Andrew Fernando in ESPNcricinfo where the title reads “Emboldened Sri Lanka keep their cool”
As the Edgbaston crowd’s displeasure eddied around the ground late in England’s innings, Sri Lanka were still, at the centre of the whirlpool. Spectators had been incensed by Sachithra Senanayake‘s run out of Jos Buttler – a Mankad which, upon the umpire’s inquiry, Angelo Mathews did not hesitate to uphold. The England innings was already creaking at 199 for 7, but as the boos rang around the ground, Sri Lanka did not delay delivering the final blows. With 220 to chase, this would be their game to lose.
It was a brief passage of play, but one which illustrated an unwavering focus that has become a theme of this Sri Lanka team’s cricket, particularly in 2014. They had had one horror day at Sharjah in January, but quickly shed the trauma of that defeat to trounce Bangladesh across all formats. An unbeaten Asia Cup campaign came as the annual contracts tussle with the board began to bubble up. That saga erupted before the World T20, which was won with contracts unsigned, and administrators engaged in disputes with senior players. Mahela Jayawardene, the man who was most visibly shaken by the heated exchanges with SLC, was the team’s lead scorer in that campaign.
Before the deciding ODI in Birmingham, Sachithra Senanayake had his action reported. “We are like family,” Mathews had said earlier in the series, and even if things are not quite as rosy as that cliché makes out, this Sri Lanka team is knit tighter than most international sides. The doubt cast over a team-mate’s bowling action will have reverberated around the dressing room.
Here, the players had support from the establishment back home. SLC expressed surprise in their response to the match officials’ report on Senanayake, and the implications of that release were clear; “Why has he been reported only now, just before a must-win match in England?” Chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya also lent his support to Senanayake in public. At the toss, Mathews hinted at the collective sense of frustration in the camp. “When we travel to certain parts of the world, it happens,” he said.
It may have been tempting for Sri Lanka to hide Senanayake in this match, in hope the furore would blow over. But emboldened by the added pressure instead, they made his role in the match more prominent. He came on in the sixth over of the innings – earlier than he had been on at any stage in the series – and delivered parsimony and menace, taking the wicket of Alastair Cook and conceding 36 from his ten overs. The picture of Arjuna Ranatunga shaking his finger at the umpires, when Murali was called for throwing in 1999, made the rounds on Twitter.
“The report was a big motivational factor for us,” Jayawardene said. “Sachi is a fantastic young player in the group. He’s very cheerful and keeps everyone happy. So we had a special meeting for Sach last night. We had a good dinner out, just for him. We wanted to make sure that he feels comfortable with all of us and as a team we’ll walk through.”
Small wonder then, that Senanayake had the moxie to be the man who removed the bails when Buttler took an unfair head-start on a run – however unintentionally. Mathews and Jayawardene said they had observed Buttler’s walking start at Lord’s as well, and were compelled to take action after repeated warnings.
Sri Lanka may be among the younger teams in top-flight cricket, but they know they play a highly competitive, professional sport. The ECB left the team in no doubt of that fact, when they lured their head coach to swap sides, weeks ahead of this tour.
Sri Lanka had a less convincing outing with the bat, but as has so often been the case, their bowlers had done enough to make victory manageable. Several England players, led by Buttler, spoke heated words to Mathews, during his time at the crease, and Mathews let the spray fall flat to the turf. His characteristically unruffled 42 sealed the series.
Sri Lanka move to the Tests now, unfancied and outgunned, but buoyed by confidence and propelled by the fire of grievance. As Kumar Sangakkara said after the World T20 win, perhaps upheaval suits this team. England players, like many of their supporters, made their indignation known to Sri Lanka at Edgbaston, but perhaps they would be wise not to irk the visitors further.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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