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Lanka bank on home advantage
- Pitch likely to assist spinners in first Test

Galle: Sri Lanka’s impressive history of Test victories in the southern coastal town of Galle give the hosts an edge here going into Tuesday’s series opener against England, whose skipper Michael Vaughan must seek inspiration from his team’s comeback two years ago.

With prodigious spinner Muttiah Muralidharan dominating the spin-inclined track at the Galle Stadium, Sri Lanka have repeatedly turned the traditional series opener here into a celebration, including an innings victory against Nasser Hussain’s England team in 2001.

Sri Lanka have won six out of eight Tests in Galle since it became a Test venue in 1998.

However, Hussain’s side won the next two Tests of that tour — in Kandy and Colombo — to inflict a rare home series defeat on Sri Lanka, which captain Hashan Tillekeratne has vowed to avenge.

After their maiden encounter in the 1981-82 season, Tests between England and Sri Lanka were confined to one-off matches for two decades until Hussain’s side toured the island for three Tests in 2001. England won the series 2-1 and then prevailed 1-0 when Sri Lanka played a return series last year.

“But things will be different this time,” he said.

“Look back at those two series. England did not win because it played good cricket, but due to the mistakes we made. We just handed the series to them on a platter.”

“It’s crucial that we win this time. Playing in Sri Lanka, our fans won’t accept anything less,” he said. “We have the advantage of playing at home. The Galle pitch suits the spinners, and it’s been Sri Lanka’s happy hunting ground,” Tillekeratne said.

Two years ago, it was in Galle that Hussain enhanced his reputation as a leader by repeating England’s rare series win in Pakistan. Following a hattrick of England victories against Sri Lanka, Vaughan is now seeking to revive that spirit in a squad that includes Hussain as a middle-order batsman.

Several of England’s leading performers have returned for another crack at Sri Lanka’s citadel, but it is missing the crucial edge provided by the penetrative pace of Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick.

A lack of pace bowlers — and a balding pitch — has prompted Vaughan to ponder the possibility of going in with a spin-focussed attack.

“We’ve got to come up with the best formula to approach this one-off Test,” Vaughan told reporters. “The pitch looks very similar to last time we were here. There is not much grass on it.

“When you look at a wicket like that, three spinners could come into play for us,” he said.

Arriving in Sri Lanka after a 2-0 series win against Bangladesh, England’s preparations for stiffer competition has suffered from lack of match-practice due to heavy showers lashing the island.

Persistent rain during the past week has dampened the enthusiasm of the organisers, but the skies cleared Monday.

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