Looking over the fence

Sri Lanka’s tour of India which started with much expectation appears to be turning out to be a bad dream. At least the Test series where the Lankans were expected to compete on par with their strong and experienced batting has unfortunately caved in under pressure with the bowlers too reeling under the aggressive approach of the Indian batting! It is the accepted norm not to harp or speak on areas of trouble when a team is winning. But when the shoe is on the wrong foot and the team starts to loose cracks can start to appear and some of those cracks could run deep and wide effecting situations outside the boundary lines too.

However let’s not forget that Sri Lanka still has the T 20 series and the ODI series left to salvage something from a rather dismal showing in the Test series up to the time of writing.

Knowing the Indians who are smarting after their recent inconsistent outings in the shorter version of the game, they should be all pumped up to go out there and take on the Lankans. A good performance in the Tests will only serve as a motivation for them and Kumara Sangakkara will have a great challenge to contain the Indian juggernaut come the shorter version of the game, though nobody with an iota of a cricketing brain will ever write off the Lankans considering their skills and experience.

Can we keep Kandamby out any longer in the Test arena?

However the question that has to be answered almost immediately is where do we go from here? What options are available to the Lankans? And what are the positive factors coming out of the tour?

The biggest positive to me is the reinvention of the left arm fast medium Chanaka Welagedera. After disappearing almost entirely from the International scene, Welagedera should be indebted to the fast bowling coaches of Sri Lanka Anusha Samaranayake in particular and Prabath Nissanka for polishing his run up and fine tuning his follow through and giving him the much needed confidence which saw him in very good light in the Champions League!

Since then Welagedera has settled in beautifully and his spell in the first session on the first day of the first Test, is still probably the best we have seen in the series with Sreesanth closely following him. The second and the strongest message of the tour is the maturity and ascendancy of the left arm spinner Herath! Bowling with great control and economy Herath has been easily the best spinner in the Sri Lankan line up which includes two top performers in Muralitharan and Mendis which is very high praise indeed.

With Muralitharan’s retirement now imminent Sri Lanka will look to Herath at least in the Tests to be their main stay with support from Mendis and the Bloomfield off spinner Suraj Randiv! Bowling his off spin to very good effect Randiv has been an excellent performer this season whilst Sachitra Senanayake of the SSC too should warrant a closer look, if the selectors will insist on an off spinner replacing Murali when the master decides to throw in the towel.

In the batting department it has been just three players so far! And that needs no special guesses. Tilakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardane and wicket keeper Prasanna Jayawardane have stood head and shoulders above the rest with Samaraweera showing glimpses of what he is made of. But the biggest disappointment has to be Tharanga Paranavithana the opener who recorded just one solitary half century up to the first innings of the 3rd Test. Having seen him bat for the SSC and compiling tons of runs, I am sure Paranavithana should be the most disappointed not doing justice to his tremendous ability. One felt when Paranavithana was included in the side Sri Lanka had found the ideal opener who will occupy the slot for a very long time. But in the short span so far he appears to be out of depth at the top surrendering his wicket rather tamely after getting decent starts, which is most surprising as he is known to be a player who puts a very big price on his wicket whenever he plays.

If Paranavithana’s position is up for grabs I could think of two strong contenders. i.e. Malinda Warnapura and Lahiru Thirimanne. Whilst Warnapura will have a decent record to show at the Test level Thirimanne will be unknown quantity in the International arena. It will be interesting to see what the choice of the selectors will be as both players are quality and worth their salt. Whilst Warnapura just 30 would still have something to offer to the National cause, young Thirimanne a 20-year-old and possibly the brightest young batsman on current form to appear on the horizon, could turn out to be the batsman Sri Lanka cricket needs at the top! After his performance against Pakistan in the opening game and with the adventurous nature of Dilshan as an opener, it will be a good blend to have the calming influence of a Thirimanne who besides his great temperament posses an excellent technique.

The rest of the batting is settled and strong with Sangakkara, Jayawardane and Samaraweera occupying the vital no’s 3, 4 and 5 which would mean that the likes of Dinesh Chandimal, Ashan Priyanjan and Dilshan Munaweera may have to wait in the side lines for a while. On the topic of Munaweera and Priyanjan, the duo were amongst the top run getters on the recent tour by the Sri Lankan academy to New Zealand with Priyanjan as the captain scoring 274 runs and Munaweera getting 271 runs.

On the topic of the national side it will be the bottom half that the Sri Lankan selectors will have to take a closer look in the future with only Prasanna Jayawardane and Herath on current form being certainties if and when Muralitharan retires. The position of young Angelo Mathews too seem to be under some scrutiny though it is doubtful whether the selectors would ever want to drop such a classy and a talented player. His innings of 99 was a gem studded with crisp strokes and maturity and it will be Mathews who could really get the lower order ticking if he could bat as well as he can and could provide the 3rd seamer’s option. If that is not forthcoming Sri Lanka should not waste the talents of Thilina Kandamby who is definitely cut out for Tests than the T 20’s. His approach and style where he likes to take his time over an innings is obviously what test batsmen are made of. In that light it surprises me that Kandamby is still an ODI and a T 20 player whilst not being a test player, where it is clear the roles should reversed.
Whilst the poor showing in the Test series in India will be viewed by most people as a disappointment, I am sure we could also turn that disappointment to a huge plus by bringing some of the younger players in the ranks knocking on the doors of selection. Let’s not forget that some of these great cricketers have already run their race and are in it not out of choice but may be out of compulsion. As such sooner we change our approach it would be better as cricket is a race where nobody can afford to relax!

Roshan Abeysinghe is a leading cricket promoter and an international cricket commentator

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