All eyes on the pitch
The importance of the surface for the first Test at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium was illustrated by the fact that almost half the Sri Lankan team, including coach Chandika Hathursingha and skipper Dinesh Chandimal, were at the centre wicket having a close look at the pitch in Chittagong yesterday.
The pitch has been at the centre stage of discussion after Bangladesh were unable to chase down a the modest 222-run target against Sri Lanka in the final of the tri-series in Mirpur and the home selectors including six spinners in the Test squad has once again put all the focus on the wicket.
One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see the team combination and get an idea of the wicket and that it will obviously be a battle between the spinners of the two sides.
Among the 16 Tests played at this venue so far, Sri Lanka have played three -- the highest among tourists – and won two by huge margins while drawing the other, with Kumar Sangakkara striking a triple hundred in 2014.
The Tigers have however since adopted a different strategy in Test cricket during the tenure of Hathurusingha, as the pitches tend to produce huge turn and are slow in nature from the first day of a Test. This template was demonstrated in Chittagong Tests against England in October 2016 and against Australia in September last year, when off-spinner Nathan Lyon bagged 13 wickets.
Lankan veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath will be the trump card for the visitors as the 39-year-old has been instrumental in the recent Test successes of the Sri Lankan side.
Herath has the ability to extract venom with his accuracy and variations in flight even when there is very little help for the spinners and is expected to do the bulk of the bowling, which will surely test the temperament of the Bangladeshi batsmen. In eight Tests against Bangladesh, Herath has 41 wickets at an average of 22.63, including three five-wicket hauls and a 10-for.
As far as the hosts are concerned, they will be looking at the in-form opener Tamim Iqbal to replicate innings like the 179-ball 78 he scored on a difficult surface at the same venue against England in 2016. Also important will be the need for wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Rahim to rediscover some of the doggedness that he displayed in the same Test, which ended in a close defeat for the Tigers.
This time, however, Hathurusingha will not have the benefit of getting the important information regarding the nature of the pitch from the curator but he will still have some insight about the deck to impart to his team, having been Bangladesh coach for three years.
"I can share a bit about the pitches here. There were two pitches prepared. We know they will probably decide today," Hathurusingha told reporters when asked what experiences he could share with his team ahead of the game.
It was learnt that the first Test will be played on pitch number three and that the home side has asked for a wicket that turns from the first day.
Regardless of the visitors' plans regarding the pitch or how the home side has prepared the wicket in their favour and intend to utilise it by picking six spinners in the squad, it will ultimately come down to which team executes better over the coming five days.