The retirements of Lasith Malinga (left) and Muttiah Muralitharan have hit Sri Lanka hard © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

Sri Lanka’s winless run in Test cricket continues as they received a thumping defeat at the hands of Pakistan in Dubai. Their batting had no answers to the questions posed by the Pakistan attack and the bowling didn’t looking threatening enough to dent the opposition. It is a very worrying sign for a team that is considered a formidable unit which is capable of beating side on their day.

 

It has been well over a year since they won a Test match as they haven’t been able to cope up with the longer version. Some of their players have put in some good individual performances, but haven’t performed as a unit which is essential to register Test victories. With the exception of Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews, none of the other batsmen have been consistent enough. The bowling hasn’t been able to restrict the flow of runs and is clearly missing the quality of Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga.

 

Sri Lanka’s last Test win came against India in July 2010. Incidentally that was Muralitharan’s last Test and he made it special by bowling India out and registering his 800th Test victim. That was the first Test of the series and India managed to save the second and clinched the third to square things. Their next assignment was against the West Indies at home, a series which was marred by rain. Thus, we should start our post-mortem from the Test series after the West Indies visit.

 

The Lankans toured England in May 2011 and were moving into a new era under the leadership of Tillakaratne Dilshan. He took over the reins of captaincy from Kumar Sangakkara at the end of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 and was looking to build a young side. This was their first Test series outside the subcontinent after the retirement of Murali. To add to their problems, Malinga retired from Test cricket which further depleted their bowling strength.

 

Since the start of that tour, Sri Lanka have never been in a commanding position in a Test match. In their eight matches since the first Test of the England tour, they have taken the first innings lead just once. In all the other games they have conceded the lead and have been made to grind to save the game on a few occasions. As a result, they have had to handle enormous pressure in the latter stages of the game which tells us that they haven’t been able to press the advantage in the early phases.

 

One cannot pinpoint any specific reason for their failure to bring home the advantage in the first innings. There have been instances where the batsmen haven’t put the runs on the board. Then there have been others where the batsmen have got the runs but the bowlers have failed to stop the other team from wiping off the deficit. One can say that it is the collective failure of both departments in allowing the other team to attain a position of strength.

 

We must consider the record of the Sri Lankan batsmen in the said period – from the first Test against England at Cardiff to their latestencounter at Dubai. There have been the occasional flashes of brilliance but they haven’t been consistent enough which has hurt them in the long run. Here are the stats of the Sri Lankan batsmen since the start of the England tour:

 

Player

M

Runs

Avge

100s

Highest

Kumar Sangakkara

8

728

48.53

2

211

TM Dilshan

7

430

35.83

1

193

Prasanna Jayawardene

7

422

38.36

2

120

Thilan Samaraweera*

5

288

36.00

0

87*

Mahela Jayawardena

8

368

24.53

1

105

Tharanga Paranavitana

8

443

29.53

0

72

Angelo Mathews

5

419

83.80

1

105*

 

*dropped for the series against Pakistan

 

From the above table it is clear that Sangakkara and Mathews are the only batsmen who have had a run of good form and have delivered the crucial knocks. Some of these averages tell the story that they haven’t been able to put the runs on the board. They may have got the occasional hundred and that has made their record look a little better, but these numbers clearly reflect their inconsistency. Prasanna Jayawardene has been fantastic. He was the man of the series in England and has done decently well for someone who bats in the lower order.

 

Sangakkara has had to shoulder the burden of the batting for quite some time. The likes of Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardena and Paranavitana have to step up. Averages under 30 do not highlight the class of Mahela and the ability of Paranavitana. The occasional fifty may save the blushes but if they score more consistently, their bowlers would have something to bowl at.

 

Paranavitana has a young opening partner in Lahiru Thirimanne. It is for this very reason that Paranavitana needs to play the anchor role in the opening partnership and guide the youngster. He is the more experienced of the two and has to make it count for Sri Lanka. The knock he played in the second innings at Dubai was good and he needs to do it more often.

 

The bowling attack Sri Lanka have fielded in the last few months is very young and inexperienced. The likes of Chanaka Welegedara, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Shaminda Eranga and Dhammika Prasad are still young in international cricket. The lack of a pace spearhead has hurt the Lankans as they do not have a guide for their fast bowlers. On the other hand, Rangana Herath has had to shoulder the responsibility of the spin department for quite some time. Suraj Randiv and Ajantha Mendis are not regulars in the playing eleven as they haven’t put a stamp over their position.

 

One can say that the Sri Lankan bowling is in a transitional phase with new faces aiming to make a name for themselves. But their batting boasts of some of the best in world cricket and they need to back their young bowlers with runs. Till the batting continues to fail, the bowlers wouldn’t have the opportunity to put pressure on the opposition.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)