Acting head coach Gary Wilson expects Ireland to produce an improved performance on their showing in the first Test against Sri Lanka last week but accepts it remains a learning process for players still very inexperienced in red-ball cricket.
Addressing the media today ahead of the second Test, which starts in Galle tomorrow morning, the acting head coach was upbeat despite the innings and 280 runs defeat last week and feels the players are better prepared.
“We will have a better idea of conditions. The pitch looks similar but we will still have to think on our feet, and no doubt we want and expect to put in a better performance with both bat and ball,” said Wilson, who admitted that head coach Heinrich Malan is having a say in selection from back home in Dublin.
“I thought the pitch changed significantly after lunch on day two and our spinners spun it more, but they had quite a few runs by then so we want to control the rate better than we did in the first Test. The longer the game goes on the more our spinners will come into it.”
The four slow bowlers used by Andy Balbirnie last week took only three wickets in 85 overs and, although Andy McBrine went for just a fraction above four runs an over, Ben White, George Dockrell and Harry Tector averaged almost five-and-a-half, and Wilson admitted they will be looking for more consistency this time.
The batsmen, boosted by the return of Paul Stirling, however, know they will have to score more than 311 runs in the match to be competitive and slow left armer Prabath Jayasuriya will be back for more, looking to improve on his 10-wicket haul in the first Test.
“Jayasuriya is an incredibly, accurate bowler,” continued Wilson, “but it comes down to skilful batting with a good mindset, good application, and trying to put their bowlers off their lengths a bit more. We’ve had good conversations with all three skill sets – batsman, pace bowlers and spinners – and we’ll be looking to put that into practice over the next five days.”
Taking the match into a fifth day, without any interruption from the weather, would a huge achievement for this team and a first, but Wilson, who played county cricket with Surrey and Derbyshire for 11 years, has nothing but admiration for his players as they adapt to this intensive period of Test cricket, with no domestic first-class action since 2019.
“Personally, I love red ball cricket, something I loved playing when I was in England and I believe it makes you a better rounded cricketer, he said.
“It’s not a case if we play more four-five day cricket that the one-day cricket will suffer. The more red-ball cricket they play, the more they will learn about themselves as cricketers and the more matches we can play, brilliant.
“These Sri Lanka players have played 70, 80, 90 first class games, Ben White has played two! For us to be on the same playing field as them is a great story because we are not brought up on red-ball cricket and I have nothing but admiration for those boys in the dressing room.
“After tea on day one when Sri Lanka were 300 for one, you ask yourself how are meant to come back from that situation because we have never been there before. But the attitude and application to learn and get better every day has, honestly, been outstanding.”
Wilson confirmed there would be at least two changes to the Ireland side with Graham Hume coming in for Mark Adair, who is being rested ahead of next month’s World Cup Super League games against Bangladesh. As well as Stirling, there could also be a Test debut for Lisburn slow left armer Matthew Humphreys.