Galle, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka on Friday suffered a big blow when in-form opener Tillakaratne Dilshan was ruled out of the opening Test against New Zealand in Galle after failing to recover from a back injury.
Dilshan, who also missed the last two matches of the recent one-day series against the tourists, was replaced by uncapped opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne, 24.
“Probably he (Dilshan) can manage while batting but on-the-field movements are still giving him problems, I guess,” Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene said at a press conference on the eve of the Test.
“We assessed him on Wednesday and he wasn't 100 percent. We have a week to see whether he could be fit for the next Test (in Colombo).”
Dilshan smashed an unbeaten 102 in Sri Lanka's seven-wicket victory in the third one-dayer of the five-match series, won 3-0 by the hosts. The two matches were abandoned due to rain.
He has so far scored 5,028 runs in 81 Tests with 14 hundreds and 21 half-centuries.
Left-handed Karunaratne has played just two ODI’s.
“Dimuth has been consistent last season and had a good 'A' team tour to South Africa. Opportunities need to be given when he is doing well,” said the Sri Lankan captain.
Sri Lanka have named three specialist spinners – Rangana Herath, Suraj Randiv and Tharindu Kaushal – in the squad, but Jayawardene hoped the pitch at the Galle International Stadium would also favour pacemen.
“As a team we have prepared well. The wicket will help spin bowlers only on the last two days and I hope it will be a good track for fast bowlers too,” said the Sri Lankan skipper.
Left-arm spinner Herath and off-spinner Randiv played key roles in Sri Lanka's last two Test wins at this traditionally spin-friendly venue when they shared 30 wickets against England and Pakistan this year.
New Zealand captain Ross Taylor conceded batting against spin would hold the key to his team's fortunes.
“Last time we played here I don't think there was a lot of spin. There was spin, but not excessive spin. Sri Lanka are probably going to go in with two spinners and the way we play them is going to be crucial,” he said.
“But we've got to focus on ourselves and score big totals and take 20 wickets. We'll more than likely go in with three quicks and one spinner.”
Taylor said his bowlers would also gain from the experience of former Sri Lankan left-arm paceman Chaminda Vaas, who is assisting New Zealand on the current tour.
“He's given us an insight into Sri Lanka conditions and we have a couple of left-arm quicks who are learning a lot off him at the moment,” said Taylor.
New Zealand have won only three of their 13 Tests in Sri Lanka. – Sapa-AFP