Andrew Fidel Fernando, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo 13 August 2016, where the title is “Australia hapless before de Silva’s insouciance”
Regimes change every few years, the rupee is dropping, and climate change is heating up our seas, but the one great, immutable truth about life is that nowhere in the universe does time move slower than in a Sri Lankan government office. The island’s bureaucrats are a marvel of evolution. Having come to life in a primordial soup of bribes, backhanders and political favours, these folk have, over billions of years, become perfectly adapted to moving at speeds that make sea cucumbers look like rocket ships, to answering questions with statements of peerless ambiguity, and to being exquisitely adept at maximising the frustration of every non-bureaucrat in a few-kilometres radius.
The SSC ground happens to be in the clotted heart of Colombo’s administrative district. Yet, although the Australia team may never set foot inside the National Identity Card Centre, which is a few minutes away, or the Ministry of Public Administration and Management, which is visible from the ground, they were on day one of this Test, given a thorough government-office treatment. They were made to wait for hours, run around, given brief hope, which was promptly crushed; they were sneered at, and mistreated, and by the end of the day, they were ready to tear their hair out.
Bureaucrat-in-chief for Sri Lanka was Dhananjaya de Silva, whose maiden Test hundred was a thing of superlative casualness. So unfazed was he by a scoreline of 26 for 5 at his arrival, he was like the civil servant who comes to work to find a queue stretching around the building outside his office, yet before work takes a long tea-and-biscuit break while chit-chatting to colleagues. He stood slouched at the crease all day, unfurling somnolent drives, and languid flicks to the leg side, appearing as if he was doing no work. Meanwhile, Australia chased leather all over; patrons shunted from room to room in the building, all, in the end, for no tangible reward.
Several times, the visitors thought they had him. He was given out caught at short leg off the 11th ball he faced, but that decision was overturned. Twice, when he was in the forties, Australia were so convinced he was out they chanced their own reviews, but had them turned down. On 73, his outside edge was not snared by Peter Nevill. On 104, he was dropped at short cover by Shaun Marsh. Patrons at a government office know what it is like to fill out the same form over and over, and after hopefully taking it to the desk, being told that the words must be written in black ink, not blue, or that a different stamp is required, or that the office is shutting for the day, so the date is wrong and the whole thing must be tried again another day.
In the evening, so frustrated was Mitchell Starc that he began to hurl the ball at de Silva’s stumps, in his follow-through, though there was little chance of running the batsman out. De Silva, still slouching, had the expression of someone who sees this kind of thing all the time. So he sent in Starc’s direction a blank, condescending stare: “If you make a fuss,” he seemed to say, “it will only make things more difficult for you.”
Dinesh Chandimal was by far the more experienced hand in their partnership, which suggests Chandimal should be the more efficient of the two. But, just as in bureaucracy, the opposite was true. Chandimal scored 64 from 204 balls – a strike rate of 31, where de Silva’s was 48. Having been embedded in this institution for several years now, Chandimal has less to prove. Already having risen to vice-captain of the team, incentives are slim.
Sri Lanka are far from impregnable in this match, but De Silva’s insouciance has delivered them a strong position. The pitch is not spitting yet, but it is already taking so much turn that Jon Holland was seen in dustier and dustier whites through the day, in what may be a brazen attempt at taking a pitch home.
And Australia are also yet to face the slow, loopy slider, which is the ball that in Sri Lanka has wreaked havoc upon them in a manner that brings to mind Godzilla’s destruction of a Tokyo city block, or a standard Sri Lanka Cricket official’s effect on Sri Lankan cricket.
But for large parts of day one, they found themselves getting absolutely nowhere. De Silva’s sublime hundred has left them with no choice but to try again another day.