DHAKA - Sri Lanka will look to bounce back after an embarrassing setback last week as Angelo Mathews' tourists begin a two-Test series against an equally inconsistent Bangladesh from Monday.
The Islanders were left red-faced when Pakistan chased down 302 in 57.3 overs on a fifth-day pitch to score a series-levelling win in the final Test in Sharjah last Monday. The drawn series, after securing a nine-wicket win in the previous Test in Dubai, meant Sri Lanka remained in the lower half of the Test rankings at number six, an indicator of poor results in recent years.
Since the retirement of world bowling record holder Muttiah Muralitharan in July 2010, Sri Lanka have won just six and lost 12 of their 32 Tests. The veteran duo of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara remain the batting pillars, while another seasoned campaigner -- left-arm spinner Rangana Herath -- spearheads the bowling.
Sri Lanka will be relieved the Bangladesh tour was given the go-ahead despite widespread political violence in the run-up to the opposition-boycotted general elections on January 5. The tourists have defeated Bangladesh in 13 of their 14 Tests, seven of them by an innings margin. On their previous tour in 2008-09, Sri Lanka won the first Test by 107 runs and the second by 465 runs.
But the Sri Lankan skipper refused to take victory for granted. "We may have won in the past, but we still need to go hard at them," Mathews told reporters ahead of the first Test at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Dhaka. "Bangladesh will always be tough to beat at home. They have improved a lot in recent years. We need to play good cricket to win. We are certainly not going to take them lightly." Bangladesh promise to provide tougher opposition this time even though they languish at the bottom of the Test rankings at number 10, lower than unfancied Zimbabwe. Ever since they gained Test status in 2000, the Tigers have lost 67 of 81 matches, winning just four -- two each against Zimbabwe and a depleted West Indies.
Bangladesh endured an uninspiring 2013 in the longer format, the low point being a crushing 335-run defeat by Zimbabwe in Harare. But they drew two home Tests against New Zealand in October. All-rounder Shakib-Al Hasan, who leads Bangladesh's spin attack, hopes sporting wickets that favour both batsmen and bowlers will be prepared for the series.
"The contest is between two Asian teams so a spin-friendly pitch may not help much," Shakib said. "We now have the experience to play good cricket against any team." The hosts have recalled opening batsman Imrul Kayes for the first Test in Dhaka and included new batsman Shamsur Rahman, but the focus will be firmly on all-rounder Sohag Gazi.
The 22-year-old right-hander and off-spinner created a stir during the New Zealand series when he became the first player to score a hundred and take a hat-trick in the same Test match. Sri Lanka will also play three one-day internationals and two Twenty20 matches during the month-long tour.
BANGLADESH (FROM): Mushfiqur Rahim (capt), Tamim Iqbal, Marshall Ayub, Shakib Al Hasan, Nasir Hossain, Mominul Haque, Shamsur Rahman, Mohammad Mahmudullah, Imrul Kayes, Abdur Razzak, Sohag Gazi, Robiul Islam, Rubel Hossain, Al-Amin Hossain.
SRI LANKA (FROM): Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Prasanna Jayawardene, Kithruwan Vithanage, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Ajantha Mendis.