Old Guard Still Giving SL The Edge

© AP

So Sri Lanka managed to take the series and disaster was averted. In the end, it was a very comfortable 7 wicket win. At times though it did seem as if Bangladesh were on the verge of taking the upper hand, only to have the initiative taken away from them by the likes of Kumar Sangakkara and Rangana Herath. Mahela Jayawardene was missing from this tour through injury, but even though he isn’t in sparkling form he would probably have used the opportunity on that Galle pitch to add to his average of 49.56 and take it over 50. Sangakkara (awarded Man of the Series) had no such problems though as he plundered 441 runs from the two matches, at an average of 110.25. A lowest score of 55 – the rest were centuries. Mahela might have been missed in the sense of providing some calm assurance to Angelo Mathews’ first Test series, but it was probably better for him that he got to go it alone, and to be honest he did alright.

A job well done. ©AFP

The main cause for concern for the coaching staff though was the ineffectiveness of the pace bowling department. Sri Lanka rather unwisely went for two frontline seamers in Galle and were rightly taken around the park on that wicket. Things though did not get that much better on the more seamer-friendly R. Premadasa wicket. Nuwan Kulasekera was the senior paceman in this series. He has an overall Test average of 35.78 and over the course of the lat two matches, he had an average of 38.00. He took 5 wickets (2 in the first innings at Galle and 3 in the first innings at the RPS). More an economical bowler rather than a wicket-taker, his economy in this series was 3.11, compared with a career economy of 2.95.

Next we come on to Shaminda Eranga. Preferred over Suranga Lakmal and Chanaka Welegedera in Galle, he took 3 wickets in that match. His average in this series was 35.16, which is largely in-keeping with a career average of 37.19 from his 7 Tests. 6 wickets also  makes him the highest pace-bowling wicket-taker in the SL side. He is a similar age to Suranga Lakmal and bowls at a similarly brisk pace. Lakmal perhaps has an ability to move the ball of the seam better but the evidence for this was few and far between in this series. Both him and Eranga bowled decent lengths but wavered in line consistently. It may be too soon to judge Eranga too much. He has only played against two Test sides other than Bangladesh – New Zealand at home against whom he averaged 38.20 and Australia home and away against whom he averages 37.90 over 5 innings.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of the pace bowling in this series was that Suranga Lakmal didn’t take a single wicket in this last Test. Yes he has had injury problems, and was preferred to Welegedera who himself isn’t without fitness issues as well, his career average is over 60. I don’t know whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that his lack of a wicket will mean that he doesn’t have an average to add to his career total. I have been an advocate of playing Lakmal more but even I was surprised to find out that his Test average was that bad. Breaking it down, you can see that the damage was done by England and Australia. He average 63.87 against the former (home and away) and 48.77 against Australia. In the two Tests each that he has played against the West Indies and Pakistan, he averages 44 against the West Indies and is wicket-less against Pakistan. At 26 years old he should be coming into his prime, but at the moment there is no suggestion that he is coming anywhere near it. Chaminda Vaas certainly has his work cut out.

Another player who perhaps failed to grasp this opportunity was Dimuth Karunaratne. Previously he had only played 4 Tests – 1 against New Zealand and 3 in Australia. A modest average could be forgiven as he has only ever  faced solid bowling lineups in his career before now. A 41 in the first innings in Galle might otherwise have provided him with a solid base to build upon, but that was to be his high point. The scores that followed were 3, 17 and 16, leaving him with an average of just over 19. His high score still remains an excellent 85 vs Australia at Sydney under difficult conditions. After the innings, Mahela Jayawardene stressed the importance of giving the youngsters a proper run in the side, and suggested that Karunaratne could get a year to bed himself in. All this is great, but with hardly any Tests in this year, he will be under even more pressure to register his maiden Test century. His counter-part in the Bangladesh side was Jaharul Islam and he fared much better. He might not have scored a 50, but with scores of 20, 41*, 33 and 48 at an average of 47.33, he constantly provided Bangladesh with a solid start and took care of the new ball.

The ineffectiveness of the pace bowlers meant that Rangana Herath had to ‘bring the heat’ as it where. The selectors opted to go with one frontline spinner in at the RPS, after Ajantha Mendis proved that he is not a Test bowler anymore in Galle. Coming off a sterling 2012 where he took 60 wickets at 23.61 in the calendar year, there had been hopes that Sri Lanka would see the emergence of another spinner to take some of the burden. It may still happen, with the likes of Tharindu Kaushal, Sacithra Senanayake and Sachith Pathirana taking plenty of wickets on the domestic circuit, but in this series Herath stepped up once again. He took 14 wickets and averaged 23.78 whilst doing it. To explain just how devastating he was in the second Test, it should be pointed out that he only took 2 wickets in Galle and went for plenty on a dead surface. But 5-68 and 7-89 at the RPS saw him earn Man of the Match. True some of the wickets were down to bad shots. Mohammed Ashfraful who had played so masterly in Galle, was bowled by Herath by playing down the proverbial Bakerloo to one that came up the Piccadilly  Similarly Mahmadullah but he managed to miss the ball by the fainest of margins, which then went on to clip the top of off-stump.

Far better Test teams than Bangaldesh have fallen under Herath’s spell. Hopefully many more will. ©Associated Press

The continuing dependence on Herath; who has just turned 35; is worrying. But he should be around for a few more years yet, if Murali’s longevity is anything to go by, or at least up until the 2015 World Cup. Sri Lanka can continue to rely on his flight and control for a little while yet, but there has to be something coming through the ranks – starting with this year, and then coming into the run-up for the next World Cup. Bangladesh will stay on the island for 3 ODIs and a single T20. The SL squad for the first two ODIs was announced the other day and along with Mahela Jayawardene, Herath will also sit the series out, as he is considered to be in need of rest. Tillakaratne Dilshan’s place in the squad was also injury-permitting. The squad is:

Angelo Mathews*, Dinesh Chandimal (vc), TM Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Kushal Perera†, Lahiru Thirimanne, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekera, Lasith Malinga, Sacithra Senanayake, Upul Tharanga, Kithruwan Vithanage, Angelo Perera, Shaminda Eranga, Sachith Pathirana.

There are some interesting names in there. Angelo Perera was considered my many to be unlucky to miss out on the Test squad, and is in the ODI series very much on merit and made a cracking start to the First-Class season for Nondescripts. Sachith Pathirana plays for Chilaw Marians and averages just over 23 for them in FC cricket. Recently he took 7 wickets in a match against a strong Tamil Union side on a flat P Sara Oval surface and 11 wickets against the Colombo Colts. Sacithra Senanayake had been touted for the SL senior side long before he actually made his debut last year in South Africa at Kimberley, where he took no wickets for 53 runs. The six games that followed showed that he bowls tidy enough off-spin off a languid action befitting a man with a 6″ frame – rather like fellow spinner Suraj Randiv. Senanayake does possess a clever doosra in his armory. This could have been a factor in the Kolkotta Knight Riders bidding a massive $625k for his services for the upcoming IPL. Averaging under 20 in all forms of domestic cricket and consistently taking 5 wicket hauls for the Sinhalese Sports Club, he is considered the best ‘senior’ spinner in Sri Lanka behind Herath, with the likes of Akhila Dananjaya considered to be needing more FC experience, which is why he too was dropped from the ODI squad. I’d also like to point Kushal Perera who makes a return to the side after a promising start in Australia. People were quite surprised he didn’t make his Test debut in this series, but he went back to First-Class cricket with the Colombo Colts and recently recorded scores of 203, 97 and 337 which came against the Saracens Sports Club off just 275 balls, featuring 29 fours and 14 sixes. Perhaps a Test debut isn’t that far off at this rate.

Sachithra Senanayake will make his return to ODI cricket in the upcoming series, with a view to taking him to the ICC Trophy in England, ©AFP

So there are some exciting players coming through. Once again, the lack of Test cricket proves a sore sticking point in the development of the team. I don’t know whether Graham Ford and the selection committee are taking the ICC Trophy this June particularly seriously. Certainly England and South Africa will be going all out for what for them will be a rare international trophy, and I would like to imagine that Sri Lanka will turn up and at least use it as a learning curve for some of their young players, if not go hell for leather for it as well. Certainly given how we tend to fall at the final hurdle in international trophies, it would be nice to actually win something for a change. There is no cricket of any form between the T20 against Bangladesh on the 23rd of March at Pallekele and ICC Trophy match versus New Zealand in Cardiff. Sri Lanka will be going into that match under-cooked going into the tournament, and those players who will be playing in the IPL will be woefully under-prepared for English conditions. Oh well. At least SL fans won’t be getting trolled by watching the team get to another final and then losing.

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