Andrew Fernando for ESPNcricinfo, 28 December 2012 … with PICs from Getty Images
If there is a moment that captures Sri Lanka’s first Boxing Day Test in 17 years, it is Dhammika Prasad fleeing from the ball as it approached him at fine leg on day two. Michael Hussey had hooked a Shaminda Eranga bouncer and, having failed to pick up the ball, Prasad picked a direction to sprint in and chose poorly. That is perhaps unfair to Prasad, whose drive and desperation did him credit on day two, but Sri Lanka have done the opposite of what would have constituted a healthy showing at the MCG, and in doing so, they have hurtled beyond the merely disappointing and run aground on the farcical.
The sense of humour that Sri Lanka’s fans have developed over the last two years of Test cricket may be the only quality that will see the team retain their support for the third Test. Sri Lanka’s experienced batsmen were called on by their captain to go big in Melbourne and the game plan on a good pitch was to bat first and spend enough time at the crease to bring Rangana Herath into the game on a wearing pitch. Instead, the batting in both innings bore all the stability of a slowly collapsing circus tent.
At the end of the first day’s play, coach Graham Ford suggested the excitement of a Boxing Day Test and Sri Lanka’s desperation to do well may have drawn the batting errors that comprised their capitulation. If that is the case, Sri Lanka’s top order, who have close to 400 Tests between them, were not far different from an excited child who springs from bed on his Christmas morning, runs straight into a wall and spends the day in a coma. It is not an image a team perpetually struggling to achieve global recognition needs to portray in one of the most widely followed cricket matches of the year.
That a man of Kumar Sangakkara’s quality had never played a Test in one of cricket’s most iconic venues until he was 35 was considered a minor travesty by some, but after this loss – the third heaviest in the team’s history – Sri Lanka’s next generation will be fortunate to play a Boxing Day Test at all.
Day three’s collapse was even more risible than the first innings effort. Inside two overs, Sri Lanka were 3 for 3 needing to bat for nearly three days to save the Test. They might have had little to gain at that stage but there was not even a hint of courage in their demise and at times batsmen seemed to be looking for the ball to which they could succumb. Sri Lanka’s cricketers can be glad that even their most impassioned followers do not descend to the ugliness that sportsmen sometimes have to contend with elsewhere in the subcontinent.
On a pitch Mitchell Johnson made appear a road as he beat out an unruffled 92 not out, he then made appear a lake of fire, as he took 2 for 16 and ended the tour of Sri Lanka’s best batsman, Sangakkara – whose innings was the only whimper of protest – striking Prasad painfully in the hand as well.
“We can’t be happy at all with the way that we played today,” Mahela Jayawardene said after the match. “We haven’t played well from day one and we need to all take responsibility for that. Despite having talked about what needed to happen, we haven’t put those things into action. Especially the batsmen need to take a lot of responsibility. We needed to fight and we didn’t do that. Only Sanga was playing well and even he has now been injured.”
The bumbling in the field may have been outshone by Sri Lanka’s blinding ineptitude with the bat but an attack whose lack of penetration even Sri Lanka are aware of can hardly be blamed if the chances they do produce are fluffed. Herath created no less than four chances in 39 overs that went at 2.43, three of them clear-cut. Chanaka Welegedara had Shane Watson dropped off his bowling as well, and Watson and Michael Clarke shared four reprieves between them during their 194-run stand – five if you include a shy at the stumps that might have caught Watson short if it had been a direct hit.
Sri Lanka now face the task of mounting a face-saving performance in Sydney, with their morale devastated and their dressing room decimated by injury. They have fled from tenacity, resolve and credibility at the MCG. They cannot afford to flee from the hard truths that are their only avenue to a competitive final Test. A maiden win in Australia seems distant indeed.