Galle: For Sri Lanka, it is the start of a new era and with it pressure as they face West Indies in the first of a three match Test series.
With two of their big-wicket takers in history retired, the islanders need now to start looking for their match- winners elsewhere. There is no Muttiah Muralitharan, no Chaminda Vaas and threats of injury have meant that Lasith Malinga is also sidelined for what appears to be the entire series.
Just who will step up and how the attack will be shaped for the next 12 months depends largely on this series. Even the Sri Lanka captain has admitted there are challenges ahead; impressive ones as after CWC11, there is a tour of England along with a tour of the island by Australia mid-year, followed by a Pakistan tour which is likely to follow the new beaten path to the United Arab Emirates.
Out of the pile of experienced bowlers likely to be the number one spinner of the future is the tall Suraj Randiv, from the same town as Sanath Jayasuriya. It may surprise many that an as yet 26-year-old about to play only his third Test is seen as Muralitharan’s heir apparent. This is especially after his struggle in his first game, against India on a surface Sinhalese Sports Club surface fit more for a stone quarry than a Test.
His debut figures of 2/222 off 73 overs in that drawn game at SSC were a forerunner for what was to follow in the second game of the series at Saravanamuttu Oval. It was his five wickets in the second innings which placed India under pressure that explained his ability to cause doubt among the batsmen. His dismissal of Rahul Dravid created certain consternation in the Indian ranks at the time and left a bemused Dravid dismayed at his dismissal.
Randiv’s partner, the left-arm roller, Rangana Herath, with his 22 Tests and 71 wickets at a far higher cost than that of Randiv does suggest there will be a lot of hard work ahead of the pair in this series as Sri Lanka aim to win the opening game of the series through spin.
Sangakkara was not too forthcoming about the Sri Lanka seam and swing attack as there seems to be thoughts and gameplan ideas that could change, depending on the weather.
At least they have had a good practice session and while the West Indies were, by their own admission a little disappointed with their lack of practice with play possible only on the first day of the practice game at SSC, and where he conditions caught the tourists by surprise.
There has been a lot of rain around the island capital and it should not come as a surprise that the ball was going to move around as much as it did.
West Indies captain, Darren Sammy, who says his aim as captain is to restore the “pride and passion” in the side and regenerate Caribbean glory is a tough role in a side missing a couple of big names. This is apart from a change in leadership with Sammy taking over from Chris Gayle after his often controversial tenure.
It always pays to be wise after the event, but and to suggest that the tourists should have had two practice games doesn’t cover the possibilities of the rain that is around this time of year. The one practice game was affected by the heaviest rain in Colombo since 1992. Flooding was widespread in and around the city and roads were clogged.
If Gayle didn’t have much of a look at the bowling, Brendan Nash did with an attacking effort to indicates that the middle-order roles are all but settled in the squad with Nash and Shivnarine Chanderpaul displaying early form.
That is Colombo in the wet. The Test is here in Galle, where it is sunny and dry and the scene of Muralitharan’s retirement four months ago. One look at the pitch says that it is going to be a battle between the spinners. The wiles of tempestuous Sulieman Benn against the style and class of Randiv; both tall and looking to get what bounce they can out of the conditions.
There is a lot of confidence in the Sri Lanka camp that despite the lengthy gap between Tests and the number of ODI games they have played since then, that Galle is the venue where they have had most success. As that was in the Muralitharan era, where he collected 112 of his Test wickets, the new era is not going to be so easy to predict.