In normal circumstances, a Test match against Zimbabwe at home would have been something that would not have been something that Sri Lanka would have fussed over. But in the years following the retirement of stalwarts Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan cricket team has unravelled in an alarming manner.
Sri Lanka were second in the ICC Test rankings in 2010. Seven years later, they have slipped to seventh spot, just three places above Zimbabwe. They looked anything but a side that has won the World Cup once and reached consecutive finals as they fell to a 3-2 defeat in the preceding ODI series. It was the first time in seven years that Zimbabwe had won a series away from home.
The fact remains that it is a different ball game facing Sri Lanka in the longest format of the game. The hosts may have looked to give some youngsters a run in this match but the embarrassment in the ODI series means that they have gone into damage control mode and fielded a full strength side. It may be the first time that Dinesh Chandimal leads Sri Lanka in a Test match but he will backed by the experience of Angelo Mathews and veteran Rangana Herath, among others.
At the same time, as Chandimal himself pointed out, even a full strength Sri Lankan squad will be wary of Zimbabwe. Despite the hosts’ dodgy form in ODI cricket of late, few would have expected Zimbabwe to win a five match series against them in their own stomping ground. While Sri Lanka have experience and a far better record on their side, Zimbabwe are undoubtedly more confident than the hosts and will be looking to pounce on an opening.