Sri Lanka hope Rangana Herath has a little magic left in his 40-year-old left arm to give them a victorious start to the test series with England from Tuesday.
Herath is playing his final test, his 93rd since his debut in 1999. The former Sri Lanka skipper is retiring from all forms of cricket in Galle after this first test of three.
Sri Lanka skipper Dinesh Chandimal is confident they can exploit England’s inexperienced top order in spin-friendly conditions at a venue that has been a fortress for Sri Lanka. England hasn’t won its previous four tests in Galle.
“When you’re playing in Galle, definitely the spinners will come into play,” Chandimal said on Monday. “Going by that point, we can be ahead of England. We can give them a good fight in the test series.
“Rangana Herath has done really well in Galle and we look up to him to win us one more game.”
Herath needs one more wicket to complete 100 test wickets in Galle, a rare achievement. Only countryman Muttiah Muralitharan and England’s James Anderson have taken 100 or more wickets at a single venue. Anderson is playing.
Herath has 430 wickets in his career, and five more in the test would lift the spinner on the all-time wicket-takers’ list from 10th to seventh, passing Richard Hadlee, Stuart Broad, and Kapil Dev.
The chance is not unrealistic. In his last test in July in Colombo, he took 6-98 from 33 overs in the second innings to sink South Africa and help clinch a 2-0 series win.
This is England’s first test since former captain Alastair Cook retired at the end of the English summer. Cook made nine centuries in Asia, where he averaged 53, way above his career average of 45.
“That’s one advantage we’ve got. We all know how good is Alastair. Definitely they will miss his experience,” Chandimal said. “But we don’t want to underestimate them.”
England captain Joe Root said they miss Cook.
“It will be my first test match without playing with Alastair. It’s a big loss in terms of experience and everything he brings to the squad and the team. But it’s a great opportunity for someone else to make that spot their own, stand up and do something special for England.”
Rory Burns looks set to debut as an opener, and Ben Foakes could debut as wicketkeeper because Jonny Bairstow, who hurt his ankle while playing football in Kandy during the one-day international series, has not recovered. Foakes is tipped to play ahead of Jos Buttler.
Sri Lanka has sent home fast bowler Lahiru Kumara on disciplinary grounds. Seamer Dushmantha Chameera has been brought in as replacement.
The focus will be not just be on Herath, but also Angelo Mathews, who makes a comeback after being axed from the ODI and Twenty20 squads following Sri Lanka’s disappointing show in the Asia Cup.
The weather in Galle has been dodgy and both teams were forced to train indoors on Monday as the entire ground was covered due to rain and a wet outfield. The weather forecast doesn’t look good for the next few days.unb