Ravi Ladduwahetty, in the Island, 14 October 2011
The Sri Lankan cricket team will be very disappointed that it lost the Test and the One Day International Series to Michael Clarke’s Australians. If one were to critically analyse it,Sri Lankawill also be disappointed that the batsmen did not have any solutions to the disciplined bowling attack of the Australians, especially the seamers. Special mention should be made of Ryan Harris and it was he who kept it very simple. He kept the deliveries outside the off stump, got the Sri Lankans to play those swung that away from both the right and left handers.
The Galle wicket for the first Test was prepared to suit spinners. Australian skipper Michael Clarke, walked up to the media box and said that he wished he could bat on that track. What he said by innuendo was that the wicket was very dry and that the side that batted last was going to have a torrid time. In all due fairness to Clarke, it was a pitch that was difficult to bat on. That held true withAustralia, still one of the best batting line-ups, was against what was a very mediocre Sri Lankan bowling attack. But the rider is thatSri Lankadid not have Muttiah Muralitheran and Chaminda Vaas who have retired and Lasith Malinga, who does not want to play Test cricket. So,Sri Lankadid not have the depth in bowling and was struggling on a dry track.
Michael Hussey, at the post match news conference, stressed that he had never played on a drier wicket than that in his entire career!
Flourishing left handers
Now coming to the point in question, the essential difference between the two teams was the depth in the Australian batting. The Sri Lankans had no answers to Michael Hussey. If one were to comment in retrospect, visiting left handers have flourished in Sri Lankan conditions. Cases in point; world Test and First class Cricket batting record holder and former West Indies skipper Brian Lara scored 622 runs in six innings againstSri Lanka. There was formerNew Zealandskipper Stephen Fleming who made a blistering unbeaten 274 at the SSC in 2003 and he too is a left hander, who also is the highest scoring Kiwi in an away tour who declared rather than reaching his triple century! Then Chris Gayle, a wonderful triple hundred (333) in the first Test in Galle on November 16, 2010 and the last being Hussey’s excellent 400 plus runs in the just concluded three Test match series.
Bowling to left handers
The burning issue is whether the Sri Lankans were bowling well to left handers? Or is it that foreign left handers are taking full toll of Sri Lankan conditions?
Some critics could also say that the Sri Lankans fell into their own trap. That too cannot be ruled out. Prepare a wicket that is so dry for the spinners to thrive on and the Aussies get the better of the home team.
Murali was not there to exploit the situation and the worry was that the last Test thatSri Lankawon at the same venue was againstIndia.
In the second Test atPallekelle,Sri Lankawas saved by the skin of their teeth! Lucky that there were numerous rain interruptions and it was, once again, the batting that let the side down. Some might say that it was the technique. The cornerstone being, a majority of the batsmen were caught fishing outside the off stump.
Deliveries that should have been left alone were not left alone. Moreover, they did not cover the line when they pushed the ball square on the off side and on the on side. They were reaching for it.
It was the old guard – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who saved the day. They batted with some sort of authority. But the moment the new ball was taken, Sangakkara, being among the greatest batsmen in world cricket today, was caught unawares off an excellent delivery by Ryan Harris. What did Harris do? He just kept the ball on the seam, bent his back and bowled it outside the off stump and Sangakkara, who faced the new ball, did not spot the out-swinger, just nudged at it. The delivery which had that extra bounce, was carried through to second slip.Sri Lankawas on the backfoot and managed to save the game, thanks to rain interruptions.
Thilan Samaraweera went on to score a wonderful 47 in that innings, despite being dropped by skipper Michael Clarke, before he got off the mark. Had the Aussies not grassed that catch, the home team may have lost the match and the series, 0-2.
However, the Sri Lankans made a lot of sense in the third Test at the SSC by bringing in Lahiru Thirimanne, with skipper Tillekeratne Dilshan batting at number five. That made a difference. One of the aspects of that game was to have planned the innings, the approach and the perspective, much more professionally. It was nice to see the batsmen getting the better of the Ausssie bowling. One relief was that Ryan Harris was not in pursuit. WhatAustralialacked was a wicket taking bowler. However, no one takes the credit away fromSri Lanka’s performance in that match. To have scored 400 plus runs and mount pressure on the opposition was great. But the heart of the matter is that there was no proper bowling unit to capture 20 Aussie wickets.
Test cricket is not one day cricket or T-20. One needs staying power, the mental alertness and temperament. They have to spend time at the wicket if they are to get the runs. The first two Tests saw the Sri Lankan batsmen being in an indecent hurry, but the moment they applied themselves in the third, it proved fruitful.
Mystery over Thilan
But the fact that Thilan Samaraweera was dropped for the third Test is something that has to be taken very seriously. Remember that his averages are much better than both Sangakkara and Jayawardene at the SSC.
So, the moot question is, was the team equilibrium right? Vice captain Angelo Mathews being unable to bowl due to niggling injuries, has caused lots of heartburn. One does not need a rocket scientist to tell you that had Mathews been able to bowl in both Tests and the ODIs, that would have givenSri Lankaa better balance. The option of playing the second spinner was also there. Here what happened was thatSri Lankawas struggling in these conditions. The strategy would have been to have two attacking spinners – Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv.
Left arm and right arm combinations from two different ends could make a world of a difference, but whether that happens is left to be seen.
The ideal situation, prior to the away tour for the matches against Pakistan, is to get to believe in themselves and get the batting and the bowling right and to have batsmen up to Number 7 who have scored Test hundreds, which we have!
Remember, Thilan Samaraweera scored back to back double Test centuries prior to the tour marred by a terror attack inLahore! IfSri Lankacould believe in that,Sri Lankacould go from strength to strength.
Bury the past
The Aussie and the English tours are over. We live with it. A few overs of madness in batting atCardiffmadeSri Lankalose the series againstEngland.
What is the solution? We have to be more mature in the Test arena. If we do that versusPakistanin the UAE, we will come out on top. But let us keep our fingers crossed.
Sri Lankahas got a wonderful coach in Geoff Marsh, a good Test and ODI player of yore, whose elder son Shaun is in the Aussie Test team and younger son Mitchell, currentlyAustralia’s Under-19 captain who was drafted into the Deccan Chargers in the Indian Premier League. Both are playing big time international cricket.
Sangakkara, among the best of world class players, would be disappointed. Did he get into triple figures? Did he make that vital hundred? That will be the question he will be asking himself. The last time that he made a hundred was against the Englishmen on English soil. He scored the sixties and the seventies but gave it all up. The root cause was that he looked unsettled. He played extremely well, the nudges were there. He was good in clipping the ball off his pads, looking good in all the areas.
But the Aussies had a plan. Mind you, they had him caught at short extra cover on two occasions, because he tends to push with the bottom hand which has caused him problems. He also tends to take the outside edge of the bat.
Mahela Jayawardene was exquisite in the century that he scored. He batted well in the ODI series and did fairly well in the Test arena. Mahela, when he gets in, has the temperament to have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the wicket! Such is his staying power. However, he looked very vulnerable outside the off stump.
Ryan Harris might tell you that he has a way of getting him. “Just keep it outside the off stump,” Ryan would say. Mahela takes time to move his feet upfront and that is something that the Aussies exploited. Dilshan was disappointing to both the team and fans. Much was expected from him. Dilshan, in all fairness does not have the technique to play as an opener, not having the technique of a traditional opener. He has done himself a favour by dropping down and batting at number five. The other moot point is whether Dinesh Chandimal can justify his place as a Test cricketer for the forthcoming series againstPakistan? That would be ringing in the ears of the team and the selectors!
The seamers came out in patches. Suranga Lakmal was the most impressive. Welagedera came out in patches. He has the advantage of bowling left arm, but he has to improve his angle. He should work at the crease, bowl a little bit with different angles. He should also work on the in-dipper as Chaminda Vaas did. Vaas was so effective that he fed the right handers with lots of out-swingers and the one that dipped in, was a wicket taking ball!
Rangana Herath bowled well, but is he a huge turner of the ball? The injury sustained by Ajantha Mendis was also a cause for worry from a Sri Lankan perspective. Suraj Randiv also has to work a lot at the nets.
As far as the bowling is concerned, it is no birthday party out there! No Murali, Vaas or Malinga. No match winning bowlers. These are truisms that have to be reflected and addressed and the criticisms taken in the best of spirits. Unless there are two match winning bowlers,Sri Lankawill be struggling to beatPakistanin the UAE.
Now it is time for skipper Dilshan and former skippers, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, the three senior professionals, to get the team together, work as a unit and take the responsibility.
International media acclaim
Another unnoticed factor. The writer was mingling with top international cricket journalists and columnists, Peter Roebuck, Malcolm Conn, Peter Loloe, Daniel Brat along with Eddie Jackson of the Australian Associated Press, who were full of praise for the media facilities and coordination. These are big time writers who travel globally and are associated with different media sections. They believed that the media facilities and the coordination of Sri Lanka Cricket was among the best in the world.
SLC Media Manager Brian Thomas and his crew would be undoubtedly proud to have such a high rating. Ed Jackson said that he would not have had a better facility anywhere else in the world. He also said that there was a lot that Cricket Australia’s Media Manager Lachie (pronounced Locky) Patterson could learn!