Bangladesh's chance to surprise new-look Sri Lanka
A Test match in Galle against Bangladesh might usually comprise a straightforward challenge for Sri Lanka, but with the contracts crisis less than a week behind them and a fresh-faced top order set to take guard, the potential for an upset has shot up. Sri Lanka's selectors have approached the tour as an opportunity to blood young players, tilting the squad balance heavily towards raw talent, and if an improving Bangladesh side score a shock victory, Angelo Mathews' Test captaincy will have had as poor a start as he could have imagined.
On paper, Sri Lanka are by some distance the favourites in Galle - a venue from which they have customarily taken a 1-0 lead into the remainder of the series, having lost only three times in 21 matches there. The pitch, which usually takes turn from day one, shapes as a paradise for all spinners, but even men as gifted as Saeed Ajmal and Graeme Swann have not managed to imitate the success Sri Lanka's slow bowlers achieve there as a matter of routine.
It will help too for Sri Lanka that several batsmen in the likely top seven have scored heavily in first-class engagements since the tour of Australia. Angelo Mathews and Tillakaratne Dilshan both made big hundreds in their last match, while Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne have also strung together solid scores in the past few weeks. Either Jeevan Mendis or Kithuruwan Vithanage are likely to debut, and both men are also coming off big scores - in Vithanage's case, against the very attack the visitors will probably field in the first Test.
Bangladesh are also with several key players, but the ones on tour are a different breed than the cricketers who have visited Sri Lanka in the last four full tours. Bangladesh now gives their youngsters time on the domestic circuit before drafting them into the senior side. Anamul Haque and Mominul Haque are the latest talents to roll out of age-group and domestic cricket, with Jahurul Islam and Marshall Ayub being picked on their recent form.
Captain Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal will have to do most of the running, but the likes of Mahmudullah and Nasir Hossain have soaked up pressure in the recent past. Bangladesh's bowling attack however is thin, and the gap left by the injured Shakib Al Hasan will take some filling. Someone has to fill his role as the wicket-taker and then run-controller, but none of these bowlers have done so on the big stage for an extended period.
Sri Lanka's off field problems may have closed the gap between the teams somewhat, at least psychologically, but those who have seen Bangladesh capitulate in a matter of overs in Test cricket would still be wary of a one-sided contest. But this is a young team with several cricketers who seek the limelight; their desire would have to be translated on to the field for this to be a good Test match.
1 Anamul Haque, 2 Jahurul Islam, 3 Mohammad Ashraful, 4 Mahmudullah, 5 Mushfiqur Rahim (capt & wk), 6 Nasir Hossain, 7 Mominul Haque, 8 Abul Hasan, 9 Sohag Gazi, 10 Elias Sunny, 11 Shahadat Hossain
Sri Lanka Squad:
1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Kithuruwan Vithanage, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt), 7 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Shaminda Eranga 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Ajantha Mendis