Bangladesh's Najmul Hossain (right) attends a practice session ahead of their first Test match against Sri Lanka at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Kandy on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse
Bangladesh on Tuesday included rookie pacer Shoriful Islam in their 15-man squad for the opening match of the two-Test series against Sri Lanka begins on Wednesday.
It’s been a long time between Test wins for Sri Lanka, a record coach Mickey Arthur has ensured the players are acutely aware of whereas Bangladesh are also badly in need of some good results in Sri Lanka, having won just one of their last nine Test matches.
Sri Lanka have long been feared for their spin bowlers but the team has decided that speed is the future, and it will be tested against Bangladesh from Wednesday.
Off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan has the most Test wickets and Rangana Herath is the most successful left-arm spinner. But since Herath's retirement three years ago, Sri Lankan spin has lost its potency.
So Sri Lanka have embraced pace strategy for the two Test series against Bangladesh, to be held in a bio-secure bubble at the Pallekele ground.
And the shift towards pace is a long-term strategy, according to skipper Dimuth Karunaratne.
"Spin used to be our strength but not anymore," he said.
"Our seamers have done a pretty good job in recent months. We have Suranga Lakmal who bowled so well in the Caribbean and was named player of the series. So we are backing our seamers and see what we can get out of them. The spinners we have are young and raw."
Lakmal is backed by Lahiru Kumara, who frequently clocks 150 kilometres per hour and is making a comeback having missed a just concluded West Indies tour after testing positive for coronavirus.
Lakmal and Kumara are expected to share the new ball with Vishwa Fernando, a left-arm seamer who would provide variety.
Bangladesh suffered a home series defeat against a depleted West Indies side in February and lost all their matches in a tour of New Zealand in March.
Shoriful, a member of Bangladesh's Under-19 World Cup-winning squad, made his limited over debut during the recent tour in New Zealand but has yet to play any Test.
The squad also included uncapped batsman Yasir Ali, who took part in a tour of Ireland in 2019 but did not play.
Bangladesh will miss the service of all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan and pace bowler Mustafizur Rahman.
Shakib and Mustafizur were granted leave for the ongoing Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament, where they are playing for Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals respectively.
The team travelled to Sri Lanka on April 12 and played just one intra-squad match as part of their build-up for the series.
"We didn't have a great preparation but given the circumstances, we have prepared well. We trained for a couple of days, and then played a practice match," skipper Mominul Haque said in a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
"We will get another training session today. You always have to adjust both mentally and physically in international cricket. I think it is best to be optimistic rather than worry about it," he said.
Kandy will also host the second Test from April 29.
Sri Lanka will be aiming for their first Test win since January 2020.
The run since then has included two losses in South Africa, two losses at home to England and two draws in the Caribbean against the West Indies.
In all six Tests, Sri Lanka had their chance but let the game slip away after some costly mistakes. A batting collapse, dropped catches, injuries and poor use of the decision referral system to review umpiring calls have been costly.
"We have spoken at length about taking that opportunity when it presents itself and applying pressure for long periods until the opposition inevitably breaks," Arthur said. "If you take the West Indies series, we were in positions where we could have dominated but they managed to wriggle out of the situations.”
Sri Lanka has won 16 of their 20 cricket Tests against Bangladesh and lost only once - at Colombo in 2017 - although three of the last eight matches have ended in a draw.
There is a nice grass cover on the pitch and, while most expect the curator to shave it off before the Test starts on Wednesday, Sri Lanka seem to have changed their strategies to bank on their fast bowlers more than an inexperienced spin department.
"We will look to get pitches that do give our pacers some assistance for sure but I believe we have all bases covered and have the ability to have a balanced side with spin as well,” Arthur said.
Fast bowler Lahiru Kumara and former captain Angelo Mathews are expected to return to the lineup after missing the West Indies series.
The first Test ended in a draw after an avalanche of runs, the two sides scoring 1,289 for the loss of just 17 wickets over the five days. Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bat in the second Test.
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