Andrew Fidel Fernando, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo,com, 21 June 2015
Late on day five, Angelo Mathews stands at slip, glum faced, chin resting on knuckles as the ball skids towards the straight boundary off Ahmed Shehzad’s bat. Rangana Herath turns around grimacing in his follow through and puts hands on hips. Having watched Sri Lanka’s young batsmen throw the game away again in the afternoon, old man Kumar Sangakkara wears a resigned look in the infield. At this late stage of his career, he looks more and more like a dad fed up with telling his kids not to pee into the public pool. Dilruwan Perera is going at 10 an over. Kithuruwan Vithanage is averting gazes.
How did it come to this? Sri Lanka had had Pakistan by the collar, but somehow it is they who have ended up pants-less. After the match, Mathews said he was disappointed in his batsmen, but asked for patience to allow them to mature. What else could he say? The team Sri Lanka fielded was genuinely very close to the best top order they currently have. Only the No. 7 position is contentious.
Mathews has said that he has virtually been on his knees pleading for Sangakkara to stay another year. Who could blame him? Begging is almost not enough. On today’s evidence, Mathews would be justified in holding Sangakkara’s family for ransom in exchange for a few more Tests. Surely there is more the Sri Lanka team can do to keep the man from retiring? Keep sabotaging planes so he can never leave to Surrey? Dress like Mahela Jayawardene and stand next to him at slip? Sangakkara is quite clearly ready to begin the next phase of his life, but Sri Lanka need him as their No.3. Perhaps in perpetuity.
The third-innings collapse in Galle would be dispiriting if it was not so bizarre. All but three Sri Lanka batsmen fell playing aggressive shots. There were some that were justified: Lahiru Thirimanne’s attempted punch-drive off Wahab Riaz made sense, given it is one of his better strokes, and the ball was roughly in the right place for it.
Vithanage’s slog-sweep on one, however, is a little more difficult to decipher. Was he launching a campaign for a T20 place? Usually a handy lower-order batsman, Herath was seemingly intent to show Vithanage how strange a shot that was, by performing a pantomime mimicry of it. Almost as if he had planned it, Herath’s shot finished in the deep fielder’s hands as well. Yasir Shah was in the midst of one of the best spells of his life, but Sri Lanka were barely even making him work for his wickets.
Some batsmen almost literally played as if they had a train to catch. Three took off in the general direction of Galle station, sprinting clean past Yasir deliveries in the process. Sunday was the first occasion more than two Sri Lanka batsmen were out stumped in the same innings.
Maybe they had last year’s Galle Test with Pakistan on their minds. On that occasion, the opposition had been too defensive, and Herath had hurled them into the sea. But in attempting to avoid this fate, Sri Lanka’s afternoon played out like a B-grade horror film: panicked characters stumbling to escape the snake in the woods, only to run directly towards the maniac with a chainsaw.
After the match, Mathews conceded Sri Lanka made plenty of mistakes, but suggested his team be given the time to learn from them. “I’m very happy with the way that Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva batted,” he said. “Dinesh Chandimal fought pretty hard as well. Unfortunately, the rest couldn’t hold on. It might take a little bit of time and the batsmen need matches to mature, but that’s not an excuse. This is Test cricket – we have to try and find a way to win. Sanga’s going to retire soon so it’s up to us to stand up and do what’s possible. It’s going to be tough, but most of the boys have played up to 15 Test matches. In time they’ll learn.”
Things change quickly in Sri Lankan cricket. They rise and fall in a space of few weeks, though Pakistan’s cricket is even more dramatic. There is plenty of time for tides to turn in this series yet, whether Sangakkara stays for its entirety or not. Sri Lanka’s cricket has also rarely languished for long. When greats have retired, unlikely others have risen to replace them. But in this match, at least, Sri Lanka’s young batsmen have failed to dispel fans’ fears that the team is heading toward a lull.
ALSO LISTEN TO RUSSEL ARNOLD = http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/video_audio/890011.html