By Srian Obeyesekere
The one-off test match between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan tomorrow February 2 at the Sinhalese Sports Club Grounds that enters a historic page in the international arena is hyped in a twofold momentum build-up of the hosts entering a new phase under a new test captain in Dhananjaya de Silva while Afghanistan enters the fray carrying a praiseworthy dark horse dynamism of shocking better-known names in the one-day format. In that backdrop while the focus will be on how De Silva, thrust with the lead role at age 33, marshals his men where he faces the testing challenge of coming good bearing the big mantle of leading from the front given a noteworthy flair of an attacking player known to whip up a contest by a characteristic workmanlike approach to building an innings to go with his uncanny wicket taking slow stuff, Afghanistan’s entry to the fray of test cricket will as much be of interest in early days where the former war torn nation will be out to put behind a 546 thrashing at the hands of Bangladesh in their first outing over two years ago. last played a Test match in June last year, which was their first match in the format for over two years. They were beaten by 546 runs by Bangladesh in Mirpur in their last outing.
From a Sri Lankan perspective the gathering momentum will be how a tested combination of experience and youth that has three uncapped players in the squad in wicket-keeper batsman Lahiru Udara, and pacers Chamika Gunasekara, and Milan Rathnayake, will go about the Afghans as to whether Dhananjaya de Silva’s charges translate that gung-ho to winning ways.
From an Afghanistan point of view, how well the 29-year-old Hashmatullah Shahidi will meet the big challenge of delivering from a promising curve of a young left-handed batsman who has broken into the big business of leading his country known to have made his mark in the youth teenage fold culminating in performing for the U19 team that beat Australia and Sri Lanka, which propelled him into the squad for Afghanistan’s first full tour of Zimbabwe. Interestingly he is known to idolize Sri Lanka’s former icon Kumar Sangakkara and does carry a penchant for his trademark cover drive stroke.
Thus far, Sri Lanka enjoys a head-to-head 7-3 ODI win record against Afghanistan. The two teams have played six bilateral matches, where Afghanistan has recorded two wins, Sri Lanka has won three games and one match did not produce a result. The other five matches happened in multi-nation tournaments.
SRI LANKA TEST SQUAD: Dhananjaya de Silva (c), Kusal Mendis (vc), Dimuth Karunaratne, Nishan Madushka, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Ramesh Mendis, Asitha Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Kamindu Mendis, Prabath Jayasuriya, Lahiru Udara, Chamika Gunasekara, Milan Rathnayake.
AFGHANISTAN TEST SQUAD: Hashmatullah Shahidi (c), Ibrahim Zadran, Abdul Malik, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah (vc), Bahir Shah, Nasir Jamal, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Mohammad Ishaq (wk), Qais Ahmad, Zia-ur-Rehman, Zahir Khan, Yamin Ahmadzai, Nijat Masood, Mohammad Saleem and Naveed Zadran.