CHITTAGONG: Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan looks on during a nets session at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium on Saturday.—AFP
CHITTAGONG: Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan looks on during a nets session at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium on Saturday.—AFP

CHITTAGONG: Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne said his team was not fazed by the return of Bangladesh’s star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan ahead of the first Test starting in Chittagong on Sunday.

Shakib, Bangladesh’s leading wicket-taker in Tests, was initially ruled out of the game because of a Covid-19 infection — but was cleared on Friday to play after testing negative.

“When we came here, we knew the Bangladesh squad. So Shakib was there, and we were preparing for him as well. So it doesn’t make any changes for us,” Karunaratne told reporters on Saturday.

He admitted that the 35-year-old star player’s absence would have given the visitors a “big advantage”.

“But he’s playing and we were prepared for that,” he said.

The return of Shakib, ranked number four among Test all-rounders ahead of England’s Ben Stokes, was subject to his fitness, but skipper Mominul Haque on Saturday confirmed he would play.

Karunaratne said that he expected Chittagong’s pitch to be flat, meaning that Sri Lanka need to score “a lot of runs” to pressure the hosts.

“It seems like it’s a good, flat wicket. But when we do the homework right, we can make a change here, and if we do those changes I think we can go to Dhaka (for the second Test) on a winning note.”

Sri Lanka scored 713 runs in their first innings in their last Test at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in 2018, with Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, and Roshen Silva all hitting tons.

Karunaratne also told reporters on Friday that the retirement of Suranga Lakmal was an opportunity for young fast bowlers to perform and establish a spot on the side.

Lakmal, who claimed 171 wickets in 70 Tests, retired at the end of the Test series in India in March.

Sri Lanka also dropped Lahiru Kumara, another experienced fast bowler, to bring in a host of young players in the squad for the Bangladesh series.

“In the past, we’ve seen that it was primarily Suranga that was holding up one end in terms of fast bowling, but there’s now a chance for someone else to grab that spot,” Karunaratne said.

“I look forward to seeing who puts their hand up,” he said.

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are close in the ICC Test rankings, with Sri Lanka in seventh place and Bangladesh ninth.

Bangladesh drew 1-1 in New Zealand in January but were well beaten 2-0 in South Africa in April when Shakib was injured.

Sri Lanka lost 2-0 in India in March but beat the West Indies at home by the same margin in November.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2022

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