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Why Sri Lanka’s Test future does not look very bright

Sri Lanka are still dependent on their experienced pros for results © AFP
Sri Lanka are still dependent on their experienced pros for results © AFP

Sri Lanka have been mediocre in Test cricket over the past few years and even that success has mostly been dependent on three men. Abhishek Mukherjee explains why the future has not looked too promising.

 

At the time of writing this article, Sri Lanka are ranked sixth in the ICC rankings table with 90 points — significantly short of Pakistan (fifth with 100) and marginally ahead of West Indies (seventh with 87). It is not a fact Percy Abeysekera will be proud of: they may slip below West Indies and New Zealand (eighth with 82) if a few things go wrong.

That, however, is not the most intimidating of facts: given the fact that there are only ten Test-playing teams the sides may move up or down the ladder with a couple of good or bad series. How good have they been doing, though a crucial aspect, is not of utmost importance here; the key question is — is there a way out?

What does the future look like for Sri Lankan batting? Let us have a look:

Most runs by Sri Lankan batsmen at positions 1 – 6: past two years
Player I NO R HS Ave 100s
Kumar Sangakkara 29 5 1,699 319 70.79 6
Mahela Jayawardene 26 2 1,222 203* 50.92 4
Angelo Matthews 23 5 891 157* 49.5 1
Tillakaratne Dilshan 20 0 830 147 41.5 4
Dimuth Karunaratne 20 2 559 85 31.06 0
Dinesh Chandimal 13 1 541 116* 45.08 2

The usual suspects — Kumar Sangakkara (36 years 102 days at the point of writing of this article) and Mahela Jayawardene (36 years 255 days) — lead the charts while Tillakaratne Dilshan (now retired from Test cricket) is at four. True, Angelo Matthews has come up a long way since he was named the captain of a side, but what about the others?

Big Two against others at positions 1 – 6: past two years
Player I NO R HS Ave 100s
Kumar Sangakkara 29 5 1,699 319 70.79 6
Mahela Jayawardene 26 2 1,222 203* 50.92 4
Other batsmen 127 12 4,370 157* 38 9

The chasm tells the story. The Big Two, between them, have amassed 2,921 runs at 60.85. Not only have the others not been as prolific, they have also not been able to score as many hundreds between them as the Big Two have. Additionally, of the nine hundreds scored by the others, four have come from the bat of Dilshan — which makes things worse.

Sri Lanka has scored 587 runs in the first innings of the ongoing Test. This may sound imposing, but 319 of these were scored by Sangakkara, and 72 more by Dilshan. Additionally, they were aided by 35 extras — which means that the other nine batsmen have managed to score 161 between them despite the fact that Abdur Razzak had broken down and could not bowl more than four overs. To add to that, 47 of these runs were scored by Ajantha Mendis.

What about bowling, then? When Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas vanished somewhere in oblivion, the Sri Lankans were desperate for the next generation to come up: instead, they found a forgotten, ignored left-arm spinner to come to their protection. Rangana Herath made a comeback to international cricket in a way matched by few others.

The problem was, though Herath had done a magnificent job, he has not received much support at the other end over the past two years:

Most wickets by Sri Lankan bowlers: past two years
Player Balls R W BBI Ave Econ SR 5WIs 10WMs
Rangana Herath 5,195 2,394 97 Jul-89 24.68 2.76 53.6 10 3
Shaminda Eranga 2,015 1,074 33 Apr-49 32.55 3.2 61.1
Suraj Randiv 1,361 711 22 Apr-13 32.32 3.13 61.9
Suranga Lakmal 1,690 909 21 Apr-78 43.29 3.23 80.5
Nuwan Kulasekera 1,667 767 20 Mar-48 38.35 2.76 83.4

Herath has actually picked more than the next four bowlers put together. Though the pair of Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal is improving with every passing day, they are still not in the same league as some of the other opening pairs around the world. How do the entire set of bowlers compare to Herath?

Herath against others bowlers: past two years
Player Balls R W BBI Ave Econ SR 5WIs 10WMs
Rangana Herath 5,195 2,394 97 7/89 24.68 2.76 53.6 10 3
Other bowlers 11,937 6,592 154 5/109 42.81 3.31 77.5 1 0

In short, Herath has picked up 38.6% of all wickets Sri Lankan bowlers have taken. Of the 11 five-fors he has taken ten — and his three ten-fors are the only ones by Sri Lankan bowlers during this period. The average for the others have been abysmal, the strike rate below par, and even the economy rate way inferior.

The problem lies in the fact that Herath is 35 years 324 days old now, which is not really good news. With Dilshan gone, the batting depends almost completely on Mahela and Sanga, while Herath has been carrying the burden of bowling on his shoulders single-handedly.

Dark days lie ahead of Sri Lanka unless some messiah turns up.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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