Sri Lanka select out of hope not expectation

India v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Delhi, 1st day December 02, 2017

When you are getting hammered all over and missing a talismanic bowler who has been both your stock bowler and your spearhead, there are no easy decisions. Sri Lanka had a big one to make coming into the Delhi Test: do they pick an extra batsman and give a debut to Roshen Silva or play an extra bowler in Vishwa Fernando?

In the first two Tests, they had picked the extra seam-bowling allrounder, but the indications leading into the Test were clear: they wanted batting cover. A difficult decision to play Silva was made, but Sri Lanka bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake admitted it was a defensive move and ended up overworking their bowlers.

"We had to decide whether to go with the extra bowler or with an extra batsman," Ratnayake said. "Since we hadn't done well in our batting we wanted to make a better statement establishing a better score. If we were going to bat the first day we had to have those seven batsmen. That was the decision we had to take. It certainly taxes the opening bowlers because they are the ones who bowled the most in the last game also. Even today, I would say, they are heavily taxed."

Rangana Herath's absence didn't help nor did an absence of flexible plans. Lakshan Sandakan, the left-arm wristspinner replacing Herath took too long to start using hid wrong'un, which got him two wickets in the final session. Ratnayake was left wishing he had done that earlier. The major blame, though, laid at the doorsteps on the batsmen. Sri Lanka have now failed to score 300 in the first innings in all their five Tests against India this year.

"We've been talking about that too, and the top five know they have to deliver," Ratnayake said. "It's just that when [they do so] is the issue, and we had to take that decision because we went with six-five combination [in the earlier Tests]. We thought that we should try something different and go with seven-four. Hope it works."

The big problem for Sri Lanka is that Angelo Mathews doesn't bowl anymore. There is some good news, though, that his return to ODI bowling - he bowled 17 overs in the five-match series against India - is likely to continue even though he missed the UAE tour because of a fresh injury.

"If he is chosen for the ODIs… he is practising to bowl in ODIs," Ratnayake said. "Because he has got a very acute injury - it's not only the thighs now, it's gone to the calves - we are very cautious of what he does and how he does things. He is managed carefully. Yesterday he bowled six overs in the nets and he looked good."

If Sri Lanka had won the toss and decided to bat, Mathews would have continued his bowling work in the nets at some point. However, the bowling comeback - at the moment at least - is restricted to shorter versions. As is the solution to their selection conundrum of playing the extra batsman or bowler.

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