Sri Lanka and the Galle Test Match

Michael Roberts

This is a rolling review, written episodically over several days; and delayed by other tasks.

The West Indies squad arrived in Sri Lanka to see headlines anticipating a series whitewash by the Lankan side – an absurd prognosis that did not attend to the wonderful leveling capacity attached to any game of cricket. Nor did such fanciful expectations take cognizance of the slow, but solid revolution within the West Indian team that has been generated by the combined force of Joel Garner and coach Otis Gibson, ably seconded by the rigorous physical conditioning imposed by the Cuban trainer Hector Martinez Charles. In the result even a senior player such as Sarwan was dropped because he did not come up to scratch in this realm. This regime was rounded off by a week’s camp at Barbados prior to their departure, an exercise that must surely have furthered camaraderie within the squad.


 Whether the Sri Lankan team was as complacent as the local reporters I cannot say [and, indeed, both Prasanna Jayawardena and Sangakkara subsequently denied that any such foolishness existed]. But I felt the Selectors got the final XI wrong for Galle. For many years I have believed that we should have just one paceman in matches at Galle and deploy three spinners. My paceman on Monday would have been Dilhara Fernando; while my spinners in order of preference would have been Herath, Randiv and Mendis.

On this issue, namely my belief that an extra spin-bowler would be of greater benefit than an iffy pace bowler, I am now fortified by brief chats with Daminda Wijesuriya and Anuruddha Polonowita. Put in other words, we are certain that a good spin bowler is of more value in Galle than a pedestrian or inconsistent medium-pace bowler.

 With such a composition I would have opened the attack with Fernando and Herath (or Randiv). This has the added advantage of confronting opening batsmen who are comfortable with pace, with flight and/or darted balls from short run-ups.

Needless to say, I cannot guarantee that this attack would have bested Gayle and company on the placid pitch found on Day One of the First Test. Nor can I assure readers that Fernando would have been better than Prasad and Thushara. Fernando does have a good slower ball and good pace, but tends to be inconsistent – if it was the bad Fernando that turned up, then Sri Lanka would not have benefited.

 At the end of the Third Day

At this point one can say that the West Indies are on top. They have benefited from three pieces of fortune. The first is the conventional one of winning the toss so that they could make use of a friendly wicket – a “fortune” that is built into all cricket matches and therefore acceptable. The second was the decision taken by third Umpire Rauf on ball one of Day Two when Ajantha’ Mendis rapped Gayle on the pads and Sri Lanka took their second and last referral. The ball was gun-barrel straight and hit Gayle low on the shins. My naked eye’s evaluation of the replay said that it hit pad first and then bat (though Roshan Abeysinghe insisted the TV personnel heard a snick I consider that to be of no account as it was after hitting the pad).

Joe Hoad and Trevor Chesterfield insisted that Gayle was too far forward to give an lbw because one must be 100 % certain that the ball would hit the stumps. They know far more about umpiring that me, but they are of the old school when it comes to front-foot lbws. I consider that position far too rigid and from a common-sense perspective would permit decisions for the bowler on 95 percent certainty. In any event my eyes indicated 100% certainty that the ball would hit middle stump.

So, that was a critical moment that advantaged the Windies. The third slice of fortune was the change in the weather on Day Three when overcast skies provided atmospheric conditions that provided some swing and served up a coolness that was less tiring for the fielding side. So Sri Lanka re-commenced – with Dilshan already in the pavilion — their first innings within a context that was a tad more difficult.

 This may have contributed to Sangakkara’s dismissal. But all credit should go the West Indies for their game plan for both Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. They followed a policy of attrition. Bravo bowled consistently outside the off stump in a deliberate policy of negative bowling and then slipped in an in-swinging yorker from wide of the crease to slide through Sangakkara’s defenses.

On the other side Shillingford bowled searching spells and should have had Jayawardene lbw if they had made a referral on one occasion There were six  onside fielders and three on the off to curtail Jayawardene’s stroke making and induce him to indulge in dangerous cutting towards the off in the face of arm balls. 

 All this makes it clear that the West Indian analysts had worked out their game plans overnight. Sri Lanka did not execute a game plan to constrain Gayle till he had amassed a double century on Day One. The next day there was a long-on and a long-off to curtail his six-hitting in the V. Gayle also may have been eyeing records, so his second day innings was far more restrained.

Midway-late on the Second Day the West Indies batting collapsed in a heap after Brendan Nash was winkled out. Mendis was the destroyer, ably assisted by Randiv. What changed? The wicket may have been a mite more conducive to spin; but I believe that Mendis slowed his pace and gave the ball more air more often. Let us hope that he keeps this lesson firmly in his head hereafter.

 Day Four

Sri Lanka failed to avoid the follow-on by three runs because of persistent West Indian bowling, some injudicious strokes (Mahela, Angelo, Prasanna) and one outstanding piece of luck that turned the game: namely, the wicket of Thilan Samaraweera run-out at the bowler’s end after he had shown himself to be in complete command of the situation. Okay, he was too far down the track and a trifle slow in reaching back, but this is among the most unfortunate ways to be dismissed. In this instance it made a monumental difference to Sri Lanka’s fortunes.

The team management contributed to the follow-on by sending Mendia ahead of Thushara, who is way superior as a batsman. It has been suggested that Mendis’s success in his last Test outing prompted such a move. Logically I contend that one could not expect a repetition and that his memories of the previous outing would encourage airy-fairy batting. I also carry a suspicion that Ajantha is what one can call an ”airhead;” if that assessment is valid, one had yet another reason to have sent Thushara in as No. 10 with clear instructions that the ninth wicket pair should bat with circumspection till the follow-on target was cleared.

As it is, with nine wickets down Prasanna decided to farm Thushara from Shillingford’s end and then attempted to sweep a boundary through the mid-wicket gap; but, as he clarified matters at the press conference subsequently, his bat slipped and a catch resulted. It looked horrid, but in his defense it must be admitted that he had been sweeping the ball along the ground quite competently till then. Yet one can ask: why seek a four instead of working a single on the last ball of Shillingford’s over  and then milking the pace bowler at the other end?

Lessons regarding our bowling stocks

The long West Indian innings on a batsman’s wicket has provided some useful tips for our Selectors regarding our bowling resources. Neither Prasad nor Thushara bowled at the wicket sufficiently during the crucial opening spell. Thushara also looked underdone. One outing is not an adequate measure of course; but their mediocre bowling on this occasion must be weighed beside their performances in the recent past.

 Thushara was one of our most successful bowlers against the Pakistanis at home, though we must now give some consideration to the possibility that two of the matches were thrown – on the anvil of betting stakes so to speak! As for Prasad, his figures of 0 for 101 vs India at home and 2 for 106 and 0 for 56 against India away do not exactly inspire confidence.

It is tempting to suggest that Welagedera, Kulasekera and Dilhara Fernando should be given a chance. But I do not believe in knee-jerk chopping and changing. The Selectors seem to have done just that in the recent past. So perhaps Prasad and Thushara should be given another chance in the Second Test in the full knowledge that another set of mediocre performances will see them pushed way down the scale of preferences.

One of the problems here is that both Prasad and Thushara can bat better than Welagedera and Fernando (though Lakmal and Kulasekera are on the same notch more or less). A tail of Mendis, Welagadera and Fernando [or even Lasith Malinga] is rather a problem because it weakens our batting line-up. But it is bowlers that win matches and a win requires an array of men that can garner 20 wickets.

 Review and summing-up post Final Day: 22 November 2010

Since drafting my rolling comments a few days back the Selectors have discarded Thushara and Prasad as I feared they might: a continuance of the musical chairs they have been resorting to in the choice of pace bowlers over the last three years. If the new pitch at Khettarama turns out to be a batsman’s nightmare, then, how are we to compare the replacements with poor Thushara and Prasad?

 The Selectors can take some pleasure with the skills that Ajantha Mendis revealed on Day Two and the continued success of Samaraweera and Paranavithana. But in sum it is the West Indies that emerged buoyant and pleased after this encounter. The huge innings by Gayle was not the only important measure of their success. Adrian Barath and Darren Bravo batted well and Brendan Nash confirmed what is already known — he values his wicket. Both Roach and Shillingford had good games. Nor must one forget Shillingford’s great catch to dismiss Dilshan and fire-up the Windies team at the start of the Sri Lankan first innings.

Perhaps the greatest plus comes from the analytical work and planning behind the scenes from the West Indian brain’s trust of Garner and Gibson. That dimension of the new West Indies is going to be critical. Whether they can continue to carry Sammy in the side if and when a good pace bowler appears and they have both Benn and Shillingford in the XI as dual spinning attack is a knot they must unravel in the next series.

 Sammy walks back happily after winning the toss

Many commentaries in Lanka seemed to suggest that rain saved Sri Lanka. While it made things difficult for the Windies on Day Five, the rain late on the Day Four deprived Sri Lanka of some 20 overs when Dilshan and Paranavithana were on top and batting comfortably. That meant another 80 runs at the rate they were maintaining. So, momentum was lost and they had to renew their start the next day. As it is, the wicket continued to be placid and it is doubtful if the West Indies could have dismissed the remaining Sri Lankan batsmen before the end of play.

Such thoughts notwithstanding, the Caribbean squad can be mighty pleased, man. In the meanwhile us Lankans should indulge in some soul-searching. Well, man, you will say, that is just what Aravinda and Kumar have done with some outspoken broadsides! Or is it a case of finger-pointing like schoolmasters admonishing recalcitrant lads? You decide, man.

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