Ill-judged shots, inconsistent bowling, dropped catches, batting collapses – these aren’t unexpected anymore when Sri Lanka or Bangladesh play Test cricket. At the same time, when they start the first of two Tests in Pallekele on Wednesday, do expect the odd heroic performance. Those aren’t unusual with these teams either.
Bangladesh come into the series having lost their last eight international matches across formats. The wheels came off during the white-ball tour of New Zealand, but the confidence had already been shattered during their 2-0 Test series defeat against West Indies. Bangladesh were favourites at home, but they looked a team without a Plan B when the West Indian rookies fought back in Chattogram and Dhaka.
What will particularly hurt Bangladesh is the absence of Shakib Al Hasan, who is currently playing in the IPL. Without him, the visitors will rely heavily on Tamim Iqbal, Mominul Haque, and Mushfiqur Rahim .
In the batting department, Iqbal will be expected to provide stability at the top, although he hasn’t had a set opening partner for a long time, and the No. 3 position also remains uncertain. Haque’s home-and-away record carries a Jekyll-Hyde look, which would leave Rahim, one of Bangladesh’s best batters on foreign soil, with some heavy lifting to do. There are concerns in the bowling department, too. Mehidy Hasan and Abu Jayed are the only bowlers who are confirmed inclusions in the XI, leaving at least three spots up for grabs.
Bangladesh’s situation opens up an opportunity for Sri Lanka, who recently lost to England at home, and drew 0-0 in the West Indies. A few fightbacks notwithstanding, Sri Lanka have mostly struggled to get going in the recent past. At home, South Africa were the last visitors they truly dominated, in February 2019. After a 2-0 win in that series, they drew against New Zealand and lost to Pakistan, too.
The emergence of Oshada Fernando and Pathum Nissanka has helped the team strike a balance, with Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal bringing in the experience. Mathews returns after missing the West Indies series. Lahiru Thirimanne’s three fifties against West Indies were also encouraging, but for Sri Lanka to do better, these batters have to score big.
Much of the hosts’ bowling would depend on Suranga Lakmal in the absence of the injured Lasith Embuldeniya, who has been their highest wicket-taker this year so far. Vishwa Fernando, Wanindu Hasaranga and Lahiru Kumara will also have to lend support to Lakmal’s new-ball efforts.
Last five completed matches – most recent first
Sri Lanka DDLLL
In the spotlight
Suranga Lakmal was adjudged Player of the Series for his 11 wickets against West Indies. He will be expected to do a similar job against Bangladesh in conditions that might assist pace bowlers. Lakmal would also be keen to bring down his bowling average of 50.87 in 23 Tests at home.
Mominul Haque has two things to work on: reviving his captaincy fortunes after losing five out of the last six Tests, and fixing his dismal away record as a batter. There will be considerable pressure on both fronts but, as he has proven in the past, he has the character to turn things around.
Sri Lanka may go in with three specialist quicks, though this would be a highly unusual strategy at home. Lakmal would be the first-choice pacer, while Vishwa and Kumara might also feature in the XI. On the batting front, they will try to squeeze Nissanka into the side. Chandimal, who had a decent tour of West Indies, might just make way for Nissanka.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Oshada Fernando, 4 Dinesh Chandimal/Pathum Nissanka, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Lahiru Kumara, 11 Vishwa Fernando
Soumya Sarkar’s axing once again opens up the debate on the opening combination. Pallekele’s green pitch may tempt Bangladesh to play three pace bowlers.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Shadman Islam, 3 Najmul Hossain Shanto, 4 Mominul Haque (capt), 5 Mushfiqur Rahim, 6 Mohammad Mithun, 7 Liton Das (wk), 8 Mehidy Hasan, 9 Ebadat Hossain, 10 Taskin Ahmed, 11 Abu Jayed
Pitch and conditions
The photograph of Karunaratne inspecting a greenish Pallekele pitch two days before the first Test left many wondering if seam, swing and bounce could play a part on the first morning. Though it has rained around the Pallekele area, the weather is likely to be clear over the next five days.
Stats that matter
- This will be Bangladesh’s first overseas Test since the pandemic began. They lost the home series against West Indies 2-0 in February.
- Lakmal’s recent Player of the Series award was the first for a Sri Lankan fast bowler in a Test series since Nuwan Kulasekara won one in 2014.
- No Bangladesh bowler has taken a five-wicket haul against Sri Lanka since 2014.
“Technically, he’s outstanding. Physically, he’s very good and his fielding standards are exactly where they need to be. He’s slotted in nicely. Yes we’ve had to chip away and polish a little bit, but whatever Nissanka did with his coaches through the ranks has been pretty good. They’ve prepared him very well for international cricket.”
Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur on newcomer Pathum Nissanka.
“I have come to Sri Lanka to play cricket. We will play according to our plan. I am only concerned about these things, and not much else. I don’t need to think about other things as a professional cricketer.”
Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque, when asked if the BCB’s scrutiny of the players would put extra pressure on them.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
Recent Match Report – Surrey vs Somerset Group 2 2021
Surrey 191 for 4 Burns 55) vs Somerset
On the sort of surface which might convince an opening batsman they should give it all up and become a plumber, Rory Burns made his fifth half-century in seven innings and fourth in succession. Nobody in the land has reached 50 more often this season.
But these are uncertain times for Burns. He lost his England place in India and is far from certain to win it back in the New Zealand series. With Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley seemingly assured of their places in the top three, Burns’ involvement may depend on where England decide to play James Bracey, who they appear to see as a utility player capable of fulfilling a role in the top and middle-order. In that light, Dan Lawrence’s eye-catching century for Essex might not be great news for Burns.
But, at his best, Burns’ batting has a phlegmatic quality that rises above such concerns. His maiden Test century, made against Australia in Birmingham, was in many ways a masterclass of mental strength overcoming every challenge. He was dropped often and beaten frequently but not for a moment did he lose his composure.
It was similar here. With damp conditions denying any chance of play before 2pm on the second day, this pitch had been under cover for a long time before Somerset’s bowlers took first use of it. Inevitably, the ball nipped around and edges were beaten.
But apart from one occasion, when Burns followed one he could have left, he refused to be drawn into pushing at the ball and was able to put any play-and-miss behind him. Eventually, as the ball softened and the bowlers tired, more poor balls were his reward. He failed to fully capitalise on his start but in terms of the basics of opening the batting, he looked in fine order.
He would have been relieved to hear that Somerset had rested Craig Overton. Overton bowled 40 overs in the second innings of Somerset’s win over Hampshire last week and has already clocked over 200 this season already; heaven knows he has earned his break. But, with three five-wicket hauls in his last three Championship matches, his absence leaves quite a hole in this attack. Jason Kerr, the Somerset head coach, later confirmed the decision had been taken in collaboration with the England management. If Overton does win an England chance in the coming weeks, Somerset want him in the best possible shape to seize it.
Perhaps more of a surprise was the absence of Jack Leach. He, too, was rested, though having bowled only 129.5 overs this season, this was more with a view to the challenges ahead; Leach has spent a long time in bubbles and there is more of the same to come. Perhaps the lush green surface persuaded Somerset that he would be surplus to requirements anyway. There wasn’t an over of spin in the day.
Somerset were also without Steve Davies, who was absent to undergo a minor medical procedure. That left Tom Banton as designated keeper for the first time in first-class cricket.
As it was, having beaten the bat regularly but without fortune in the first hour, Somerset’s control slipped. Burns, having weathered the storm, was able to accumulate neatly off his legs and drove a couple sweetly through the off-side when the bowlers over-pitched. Kerr later conceded that he found the performance “a bit frustrating”.
“We haven’t quite capitalised on a surface which had been under cover for two days,” he said. “We didn’t ask the batsmen questions often enough.”
Indeed, Somerset might consider themselves a bit fortunate with a couple of the wickets. Hashim Amla, who was starting to look ominously sound, pulled a long-hop to the long-leg fence – it provided Lewis Gregory with his 300th first-class wicket – and, after a couple of typically elegant cover drives, Ollie Pope top-edged an attempted pull shot from a ball that was too full for the stroke.
Burns was, perhaps, a little unlucky. In attempting to defend a good-length delivery, he saw the ball bounce off the face of the bat and roll back onto the stumps. His consistency is impressive, certainly, but he will know that it is centuries, not half-centuries, that force selectors to take notice.
“In those conditions, we have a decent score,” Surrey head coach, Vikram Solanki, said. “We needed a bit of luck early on, with playing and missing, but that is always going to be the case on that sort of pitch. I thought both Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman played well to overcome the new ball.”
With the forecast grim, there is every chance that none of this will count for much. But if progress in the weeks ahead is decided by a point here or there, perhaps Somerset will reflect on this match and rue a squandered bowling point which they probably should have been able to claim.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
Recent Match Report – Essex vs Derbyshire Group 1 2021
Derbyshire 35 for 3 (Harmer 2-12) trail Essex 412 for 3 dec (Lawrence 152*, Westley 106, Browne 59, Cook 58) by 377 runs
A day of sepulchral gloom in Chelmsford, pierced throughout by the ECG floodlights, was lit up by a blazing innings from Dan Lawrence, as Essex attempted to make up for lost time in their match against Derbyshire … and pretty much succeeded. Lawrence’s unbeaten 152 from 133 balls was the batting equivalent of a souped-up Vauxhall Nova revving its way up the main drag, and leaving tyre-marks over a series of beleaguered Derbyshire bowlers.
It was bad light that came to the rescue for the visitors, at the end of an over from legspinner Matt Critchley in which Lawrence slammed the first three balls for six and ended up lying on his front after an unsuccessful attempt to club a fourth down the ground. The ball still went for four and Lawrence acknowledged the applause from his team-mates for reaching 150 from his position in the dirt, even if six sixes was now out of the question. “I thought it was on,” Lawrence said with a grin afterwards.
Derbyshire’s respite was brief, however, as an Essex declaration followed by an improvement in the light allowed the home side the press their advantage – even while restricted to bowling spin from both ends. Simon Harmer removed Luis Reece lbw, not offering a shot, in his fourth over and Lawrence then bagged himself a wicket, too, as Billy Godleman turned the ball to short leg. Derbyshire’s captain briefly stood his ground, which was about as much resistance as his team put up all day.
Essex claimed a third before the close, Harmer having Leus de Plooy taken by Lawrence at gully, as the defending champions began to circle their prey. The threat of more bad weather, following a first-day washout, may still encourage Derbyshire hopes of an escape; those of a more darkly comic persuasion warned that it could all be done and dusted on Saturday.
That Essex were in such a commanding position come the close was largely down to a freewheeling third-wicket partnership of 221 in 36.4 overs between Lawrence and his captain, Tom Westley. Essex have not hit their straps yet in this campaign, as Westley acknowledged, but they have given themselves a chance of dodging the elements to record what would be only a second win in six games.
“It was disappointing not being able to get out there yesterday in a bit of a must-win game for us,” Lawrence said. “So it was very good from our openers to put me and Tommy in a situation to go and express ourselves. We knew we had to get ahead of the game as quickly as possible.”
Having scored three fifties in the opening five rounds of the Championship, with a high score of 90 on a deathly flat surface at Worcester, Lawrence had hinted at good form without making the sort of imposing scores that would guarantee his involvement in the upcoming Test series against New Zealand (selection is due to be announced next week). This was a bristling reminder of his kaleidoscopic talents – albeit against a Derbyshire attack featuring three players making their first appearances of the season – as Lawrence raced to his fastest first-class hundred before coming off in sight of a career best.
“It was quite a big thing for me to get to that landmark, because I’ve scored a few runs already without getting hundreds,” he said. “I’ve scored a few fifties – so it was nice to get there and then just play with some freedom. Every batter would know it’s the best feeling in the world batting after a hundred so it was brilliant to have licence.”
The first of Lawrence’s 16 fours was driven with a high front elbow through mid-off and he was soon signalling his intent to crack on, windmilling a cut against Fynn Hudson-Prentice over cover point and then taking the same bowler for three boundaries in five balls a few overs later. His half-century came from 66 balls, and he immediately went up a gear, nonchalantly mowing Dustin Melton over midwicket for his first six.
Billy Stanlake, who made an eventful Derbyshire debut, was casually flipped into the seats in front of the makeshift press box at deep backward square leg to take Lawrence into the 90s, and he brought up three figures for the first time this summer via a nudge off Critchley, the landmark acknowledged with a curled fist pump before turning to take the applause from his team-mates. Critchley was dealt with more severely as Essex rattled on towards five batting points, one slog-sweep over midwicket reminiscent of Lawrence’s hold-the-pose six on Test debut in Galle earlier this year.
Westley also scored a bristling hundred, his third of the season – in reaching three figures from 109 balls, he did so three deliveries quicker than Lawrence – as the pair built on a century opening stand during the morning session. Derbyshire hit back after lunch through Stanlake, playing his first first-class match since the 2019-20 Sheffield Shield season, but were largely left to wonder at the wisdom of their decision to bowl first, taken 24 hours earlier.
Essex had reached 132 for 0 at lunch, going at more than four runs an over despite a green tinge to the surface and a damp air to proceedings after persistent rain ruined any chance of play on Thursday. The scoring rate was aided by Stanlake’s trouble with front-foot no-balls during his opening spell, as Alastair Cook and Nick Browne took advantage of some insipid bowling to set a belligerent tempo in Essex’s attempts to overcome not only an opponent low on confidence but a poor forecast for the weekend.
The sight of Stanlake taking the new ball promised intrigue. The 6ft 7in Australian, capped in both limited-overs formats, had only played eight first-class fixtures across five years but came to Derbyshire professing an eagerness to work on his red-ball game. An initial four overs brought six no-balls and almost as many aborted attempts at running in, prompting the fear that Stanlake’s enthusiasm might be short-lived.
However, he discovered a much better rhythm from the River End when returning shortly before lunch, beating Cook with successive deliveries – one of which was too hot for Harvey Hosein to hold on to behind the stumps. He was rewarded for his perseverance after the interval, when Browne drove footlessly to be caught at slip (thus reducing his first-class average against Derbyshire to a mere 213.25). Cook then spooned a drive into the covers: Big Billy had landed Essex’s big fish, but there was the small matter of Lawrence and Westley to come.
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick
ENG Women vs IND Women 2021 Rajeshwari Gayakwad recovering from Covid-19 left out of India squads for England tour
ESPNcricinfo understands Gayakwad tested positive last month and is currently recovering in Bengaluru
Left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad has been left out the India Women’s squads for the tour of England because of an injury she is understood to have been carrying during the home series against South Africa earlier this year and also because she is currently recovering from Covid-19.
ESPNcricinfo understands Gayakwad, who played just two matches for the Railways in the Women’s Senior One Day Trophy 2020-21 after the South Africa series, tested positive for Covid-19 last month and is currently recovering in Bengaluru. In the domestic tournament, she had walked off the field in the semi-final against Bengal without finishing her quota of overs. She did not play the final against Jharkhand on April 4.
No official announcement was made during or after the South Africa series about Gayakwad carrying the injury. The squad announcement for the England tour did not contain any information concerning Gayakwad’s exclusion either.
But she would likely have been picked if not for injury and illness. Gayakwad was among the best performers from the India side during the South Africa series. She was the joint-highest wicket-taker in the five-match ODI series with eight wickets at an average of 20.25, and picked up a Player-of-the-Match-winning 3 for 9 in the third and final T20I.
India is currently grappling with a devastating second wave of Covid-19, and has recorded upwards of 300,000 new cases every day for the last three weeks. Sachin Tendulkar, S Badrinath, Yusuf Pathan, Vanitha VR, and Harmanpreet Kaur are among the former and current cricketers to have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past two months and recovered since.
Former India Women players Devika Palshikar – who was among the shortlisted candidates for the head coach role that eventually went to Ramesh Powar – Amita Sharma and Sunetra Paranjpe have also recovered from Covid-19. Families of several other cricketers, including those of MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, Chetan Sakariya, Veda Krishnamurthy, and Piyush Chawla have also been affected.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
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