Lankan selectors spring a surprise

This, despite the fact that they had won the first Test in Galle last week, by the comprehensive margin of ten wickets! The retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan and the unavailability through injury of Lasith Malinga undoubtedly forced their hand, but even so, it came as somewhat of a surprise, if not entirely unexpected, when the Sri Lankan playing eleven was announced.

Joining Muralitharan and Malinga on the sidelines were the left-armers, paceman Chanaka Welegedara and spinner Rangana Herath. Welegedara had been less than threatening in Galle, even if he accounted for Virender Sehwag in both innings, while Herath had played a tidy support role to Muralitharan, finishing with match figures of one for 122 from 45 overs.

Crucially, Herath had smashed his way to an unbeaten 80, propelling a middling Lankan total to an imposing one, and must have fancied his chances of teaming up with Ajantha Mendis. Instead, Aravinda de Silva’s panel opted to blood what they believe is a more attacking option in Suraj Randiv, the offie who has made an excellent impression in limited-overs cricket.

On Sunday afternoon, in clear public sight, De Silva and skipper Kumar Sangakkara had been involved in an animated discussion in the middle of the ground, undoubtedly exploring the options threadbare. De Silva had, two days before the game, floated the idea of blooding Randiv, suggesting that in Muralitharan’s absence, Sri Lanka required attacking spin options at both ends.

“Rather than having a bowler who will keep one end tight, we could go for two bowlers who can attack from both ends and take wickets,” De Silva had said. “It would have been entirely different had Murali been there. But now, with Murali being not there, maybe we will have to look at a different combination if we are playing two spinners.”

The 25-year-old Randiv has taken 16 wickets in 15 one-dayers, but 64 first-class games have fetched him 257 wickets at 24.43, including 17 five-wicket hauls and a best of nine for 62. Herath, 32, has taken 71 wickets in 22 Tests and is vastly more experienced, though his first-class economy rate of 2.99 as opposed to Randiv’s 3.42 suggests a more conservative approach.

Sri Lanka chose not to extend their radical thinking to the pace department and throw unknown commodity Nuwan Pradeep into the mix. The 23-year-old caught the eye with sheer pace during the ‘A’ team’s tour of Australia earlier this year, but the hosts opted for the experience of Dilhara Fernando and Dammika Prasad.

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