Sri Lanka seek Galle turner to pay back Shaheen-less Pakistan
Dimuth Karunaratne’s Sri Lanka will look to bounce back in the second Test starting Sunday against an upbeat Pakistan team that is fresh off a morale-boosting win.
But the tourists have been hit by an injury to pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, who played a key part in the team’s four-wicket victory on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka have witnessed contrasting results at the Galle International Stadium in the past three weeks, and now head into their sixth straight Test at the venue since November.
In the first of their two Tests against Australia at the ground earlier this month, the hosts first lost inside three days on a vicious turner, then bounced back to beat the tourists on a radically different wicket to end the series level at 1-1.
For the first Test against Pakistan, the pitch was once again entirely different, with little help for the spinners, even on the final two days, when Asian tracks usually turn.
“There was a big difference in the wicket we played against Australia and here,” Sri Lanka vice-captain Dhananjaya de Silva said.
“Normally on a Galle pitch the fourth and fifth days don’t help the batsmen.”
Left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya has stood out since his debut in the second Australia Test, where he got a match haul of 12 wickets.
He then bamboozled Pakistan with a total of nine wickets in the opening Test of this series.
But de Silva, an all-rounder who bowls off-spin, said Jayasuriya got little support from the other end against Pakistan.
“Only Prabath bowled a consistent line and length and we leaked runs from the other two spinners,” said de Silva.
“It is difficult to keep a tight field when you are leaking runs from one side.”
Mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana has been ruled out due to a finger injury and de Silva may be expected to play a bigger role with the ball alongside Ramesh Mendis and Jayasuriya.
Batsman Pathum Nissanka returns to the team after he contracted Covid in the middle of the second Australia Test.
The venue was shifted from Colombo to Galle due to the political unrest in Sri Lanka, and it is the hosts’ final Test of the season, with their next red-ball series a tour to New Zealand in March.
Pakistan skipper Babar Azam believes Jayasuriya remains Sri Lanka’s “main weapon” but was confident in his batsmen’s ability.
“We will stick to our strengths and as batsmen remain positive,” he said.
The visitors rode on opener Abdullah Shafique’s unbeaten 160 to chase down a record 342 at the venue on a tense fifth day. The win gave them a 1-0 series lead.
Shafique is in elite company after the first six matches of his Test career, with 720 runs from 11 innings, behind only India’s Sunil Gavaskar (912 runs from 12 innings), Australian great Don Bradman (862 from 12), and West Indies’ George Headley (730 from 12).
Shaheen’s absence due to a knee injury will hurt Pakistan, who rely on their quicks to get early wickets even on turning subcontinent pitches.
“Pakistan has always produced fast bowlers and they have also won matches on flat tracks,” said Azam, who went with three quicks, including Hasan Ali and Naseem Shah, in the first match.
“But let’s see, we will sit and discuss before the next match what combinations to play.”
Pakistan could make a few changes to their team, including bringing in left-arm orthodox bowler Nauman Ali to bolster their spin attack.
Crucial World Test Championship points will be up for grabs for both teams, with Pakistan third and Sri Lanka sixth in the current standings.