India’s game on Friday against the touring Sri Lanka A side would see two teams with different goals locking horns over three days. India are coming in after playing back-to-back Tests and are scheduled to play the last Test shortly after this game. So, on one hand, they would like to keep the momentum going, but, on the other, they will have to rest their key players, especially the bowlers.
But their opponents would be taking this game as the biggest of their long tour so far. After all, they’ll be playing against a full national side. Having played Sri Lanka A a few times in the last 12 months (for the MCC last month and for North Zone in the Duleep Trophy), I know most of them very well.
They’re a good bunch of guys who play hard and are fun to hang out with. They’re extremely vocal on the field but once we cross that white line, it’s hard to see the aggressive on-field characters in the laidback charmers off the field. The good thing about the Lankan set-up is that they have four to five A tours in a year. There’s a lot of consistency in the team selection and hence they work as a cohesive unit.
The team I played against at Arundel a month ago was almost the same I played against at the Eden Gardens last year, with the exception of a couple of faces. Most players idolise their senior cricketers, perhaps because it’s a small country and seniors influence the youngsters quite a bit.
They have a left hand opening batsman, Udawatte, who likes width and goes after the ball very hard right from the word go. You can’t stop thinking about Jayasuriya when he bats. They have a decent middle order, Thilan Samaraweera being the backbone.
He’s a class player, bats like Jayawardene and is equally sound temperamentally. He’s averaging well over 40 in Test cricket and perhaps deserves a place in the side but you’ll not see him moaning about it. There are also people like Jehan Mubarak, who I know from my previous tour to Sri Lanka in 2003, a likeable, soft-spoken guy.
He is an elegant southpaw and makes batting look easy when on song but like most elegant batsmen, he has a tendency to throw his wicket away when big runs are there for the taking. His four first-class centuries don’t do justice to his talent. On this tour to England, Sri Lanka A have selected another promising left hander Michael Vandort in place of Mubarak, who was busy doing national duty against Bangladesh.
Lanka A also have a pint size wicketkeeper called Silva, who will probably remind you of Romesh Kaluwitharana. He is very chirpy behind the stumps (Kalu’s influence, I guess) and a decent bat, except that he’s not half as aggressive as Kaluwitharana. But like all short batsmen, he likes anything pitched short.
They also have a formidable bowling attack. Ganegama has been there a while and is their pace spearhead. He has a simple, no fuss kind of action and likes to hit the deck. He has the ability to move the ball both ways off the pitch and was very successful in the Duleep Trophy last year.
Then, there’s another bowler called Ishara with a slightly slinging action, not as much as Malinga though. He’s quicker than he looks and likes to pitch it short of a length.
They also have a new face in a left arm bowler called Welegedara, who looks a lot similar to you-know-who, Chaminda Vaas. They always play with a 3-1 (pace-spin) combination and Rangana Herath is their regular left-arm spinner.
Top to bottom, they seem an aggressive, hard-working unit remarkably similar to their senior side. Most of these guys are in their late 20s and have been around a while. Some have played for Sri Lanka. But as this match might well be the only opportunity for a few of them to play a national side, in case they never play for Lanka, they’ll probably take it very seriously.