I was able to observe the Test Match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka at Galle during the first two days. This was initially from the first floor precincts of the Galle Cricket Club, where I was delighted to find my old friend Nick White from Australia seated amidst equally diehard cricket ‘tragics’ from abroad: one Kiwi, one Englander and one Irish-Brit in an arena that was sparsely peopled.
A saunter down the ground produced unexpected fortune. Eranga Jayawardena, a talented cameraman for Associated Press, greeted me warmly and immediately arranged for my entry to the Press Box. This spot was ‘heaven’: we were more or less behind the bowler’s arm at the pavilion end and there was tea around the corner if one so desired.
Moreover, I could discuss issues with several knowledgeable blokes – Damith Wijesuriya, Rex Clementine, Andrew Fidel Fernando, Krishan Francis, Shehan Daniel for instance. On these foundations I essay a set of disconnected observations on the match in rough temporal sequence that extends to all five days.
A 1 = I was not happy with the SL selectoral decision to play two pace bowlers. I would have omitted Lahiru Kumara because there have been several Test matches in Galle where the pacemen have hardly been used (a point Nick White agreed with). In that spot I would have inserted another batsman: say Shehan Jayasuriya who can also bowl spin. However the SL newshounds disagreed and insisted that having two pacemen was a wise move (though one indicated that Vishva Fernando would have been a better choice for the Galle pitch than Kumara).
A2. Well, Lahiru Kumara’s figures were no wkts for 37 runs in the first innings and 2 wkts (Watling and Boult) for 31 runs in the second; so those facts do not resolve the issue either way.
B1 = I had strong reservations about the selection of Lahiru Tirimanne as the opening batsman and would have opted for Kusal Perera, Dickwella, Avishka Fernando or Sadeera Samarasinghe in that position — thereby opening up a spot for Chandimal in the middle order. Andrew Fidel Fernando agreed with me and was quite firm in backing Samarasinghe for that role.
B2 = Tirimanne destroyed my readings comprehensively and backed the Selectors by scoring 64 runs in 163 balls in a critical opening stand with Karunaratne in the second innings which laid one of the foundations for victory.
C1 = I sometimes felt that Karunaratne was too defensive in his field settings –for instance in placing his mid-on deepish and permitting a single at moments when the side needed to pressurize the batsman – for instance during the Latham-Nicholls stand in the Kiwi first innings.
D1 = Mendis at kneeling gully for the Sri Lankan spinners: this novel phenomenon emerged at some point in the game … I forget precisely when. I presume it was a joint decision ivolving Mendis and Karunaratne. A bad move in my view: in fact, a perspective that was supported when a sharp edge to Mendis’s left at what was now ‘shoulder height’ was dropped by Mendis. In his normal short gully position this chance would have been knee height and less awkward.
D2 = let me add that I was fairly good slip fielder at my level in my playing days from 1955-90. I recall taking two low catches at gully off left-arm medium-paceman Merrill Gunaratne at Peradeniya Oval from a normal crouching position at gully. One was at three-quarter stretch diving forward. The second was even better: it was at full diving stretch to a snick that curled up and then downwards. The trick is to crouch low and be on the ‘balls of your feet’ as they say.
E = Batting collapses either side of innings breaks: this phenomenon was quite pronounced during the last England tour of Sri Lanka –occurring at mid-session breaks or between breaks across days. Lo and behold! it occurred again during Sri Lanka’s first innings. Mendis and Matthews had built up an impressive stand of 78 runs when Mendis launched into an expansive drive in the last over before tea. Note the ESPNcricinfo comment: “46.5 Taylor holds on! Third time’s the charm. Did Mendis really think he could go driving with tea around the corner in this Test? Another batsman falls into the pre-break black hole. This is tossed up outside off and he looks to slam it through cover, away from the body. Heads straight into Taylor’s mid-riff and he hangs on to it 143/3” This opening provided the impetus for another four wickets to fall in the course of 18 runs – so that Lanka was soon 161 for 7 wkts.
F = Kusal the Furious ‘Invincible’: many Sri Lankans and, for that matter, cricketing aficianados from every which where, recall that remarkable innings from Kusal Perera where his middle-order innings of 153 runs in 200 balls enabled Sri Lanka to reach 304 runs for nine wkts and snatch victory in Test One in South Africa in February this year. It seems that these accolades have been implanted in Kusal’s head: he bats as if he is invincible …. in furious mode that disdains the bowling fraternity. Bad policy that. Quite disastrous. He precipitated the first innings collapse with a hasty and clumsy pull shot that ballooned into the air in the first innings at Galle. The same disdainful approach characterized the second innings at Galle: yes, his 23 runs in 19 balls in Innings Two helped to nail down the Saf coffin; but was such jaunty carefree batting called for — when every decent cricketer knows how batting collapses can move into free fall. Kusal’s skills and elan will flower better if he can get rid of the clay between his ears.
In this assessment I am contesting Dimuth Karunaratne’s recent contention that his policy of giving the SL batsmen the freedom to express themselves was instrumental in their success at Galle. “Only up to a point” is my retort. Kusal’s hasty stroke in Innings One was part of the free-fall and no one could have forecast the fightback from Dickwella and Lakmal which saved the day to some extent. In the second innings the aggressiveness from both Kusal’s certainly brought some dividends, but it required sensible batting from Matthews and Dhananjaya de Silva to drive the side to victory. I suggest that a close scrutiny of Kusal Perera’s magnificent century in Durban will demonstrate a thread of judiciousness in dire circumstances that was not present in Galle.
G = Dhananjaya de Silva demonstrated to all and sundry the allrounder benefits he brings to the XI. Most vitally, his catching sureness in any position is invaluable. His three wkts for 25 runs in 12 overs in the second NZ innings included Raval and Nicholls; and he batted with assurance in the final push. This 27 year-old from Deberawewa in Hambantota and Richmond in Galle is quite an asset.
H = The Fumbling-Bumbling Kiwi Short-Leg: Nor must we neglect the manner in which the Kiwis contributed to their own demise, most vitally in the number of tough chances missed – one or two by Watling of all people; but quite a handful from Henry Nicholls at short-leg. Catches to a close-in short-leg from spin bowling are only simple ones on a few occasions. Most call for sharp reflexes. In accumulating 4-5 failures, however, Nicholls let his side down badly. I considered at least two quite catchable. Thank you ever so much Henry Michael Nicholls.