Sri Lanka will go into the 4th ODI 2-1 down in the series. However, the scoreline between our opening batsman and their opening bowler reads a much dour picture. Lahiru Thirimanne’s struggles against James Anderson is a major cause for concern for the side, and could result in Kusal Perera being brought back into the side (after his own loss in form).
I believe that Thirimanne will eventually be our opening batsman in ODIs and T20s; opening up with Kusal Perera once Tillakaratne Dilshan retires. After Kumar Sangakkara, he is our best player of pace bowling but so far in this series, against a champion of swing bowling like James Anderson, he has been found severely wanting. I am not sure that it is all down to his particular technique. Far more experienced batsmen have fallen victim to Anderson’s potent combination of brisk pace and sharp swing in overcast conditions. Before this tour, Chaminda Vaas made a point of explaining how his bowling charges of practicing with the Duke ball, but perhaps the batsmen should have been doing the same.
Starting at the Oval (a), where Sri Lanka were chasing a stiff target of 259 that had been boosted by the Duckworth/Lewis equation. Thirimanne was set up by a series of sharp out-swingers that beat his bat. With the slips in place expecting the edge to come their way, he was nevertheless keen to get his front foot moving across the stumps in order to get at the ball and get the runs flowing. Following the thunder storm that had passed earlier in the day, the conditions were ripe for a bowler of James Anderson’s expertise. The opening few balls of the innings had been tough work for Thirimanne, as Anderson set him up nicely. With the batsman expecting the ball to nip away from him off a good length, he was sent down a full-pitched delivery on his pads that straightened up. Normally Thirimanne would have flicked it off through mid-wicket but the pace at which it was delivered beat his bat, trapping him plumb in front. It was a clever piece of bowling on Anderson’s part and would doubtlessly have gotten the better of most left-handers.
The 2nd ODI at Chester-le-Street (b) started off in better fashion for Thirimanne. Negotiating the opening exchanges from Anderson and even slamming a six over wide long-on off Harry Gurney. Looking set to go on his way from there though, Thirimanne was sent down another scorching delivery. This time, it pitched on leg and jagged away from off, taking his edge all the way to 3rd slip. He didn’t attempt to much with the ball; merely to prod it down into the ground. It would be slightly churlish to say that he could have attempted to open the face of the bat and gently glide it down to the slips, but such things are easier said than done when facing a ball delivered at pace. Being fair to the batsman, that ball could have gotten him out in a couple of different ways. Instead of edging it to slip, he could have tried to flash at it and either inside-edged it to Buttler or on to his stumps. Or he could have got his pads too far across and been judged lbw.
Perhaps these two instances were on Thirimanne’s mind when it came to the debacle at Old Trafford. With Dilshan already back in the pavilion, Sri Lanka needed to consolidate the 2nd wicket. What was noticeable for the first two matches, his wicket had fallen after (but not necessarily as a result of) he had gotten too far across his stumps. On this occasion, Anderson had started to get on top of him again; moving the ball away from him regularly. As a result, it was perhaps understandable that after playing the ball through square for a four off Gurney, Thirimanne decided to give himself space against Anderson and attempt to do the same. Anderson might have noticed him moving away and banged it in short and, with the ball hitting the seam and moving away, Thirimanne could not get enough on the ball to work it away, top-edging it to the wicket-keeper.
Things might not get any better for Thirimanne at Lord’s either. The weather in the south-east has been overcast to rainy of late and should things remains the same for the 4th ODI, the ball will move about. Not to mention the slope. Depending on which end Anderson bowls at, he could be sliding the ball down the slope and away from the left-hander, or using the slope to hold it’s line, in which case if Thirimanne has got too far across his stumps, he and any left-hander that follows suit will be sitting ducks. Perhaps it needs someone with less finesse to deal with the threat of England’s new-ball attack, which could mean Kusal Perera back in his usual slot, in which case Thirimanne would certainly be dropped as another specialist batsman cannot be accommodated down the order in place of an all-rounder.
The question remains as to whether the horrific innings in Manchester will jolt the management in to making a change to the lineup. England didn’t panic after their own shambolic turn in Durham and ended up coming back stronger. I doubt whether Sri Lanka will do the same. Should they keep him in the lineup they run the risk of him being completely shot for the Test series where his encounters will James Anderson and Chris Jordan won’t be limited to just a few overs in the power-plays plus he’ll have to contend with the returning Stuart Broad as well.
Should he find himself in the team though, there is perhaps not a lot that Thirimanne could do much differently. Two out of his three dismissals have been excellent deliveries. The batting power-play should be disregarded for the wicket-inducing charlatan that it is. He cake a leg/middle-leg stump guard and simply play for his stumps for the opening 5 overs. There is always the possibility that he will spend too much effort in not falling victim to James Anderson that it might be Jordan or Gurney that claim his wicket – such is the strength in England’s new seam attack in ODIs these days. A seam attack that has really hit it’s straps in seaming conditions and, especially at Lord’s where the bowlers will find some assistance but there are runs to be had if the batsmen simply apply a bit of common sense to their batting (which sort of counts against Kusal Perera’s inclusion).