Sri Lanka head coach on his side’s injury crisis and the difficulty of conditioning players for Test cricket
Despite having made their highest ever total in South Africa, Sri Lanka have had an abysmal three days in Centurion, with Dhananjaya de Silva and Kasun Rajitha ruled out of the Test, and Lahiru Kumara also unlikely to bowl again after sustaining what seemed to be a groin injury. Batsman Dinesh Chandimal also appeared to be struggling, having required treatment by the boundary after taking a single off the last ball of the day.
Head coach Mickey Arthur talked after the close of play about how complications from Covid-19 and the Lanka Premier League probably contributed to less-than-ideal conditioning and preparation for Sri Lanka’s players.
On conditioning and Sri Lanka’s build up:
If I take you back to what our preparation was, we built up for a series with Bangladesh [scheduled for October]. We had two residential camps in Colombo. That series didn’t take place and we then had to de-load the players because we couldn’t keep the players loaded up at their level. The South African tour was then on and then off, and then on and then off. So then we had a residential camp where we got our guys back.
The background to all of that was that Colombo was in curfew and some of our players couldn’t move out of their homes. A lot of the conditioning work had to be done at home. Then the South African tour was agreed and the board very generously gave us a residential camp. We had two weeks where we began to load the players up again. And then unfortunately we had the LPL. From our residential camp we lost our players to the LPL for a month – through no fault of anybody, that’s just how it worked. Then we got them back the day we left to come to South Africa.
In terms of loads, in terms of conditioning, in terms of quarantining, I think you can throw all of that in a melting pot and every one of them played some role.
On how bad the injury crisis is:
I don’t know what the prognosis is on Dinesh Chandimal. I’m hoping it’s cramp, but I get the feeling it’s a little bit more than cramp. So that’s another one down. Luckily we brought 21 players, otherwise it would be batting coach Grant Flower at No. 3 and me at No. 4 in the next Test. It is what it is. We’ve just got to work through that and hope that we get some players coming back from injury, and some that are not as bad as what we initially thought.
On changing the rules for substitutions, while teams are having abnormal preparation:
In terms of Covid substitutions, I sit on the ICC cricket committee and I will be having a chat at the end of this Test match. India lost one of their quicks today. I suspect that more teams are going to lose their quicks as it goes on. The rigours of the workload is just going to be too much with coronavirus around.
If the world was was normal I don’t think we’d be in this situation, because I think the conditioning would be perfect and I think the guys would be ready to go. With this being an abnormal world at the moment, I think that will come up for discussion at the ICC level at some point. We’re down to seven, and if Chandi’s out, we’ve only got six fit players to finish a Test match, which is not good enough for anybody. It’s not good enough for the team, it’s not good enough for the TV audience, and it’s not good enough for our position either.
On whether the timing of the LPL, which ended only 10 days before the start of this Test, helped bring on these injuries:
There’s a lot of conjecture about that. The LPL had to be played at that stage in time. It was a tournament that Sri Lanka needed. That was the only window it could be fitted into. Maybe if we had it in hindsight we would have tried to preserve a lot of our main players, but then again that would have devalued the competition. If I had my time again, we probably would have pulled some of our quicks out of it.
I think this going to be the narrative we have all the time with our players, with the different franchise competitions, and the fact that 2021 is going to be very busy for most international teams. Getting the balance right is going to be important. The conditioning work and getting enough time for preparation is going to be key. We didn’t get enough time here, and that’s through no fault of anybody. That’s just how the calendar worked out. We knew we were going to endanger some guys which is why we brought 21 players. I certainly didn’t think we’d only have seven fit players in this Test.
On what Sri Lanka’s positives are from this Test so far:
Our batsmen have got in played well. I thought getting 400 on that wicket in innings one – had we had our full attack available – would have been pretty challenging. We’d be sitting here very much in the Test match. We got 396 in innings one on a wicket that was bouncing, seaming and doing a bit. We were aggressive and showed good intent.
The other positive I take out of it is the effort levels of every one of the players who were called upon to bowl. Vishwa Fernando has just run in and run in and run in. Dasun Shanaka who was very much a fourth seamer and was picked as the batting allrounder, came in and he did a role for us. He never shirked. Losing our finger spinner in Dhananjaya de Silva and our holding bowler in Kasun Rajitha put our attack under so much pressure. That was really tough to swallow.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf