Much of the talk regarding the first Test between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka due to start at 10:30am (Bangladesh time) on Tuesday at the Galle International Cricket Stadium has surrounded Bangladesh's previous visit here in March 2013. Then, Bangladesh notched their highest Test score and skipper Mushfiqur Rahim scored the country's first double-hundred.
But four years have elapsed since then, and that match has very little bearing other than the intangible confidence Bangladesh can draw from a rare good performance on the island. Sri Lanka's legends Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have departed, and they are a team in transition led by the sole survivor of that match, left-arm spin wizard Rangana Herath.
Bangladesh, on the other hand, while retaining their core group, have since graduated from perennial Test whipping boys for whom Galle 2013 was an aberration into one that can be expected to compete. The teams are much more evenly matched than they were four years ago.
There have also been additions to that core that can serve them well on this trip, both among players and coaching staff. Two of those players -- Mustafizur Rahman and Mehedi Hasan Miraz -- are expected to be playing for the first time together, and both have taken the world by storm in the little time that they have been international cricketers. Mustafizur's story is well-known and he will be expected to continue on that trajectory when he returns with red ball in hand after a gap of more than a year and a half from Test cricket. Off-spinner Mehedi will be expected to show similar qualities on an expectedly spin-friendly pitch that saw him take 19 wickets in his debut Test series against England last October.
The coaching staff with head coach Chandika Hathurusingha, batting coach Thilan Samaraweera and trainer Mario Villavarayan, is a predominantly Sri Lankan one and according to Herath, will be a definite advantage for the tourists.
As for team composition, the one big change is that Mushfiqur will not be keeping wickets, which means a return to the Test side for Liton Das for the first time since June 2015. That also means that one of the regular batsmen -- most likely Sabbir Rahman -- will miss out today.
Mushfiqur, while speaking at the pre-match press conference yesterday, provided enough clues to provide a shape to the bowling line-up, with four bowlers including all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan all but confirmed.
“The type of bowler he is, Mustafizur will make them work hard on this wicket. Many of them [Sri Lanka batsmen] are going to play him for the first time, which we have seen is difficult for any batsman. We also have Taskin Ahmed, but we have to make sure to grab the opportunities that come our way.
With the skipper also indicating that Mehedi will be in the side, it remains to be seen whether Bangladesh go in with two pacers, with left-arm spinner Taijul Islam completing a three-man spin attack, or whether they will plump for three pacers with one of Rubel Hossain, Subhashis Roy or Kamrul Islam Rabbi taking the third seamer's spot along with Mustafizur and Taskin.
The pitch, according to both captains, is likely to aid the spinners with help on offer, and according to Mushfiqur, to pacers on the first two days. Herath thought that it will be good for batting on the first two days. Mushfiqur seemed to be hoping that the scorching Galle heat will cause the wicket to break up quicker, which will play into the hands of his spinners, provided of course that he calls rightly at the toss and bats first, which seems to be a no-brainer here.
Making the decision trickier is the forecast, with rain predicted from the second day onwards, which might in turn contribute to the wicket holding together for longer than anticipated.