(Reuters) - Four changes to a winning Sri Lanka team, only one of them injury-enforced, created a brief flurry of concern among their supporters before the World Cup final against India in Mumbai on April 2.
Most of the debate surrounded the omission of Ajantha Mendis, who had taken three wickets in the semi-final against New Zealand. Rangana Herath, another spinner, was also dropped.
The reshuffled attack was soon forgotten when Sri Lanka raced to 274 for six. It seemed totally irrelevant when Lasith Malinga dismissed India’s two dangermen Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar for a total of 18 runs.
Yet from these depths, India still managed to win with six wickets and 10 balls to spare. Apart from Malinga, Sri Lanka’s attack proved inadequate with even the mighty Muttiah Muralitharan going wicketless in his final match for his country.
To add to Sri Lanka’s woes, Malinga has subsequently retired from test cricket, Chaminda Vaas is deemed too old and Mendis no longer mystifies the better batsmen.
All of which makes their new captain Tillakaratne Dilshan’s dream of winning a series for the first time in England more difficult.
Sri Lanka are now coached by Stuart Law, who has taken over the job from fellow Australian Trevor Bayliss on a part-time basis.
The new management team have a tough job in the early part of the English summer against a resurgent home side whose erratic World Cup performances will quickly be forgotten whereas their Ashes heroics in Australia will live forever.
“It’s no easy task going up against the best test team in the world at the moment, they’ve had a fantastic 18 months,” Law said after Sri Lanka had won their opening tour match against Middlesex.
“We know we are up against it here but we aren’t here to lose. We can match them if we apply ourselves and keep things simple.
“We can be a devastating team and that’s what we are planning on doing. We are here to play cricket the way Sri Lanka play cricket and if we do we’ll be successful.”
Batting will not be a problem with two former captains Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who scored a wonderful century in the World Cup final, joining the team from the Indian Premier League before next week’s opening test in Cardiff.
“Mahela and Kumar have played here a million times,” Law added. “They know what to expect. It would be nice to have everyone here two weeks before a big test match but circumstances don’t allow that these days.”
Diharo Fernando is the leader of the pace attack, although he is now 31 and his 90 test wickets have been accumulated over the course of a decade. He will be supported by 24-year-old Nuwan Pradeep, who did not play with a cricket ball until he was 20. Pradeep, like Malinga, has an untutored slinging action and Sri Lanka hope he will play a similar role.
“Filling Malinga’s boots will be tough. We’ve got a young kid on our squad who’s similar and hopefully he stands up to take his place,” Law said. “He’s the future. We have to find someone else who wants to play for 10-15 years.”
Off the field, in an unpleasant reminder of the corruption scandal which ruined Pakistan’s tour of England last year, former Sri Lanka captain Hashan Tillakaratne has said he is ready to share information with the International Cricket Council (ICC) to bacak allegations of match-fixing.
“Match-fixing is something which has been in this country over a period of time,” Tillakaratne was quoted as saying by the Sri Lanka Daily Mirror.
“This has spread like a cancer today. There were threats of this issue being exposed at various times. But it was pushed down by giving money to various people. If the people who were responsible for that are listening to this, I state this today with great responsibility, I will shortly reveal the names of those responsible.” Law said the Sri Lankan management did not want to discuss Tillakaratne’s allegations.
“He says he is going to name names,” Law said. “Let’s wait and see what he does. All we can do is play cricket.”