri Lanka will be thinking too much about last time around.

NH:

Do you worry about the mental and physical wellbeing of players when they’re spending so much time in bubbles?

MJ:

Yeah, that’s something you have to look at. We used to have three weeks’ R&R with our families between tours, but now they’re straight into another bubble.

That’s when player management is important. When you see guys who aren’t mentally fresh, you might have to let them go home for two or three weeks. Going bubble to bubble is always going to have an impact. If this runs through 2021, that’s going to be a long stretch for a lot of cricketers.

NH:

When I went to Sri Lanka, England were never favourites. Do you see this England as favourites?

MJ:

With Stokes missing, England don’t have that same experience in the top order, so I make it 50-50. I don’t think they’re going as favourites. I think Sri Lanka have something in them. (Daily Mail)

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Ramesh Mendis set to debut in Galle

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Rex Clementine at Galle Fort

Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda has presented the nation with some exceptional talents be it cricket, basketball, swimming, military, public service or politics. Ramesh Mendis could be the latest sensation to come from the school as he is expected to make his Test debut today against England in the second Test here in Galle.

The 25-year-old Mendis is expected to play instead of Dasun Shanaka as Sri Lanka strengthen their spin department. He has been more than a reliable player with the bat too in First Class cricket having posted five hundreds for Moors SC.

Mendis, a son of a policeman, is yet another cricketer to benefit from the scholarship scheme of Foundation of Goodness run by philanthropist Kushil Gunasekara. Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan rates him highly. He has got a good reputation as a leader as well having captained SSC for the Under-23 title a few seasons ago. The last three seasons he has been with Moors.

Sri Lanka will make two other changes for the must win game briniging in seamer Suranga Lakmal and Oshada Fernando. Both players return to the side after injuries and replace Kusal Mendis and Wanindu Hasaranga.

England only need a draw to win the series but a draw will be the last thing in their minds. They are currently fourth in the ICC Test Championship standings and a win here will give them 60 points. That will enable them to move above Australia to third place. Their 412 points would be just behind second placed New Zealand (420).

England are expected to do three changes. All three seamers who played the last Test are expected to be left out with James Anderson, Olly Stone and Chris Woakes expected to return. None of the seamers did badly in the last Test but it shows England’s depth.

Sri Lanka need to pull up their socks, especially after a pathetic show in the first innings where they were bowled out for 135. The hosts came up with an improved performance in their second innings but they were only catching up.

 

Sri Lanka (Probable XI)

Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera, Oshada Fernando, Dinesh Chandimal (Captain), Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (Wicketkeeper), Ramesh Mendis, Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Asitha Fernando, and Suranga Lakmal.

England (Probable XI)

Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root (Captain), Daniel Lawrence, Jos Buttler (Wicketkeeper), Chris Woakes, Jack Leach, Dom Bess, Olly Stone and James Anderson

Umpires:

Kumar Dharmasena (SL) and Ruchira Palliyaguruge (SL)

Third Umpire:

Lyndon Hannibal (SL)

Match Referee:

Ranjan Madugalle (SL)

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Lasith Malinga retires from franchise cricket

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Lasith Malinga has retired from franchise cricket, his IPL team Mumbai Indians revealed on Wednesday. The Sri Lankan speedster informed his decision to the Mumbai Indians management earlier this month, making himself unavailable for the upcoming season and wasn’t retained in the squad.

Malinga has been a part for Mumbai Indians since the second season of IPL, missing only two editions – 2018 and 2020. He served as the bowling mentor of the side in 2018 before returning to playing duties and delivering Mumbai a title win – his fourth with the team – with what has turned out to be his final delivery in the competition. He missed the 2020 season due to personal reasons but remains the highest wicket-taker in the tournament’s history with 170 scalps to his credit, from 122 appearances.

The Sri Lankan speedster has also been a part of Jamaica Tallawahs, Guyana Amazon Warriors, Khulna Tigers, Rangpur Riders and Melbourne Stars among other T20 franchises around the world. With 390 wickets in 295 matches, he is only behind Dwayne Bravo in the list of leading T20 wicket-takers. His last T20 appearance came in March 2020, when he led Sri Lanka against West Indies, and hasn’t played any games during the pandemic.

Speaking of his decision Malinga said: “After discussing with my family, I think now is the right time to retire from all franchise cricket. The pandemic situation and the restrictions on travel will make it difficult for me given my personal circumstances to participate fully in franchise cricket for the next year and therefore it is best to make this decision now.

“I have discussed the same with Mumbai Indians management in recent days as they prepare for the upcoming auction and they have been very supportive and understanding. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ambani family, everyone at the Mumbai Indians franchise and all our fans for the wonderful 12 years.

“Mumbai Indians has treated me like family, supporting me 100 % in every situation both on and off the field, and always giving me the confidence and the freedom to play my natural game whenever I walked onto the field.

“I have collected so many happy memories that I cherish and I am very grateful to have played for so long for the best franchise in world cricket. I would like to wish Mrs Nita Ambani, coach Mahela Jayawardene, Akash Ambani and the MI family all the best for the upcoming season.” (Cricbuzz)

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Lakmal  and Oshada set to return for second Test  

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By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s card game heroes Suranga Lakmal and Oshada Fernando are expected to make a return to the side for the second Test against England that gets underway at the Galle International Stadium tomorrow.

The former captain and number three batsman were caught on camera engaging in card games as Sri Lanka were collapsing in a hurry to be bowled out for 135 on the opening day of the first Test. The players were one floor above the dressing room, formerly the press box but now reserved for families of the players.

There was intense criticism at the players’ action and Sri Lanka Cricket decided to send all additional players home. During COVID times, the squad has been extended to 22 players. So while five players were sent home on Tuesday, two more will be leaving the bio-bubble on the day of the match reducing the squad to 15 players.

Lakmal and Oshada have been on the mend for more than a month now. They were taken to South Africa still recovering from injuries and failed to get back to full fitness during the Test series and were unavailable for the opening Test against England as well which Sri Lanka lost by seven wickets.

Lakmal, Oshada and Lakshan Sandakan who were all involved in card games were lucky not to be sent home or face sanctions.

Kusal Mendis has been axed from the side and one of the three spinners is expected to be dropped as Sri Lanka are looking to strengthen their seam bowling options. Instead of them, Lakmal and Oshada will play.

Niroshan  Dickwella meanwhile will continue to bat at number six. With Dhananjaya de Silva out of the  side, Sri Lanka took a massive gamble by getting Dickwella to bat at six. The thinking of the team management is understandable as they seem to be keen on the  wicketkeeper to take up more responsibility. Dickwella failed. But he’s been backed to come good. His wicket keeping has been pretty good but in Galle he spilled a few chances and his reviewing was appalling.

England meanwhile are expected to rest all three seamers who played the opening Test. So, with Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and Mark Wood expected to be left out, Olly Stone, James Anderson and Chris Woakes are expected to get a game.

England need only a draw to win the series. They have not lost a series in Sri Lanka in 14 years.

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