Sri Lanka verses New Zealand – August 2019. A quick look at the two squads.
The Kiwis recently appointed two metre Peter as their Batting Coach while Chris Martin has allegedly been working with three of Sri Lanka’s up and coming stars. Lahiru Kumara has currently scored 44 runs in Test cricket while accumulating 50 wickets. His only scores of 7 and above have involved some slogging at the end of a poor innings from his team. Martin has been trying to show him the virtue of playing and missing as a more elegant method of not scoring runs. When he hit his top score of 10, he was badly let down by another of Martin’s students – Vishwa Fernando. Kumara was sitting nicely on 0 when Shami dropped a caught and bowled chance offered by Fernando at the beginning of the 10th wicket partnership in Pallekele in 2017.
Muthuthanthrige Vishwa Thilina Fernando has scored 11 runs in 5 Tests while taking 19 wickets and Kasun Rajitha has scored 22 runs in 6 matches having racked up no fewer than 23 wickets. When accumulating his top score of 12 in Durban in February 2019, Rajitha looked destined to be expelled from Chris Martin’s School of Batting before a typical rush of blood to the head resulted in him being run out to a good piece of fielding from Aiden Markram.
Vishwa was one of the heroes in the second innings when contributing his highest score of 6 not out while Kusal Perera ended up 153 not out at the other end as the visitors pulled off an unlikely one wicket victory following an incredible unbeaten tenth wicket partnership of 78. Vishwa has never been dismissed in the three Test innings where he has managed to score some runs, but unfortunately for his team he doesn’t get off the mark very often.
Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews were both absent from the South Africa tour with the former overlooked after a poor series against Australia and the latter suffering from a hamstring injury. While the current captain Dimuth Frank Karunaratne will welcome the additional experience their presence will add, he will nevertheless be without the 37 year old off-spinner Dilruwan Perera who is believed to be recovering from an injury. With Rangana Herath having retired the stage is set for a new team of tweakers and twirlers to emerge from behind the curtain. Lasith Embuldeniya is a left-arm orthodox spinner. Lakshan Sandakan is a left-arm wrist spinner and Akila Dananjaya is the mystery man who has just returned from an elbow-flexation related suspension. Another spinning option will be provided by Dhananjaya de Silva leaving Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando to form a three-pronged pace attack with a very long batting tail in the unlikely event of them all playing.
Jon Lewis, the former Gloucestershire bowler is the Sri Lanka Batting Coach. I have no idea where the logic comes from that suggests a man with a first-class average of 16.40 should qualify to be an International Batting Coach, but when it comes to understanding the vagaries of selection in Sri Lankan cricketing circles, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe Lewis made some important friends when making his only Test appearance for England at Trent Bridge in 2006, a match Sri Lanka won by 134 runs. In the topsy-turvy roller-coaster world of Sri Lankan cricket the locals are prepared to expect the unexpected. Their team were defeated 3–0 at home by England last year before being very poor against Australia in Brisbane and Canberra. Less than two weeks later they were absolutely brilliant away to South Africa against Steyn, Philander, Rabada and Olivier, winning the Series 2–0 …… the first side other than England or Australia to ever win a Test Series in South Africa.
In complete contrast the people running New Zealand Cricket have employed a man with insider knowledge of the conditions and opposition, in the 42 year-old ex- Sri Lankan Test batsman Thilan Samaraweera who incidentally averaged 48 after playing in 81 Tests. Two-metre Peter will no doubt be picking his brains as the Kiwis prepare for the first Test starting tomorrow in Galle. No fewer than four spinners have been included in the 15 man New Zealand squad. Mitchell Santner and Ajaz Patel offer slow left-arm orthodox. Todd Astle is a leg-break bowler and William Somerville is a right-arm off-spinner. Even the captain Kane Williamson has 29 Test wickets bowling right-arm off spin. The New Zealand squad are arguably at the peak of their respective careers with the youngest player 27 years old and the elder statesman Ross Taylor still only 35. With heavy rain and thunder storms forecast for virtually every day, the army of Sri Lankan grounds staff with their buckets and towels are likely to be kept very busy.