When India toured Sri Lanka last year, an unheralded army man stung the visitors’ batting line-up with his “carom ball”. The series-winning performance earned Ajantha Mendis the tag of the next big thing in Lankan cricket.
One year later, the advent of left-arm spinner Rangana Herath and the versatility of the pace attack means that Mendis is no longer a certainty in the visitors’ playing XI for the three-Test series against India.
The situation Mendis finds himself in at the start of the 53-day tour is because Sri Lanka now have a whole lot of options and are also desperate to win their first ever Test in India and put pressure on the hosts.
Team manager and former international, Brendon Kuruppu, and skipper Kumar Sangakkara hinted as much during their interaction with the media on Thursday.
Asked about their dubious Test record, Kuruppu sighted lack of depth in the bowling department as the main reason. “There could be different reasons. We have always had a good batting line-up but we may not have had the bowling attack to suit every condition,” he said.
However, the former wicket-keeper batsman said the current team was different. “If you look at this team, it has depth in bowling. The attack has variety with the likes of Murali (Muralitharan), Mendis and Herath. They are three different kinds of spinners.
“Also, in the fast bowling department, we have two left-armers, a swing bowler and one who has raw pace. We have at least two guys who can touch 140 and others who can swing. So, we have the armoury to suit any type of wicket,” he added.
In Muralitharan, the Lankans have the world’s best spinner and Herath has shown during the Pakistan series that he can be more than a handful if conditions are favourable.
In the pace department, Thilan Thusara and Nuwan Kulasekara have the ability to break the back of any batting line-up on a slightly helpful wicket and Angelo Mathews has been a proven match-winner with the bat and ball.
Even Sangakkara had spoken about the problem of riches on Sunday. “We can go in with three spinners or three seamers. The form of all-rounder Angelo Mathews provides us with a lot of options,” the 32-year-old had said.
On whether he would prefer Mendis or Herath to partner Muralitharan if only two spinners were picked, the Lankan skipper had insisted that the final decision would depend on the current form of the bowlers. “Herath is a very positive bowler. And, having been the third spinner in the side for a long time has made him hungry.”
The bowlers have trained with SG balls — Lanka uses Kookaburra balls in their domes— ahead of the series to get used to the ‘behaviour’ of the ball.
The only worry for the visitors could be the inexperience of the pacers but Sangakkara played down the issue saying, “It also means that the Indian batsmen would not know much about them and that will give us an advantage.”