The second edition of Asian Test Championship in the 2001-02 season, Bangladesh, the then one-year-old Test nation back then, had the opportunity to play against two of Asia’s best teams – Pakistan and Sri Lanka at their own backyard. After suffering a heavy defeat against Pakistan at Multan, the Tigers flew to Colombo to face the fury of the Lankan Lions and Muttiah Muralitharan.
On September 10, 2001, Bangladesh played their first ever Test match on Sri Lankan soil and it had been another story of absolute humiliation for the visitors. The Sri Lankan batsmen and Murali were too hot to handle for the Tigers. Mohammad Ashraful’s record-breaking hundred on debut was the only thing to cheer for Bangladesh.
Since then, Bangladesh’s tours in Sri Lanka have never been great. The Tigers always returned home with a heavy heart and till now, they have not earned a victory over Sri Lanka in Test matches both home and away. The only notable result for a touring Bangladesh team in Sri Lanka was four years ago when they were able to draw a Test and returned home happily after drawing the ODI series 1-1.
Since 2013, many things have changed. As a team, Bangladesh have matured, and have landed on Sri Lankan soil as a unit which is as strong on paper as the hosts.
While the Tigers boast an experienced side, Sri Lanka are a pretty young and inexperienced team. Moreover, they would be without the services of captain Angelo Mathews and for the first time, Bangladesh bowlers would breathe a sigh of relief as they will not have to bowl to Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. The Lankan batting line-up is shaky and lack the experience of playing enough Test cricket.
Rangana Herath will lead Sri Lanka in the upcoming Test series and will be carrying the added responsibility of captaincy apart from spearheading the bowling attack.
What a servant Herath has been for Sri Lanka over the years! It’s never easy to fill the gap of a legend like Muralitharan, but Herath, for the last six years, has played a crucial role in Sri Lanka’s success in Test cricket and has emerged as one of the most consistent wicket-taking slow left-arm orthodox bowlers.
In the last six years, he has fetched 279 wickets in Test cricket, and at home, Herath has been an absolute demon. The spinner has bagged 231 wickets at an average of 23.15 and a strike rate of 51.64 at home, whereas, his average away from home is 37.79 and strike rate is 78.81. At Galle, he has picked 84 wickets, while 34 wickets at P Sara Oval with a strike rate of 53.42 and 56.03 respectively.
Bangladesh will play the first Test at Galle and the second at P Sara Oval and both the venues are Herath’s happy hunting grounds. Moreover, against Bangladesh, Herath’s record is very good as well – 25 wickets at an average of 25.60 and strike rate of 52.36.
Bangladesh have happy memories of Galle; in 2013, they gave a fitting reply to Sri Lanka’s mammoth first innings total by posting more than 600 runs for the first time in their Test history and didn’t let Herath take the upper hand. The Lankan spin maestro was made to toil hard under the hot sun as he managed to bag only two wickets for 162 runs from 62 overs.
In that match, the track was flat and the visitors took full advantage of it. But the conditions might not be the same this time around. In the last series against India and Australia in 2015 and 2016, Galle has been more favourable for the spinners and the same can be said about P Sara Oval. The spinners of the home team, especially Herath, tested the technique and temperament of visiting teams immensely and they were dismissed for not playing the ball either too late or more on the front foot.
For the Bangladesh batsmen, Galle and P Sara Oval won’t be an easy task. The ball is expected to turn, bounce and drift more and if the Bangladeshi batsmen wish to fair well against the Lankan spinners and Herath, they need to work more on their backfoot stroke-play and play the ball as late as possible. Again, they need to strengthen their defence and protect the edge.
The majority of Herath’s dismissals is either due to being caught in the slips or bat-pad fielder, and leg before wickets – 37.5% caught and 26.3% by LBWs. This indicates how important it is to play the ball on the backfoot more and get behind the line of the ball as much as possible.
Meanwhile, Herath has the knack of bagging the wickets of the big fish of the opposing team’s batting line-up. So far, he has dismissed Misbah-ul-Haq nine times, Azhar Ali and Younis Khan eight times, Ross Taylor six times and Steve Smith five times. Among the Bangladeshis, Mahmudullah Riyad has been dismissed three times, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mominul Haque dismissed two times while Shakib Al Hasan once by Herath.
One might think, Sri Lanka are in a poor state and might succumb against the visitors this time around, but this Lankan team has some exciting players who could rise to the occasion any moment to crank up a surprising display and if Herath get’s going with the ball in his hand, Bangladesh’s tour might be a tough one.
We all know what Herath and a ‘weak’ Sri Lankan did to Australia last year.
Bangladesh’s success in Sri Lanka will depend on how they handle the spin of Herath. If the Tigers fail to exhibit enough character and the right technique, another bashing is in order.