Key men missing as Sri Lankans prepare for Proteas Test

07 February 2019 - 08:05 By KHANYISO TSHWAKU
Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka will be missing when his country tours South Africa from next week.
Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka will be missing when his country tours South Africa from next week.
Image: Matthew Lewis

Sri Lanka are accustomed to overseas batting struggles, but their mountain will be that much higher without their two best batsmen in Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal.

The sub-continent side start their tour of SA in a week.

Mathews’ ongoing fitness problems, this time a hamstring injury he sustained during the New Zealand series, mean he hasn’t been pencilled into the squad. Chandimal, who made his debut in Sri Lanka’s ground-breaking 208-run win in the 2011 Boxing Day Test at Kingsmead, has been shafted due to a terrible lack of form.

Chandimal scored a pair of crucial 50s, alongside tons from Thilan Samaraweera and Kumar Sangakkara, to help Sri Lanka secure their first ever Test win in South Africa. But his recent form is far from those heroics. The most senior Sri Lankan batsman in his team given Mathews’ absence in their disastrous Test tour of Australia, Chandimal collected a meagre 24 runs across four innings.

That’s enough to get any batsman dropped, regardless of their seniority, but it was an inexcusable return from Chandimal, who had to shore up an inexperienced batting line-up against an Australian bowling attack that was bruised by India in their earlier summer series.

The wickets in Durban and Port Elizabeth, in the first and second Tests respectively, may not be as amenable to pace as the Highveld surfaces and Newlands, but Sri Lanka needed their most experienced batsman to be in form. The batting heavy lifting will be left to the mercurial brilliance of the inconsistent yet talented Lahiru Thirimanne, the effective but under-delivering Kusal Mendis and the equally inconsistent Dhananjaya de Silva.

Dimuth Karunaratne has three Tests worth of previous South African experience alongside the other senior batsmen, but opening in South Africa is one of the most difficult tasks in international cricket. He’s also saddled with the extra burden of captaincy against a team that may want to exact a fair measure of revenge for the humbling they received against this Sri Lankan team the last time they met.

Karunaratne was at the forefront of Sri Lanka’s surprise, but deserved, 2-0 series win, with scores of 158*, 60, 53 and 85. Cricketers and fast bowlers, in particular, have long memories and they may not have forgotten the torment the south-paw put them through in Galle and in Colombo.

Kingsmead and St George’s Park pitches may be slow in nature, but they’re far departed from the turners that tied South Africa’s batting in knots.

Sri Lanka squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Niroshan Dickwella, (v-capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Milinda Siriwardana, Dhananjaya De Silva, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Chamika Karunaratne, Mohamed Shiraz, Lakshan Sandakan, Lasith Embuldeniya.