England have made a huge call to go unchanged for the second Test against Sri Lanka at the Pallekele International Stadium in Kandy. The tourists won the first Test in Galle by 211 runs, their biggest win over Sri Lanka in terms of runs. The Galle win put to an end England’s 13 game stretch away from home without a win. Prior to last week’s win, England had last won a game overseas in October 2016 in Bangladesh.
The unchanged side means there’s no place for Jonny Bairstow, a veteran of 59 Tests. The Yorkshireman hurt his ankle while playing football during the ODI leg of the tour but the team management kept him in Sri Lanka expecting he will recover for the Test series. Bairstow narrowly missed the first Test and Surrey’s Ben Foakes grabbed the opportunity from both hands making a hundred on debut and that has literally sealed Bairstow’s fate.
Seamer Stuart Broad, another veteran having played 123 Tests and taken 433 Test wickets also sees himself in the sidelines although he was expected to feature at Pallekele as conditions here generally help seamers more than Galle. But a dry surface has forced the England think tank to persevere with a three-pronged spin attack. In Galle, Sam Curran was preferred to share the new ball with James Anderson due to his batting prowess. The status quo will remain at Pallekele.
Sri Lanka will make at least two changes. Captain Dinesh Chandimal has been ruled out with a groin strain and 21-year-old Charith Asalanka, a former Sri Lanka Under-19 captain has been drafted into the squad. However, Roshen Silva, who was in the original squad is expected to play ahead of Asalanka. Suranga Lakmal will lead the side in the absence of Chandimal.
The hosts will decide between left-arm orthodox spinner Malinda Pushpakumara and left-arm wrist spinner Lakshan Sandakan to replace veteran Rangana Herath, who retired from international cricket in Galle. The 31-year-old Pushpakumara has taken over 600 First-class wickets and has played two Tests.
Sri Lanka’s impressive home record against England is also at stake. Since losing to Nasser Hussain’s side 2-1 in 2001, Sri Lanka have not lost a series to England. The hosts have generally struggled at Pallekele having won only one game at this venue in six attempts. This will be England’s first game at Pallekele. They have visited Kandy before but prior to 2010 Test cricket in the hill capital was played at Asgiriya, the ground owned by Trinity College.
Injuries and retirement of Herath are not the only issues the Sri Lankans have to deal with. Spinner Akila Dananjaya, who bowled 38.5 overs in Galle has been reported for a suspect action and his future is under a cloud. Dananjaya is allowed to play the second Test but he needs to go through a testing within 14 days of being reported. Stand-in skipper Lakmal backed the bowler and revealed that match officials had raised questions about the bowler’s off-spin delivery.
“The umpires have taken that decision, but Dananjaya can play in this game. I talked to him and said don’t worry about anything - just focus on this game. He’s bowled well in the past and he has to do that again. Getting reported is just another thing. Forget that and bowl well in this game,” Lakmal said.
England skipper Joe Root shared similar sentiments. “An unfortunate thing he has to deal with. Ultimately for us we played him at Galle pretty well throughout the last game. Try to do the same this time round. If you see any one with a question mark by their action, you hope they get through and it doesn’t hamper their career. Never nice to see.”
Sri Lanka’s batting failed miserably in Galle. Apart from Angelo Mathews, who made twin half-centuries in the game, none of the other batters managed a half-century in either innings as Sri Lanka lost inside four days.
“As a team we’ve talked about the batting a lot over the last few days. We’ve prepared a plan, and we worked hard on it. I think because of that we’ll be able to play better here than we did in the first Test,” Lakmal said.
Sri Lanka: Suranga Lakmal (Captain), Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Roshen Silva, Dilruwan Perera, Malinda Pushpakumara, Akila Dananjaya, Suranga Lakmal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Niroshan Dickwella, Dushmantha Chameera and Charith Asalanka.
England: Joe Root(Captain), Keaton Jennings, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid, James Anderson, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Joe Denly, Olly Stone, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, Rory Burns and Ben Foakes.
Umpires: Ravi Sundaram (IND)and Marais Erasmus (RSA)
Third Umpire: Chris Gaffaney (NZ)
Match Referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)