‘Goal is No. 1, but can’t do that in a year’ – Chandimal

Sri Lanka’s new Test captain Dinesh Chandimal has hopes of taking the team to the top of the rankings, but expects the climb to be hard-fought, beginning with Friday’s Test against Zimbabwe.

Having been as high as No. 2 in 2010, Sri Lanka have now slipped to No. 7 on the table, and have lost four of their five most-recent games. They have sprung most surprises in Tests, however, having unexpectedly won a series against Australia a year ago.

“My final goal is to take the team to No. 1 in the world,” Chandimal said ahead of his first Test as captain. “But we can’t do that in one day or one year. We have to work hard with our cricket to get there. We have young players, and we have to give them experience along the way. We have to take it step by step – go to No. 6 first, then No. 5 and so on. We have a long way to go.”

The first step on that journey is to ensure a Zimbabwe tour that has already caused strife for Sri Lanka does not get any worse. Zimbabwe’s top order shone in their ODI series victory but Chandimal believes the experience Sri Lanka carries in their Test attack will pose sterner questions of the opposition.

“The Zimbabwe batsmen, in particular, played very well during the five ODIs, and we can’t underestimate them,” Chandimal said. “But we do have Rangana Herath in our Test team, who is an extremely experienced player. We also have Dilruwan Perera. I don’t think we will let Zimbabwe get into rhythm too easily. We have plans against them, and we have good spinners. So I’m hoping we can bowl well and restrict them.”

With Herath leading the attack, the bowling is in good hands, and the batting appears somewhat settled, but Sri Lanka’s catching has been woeful over the past year. Their Test loss to Bangladesh in March may well have been avoided had Sri Lanka taken all their chances. As a result, fielding will be a priority in the early days of his captaincy, Chandimal said.

“I’ve thought about how we became so weak in fielding, and tried to work out how we can fix it. I talked with the coaches as well. Even in training, if we catch 100 flat catches, 100 high catches, and 100 ground fielding balls, the pressure that we have in the game is missing. I talked to the coaches and told them that what I want is to do those drills under something similar to match pressure. Then we have a target and feed off each other’s energy. In the last few days that’s what we did. I think we’ll be able to improve a lot in our fielding with those measures.”

Though he played as a specialist batsman in the most-recent Test series, against Bangladesh, Chandimal has kept wicket in 24 of his 36 Tests. He was unwilling to commit to giving up the gloves in light of his captaincy, but suggested he may play as a specialist batsman in the short term. Limited-overs wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella is in the squad.

“Dickwella is in form in ODIs and is a young player, and we also have to push him forward as someone who will improve our cricket,” Chandimal said. “He will probably do the job most times. But I will also consider the team’s balance, and am prepared to keep. For this match he will probably keep.”

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