Out with the begging bowl (ing)

Early English summer ought to pose climatic problems to any cricketer from the belt of the equator if he is not fully acclimatized. We overheard -- was it Michael Atherton who quipped to our own Russel Arnold “Yes, we like to get sides like Sri Lanka to play cricket in England in this weather because you are not equipped for it”. At this end we fully agree and the just finished Test leg of the tour prove how the Englishmen took advantage of the early summer.

Still was the Lankan cricket disgraced wholesale on that slate? I do not think so. In spite of losing one match in a 24-over dramatic, if not shocking, collapse, the Lankans scored 400 runs in the first Test, did the same in the second and in the third were 334 for 5 in spite of facing the ignominy of losing the match by an innings at one stage of the game.

Suranga Lakmal after getting Trott’s wicket – one of the rare success for one of the Lankan bowlers in the post Murali era.

Yes, one may argue that if the games went the full length in all fifteen days of Test cricket that was on offer, the Englishmen would have closed the books with a three-nil series victory. But that is the given English weather and the Asians are not fully accustomed to play there. Well on the low and slow Asian wickets the sweating Englishmen do not do that well at any time of the year either.

Then why is the cricket fraternity in this country rather disturbed about the whole Test episode in England? That is because it was exposed over and above that the Lankan bowling larder is empty in the post Vaas-Murali era beyond any reasonable doubt.

The Vaas-Murali association began in the early 1990s. It flourished in the post-World Cup-win era and took the Lankan game to a higher plane where the team transformed from a mediocre unit which could be flashy in the shorter version of the game into a good five day cricket unit especially since 2005. In the Test 21 series played since 2005, Sri Lanka has won ten, lost only five and drew six -- a good record by any standard indeed.

Vaas last wore the white kit for Sri Lanka against Pakistan on July 24, 2009 and Sri Lanka beat Pakistan in that series 2-0. In the very next series they had a rather easy time against New Zealand – winning the series 2-0. Ironically that was the last time that Sri Lanka won a Test series.

A year later, on July 22, 2010, Muttiah Muralitharan wore the white kit for Sri Lanka for the last time at the Galle Cricket Stadium against India searching for his magical 800th wicket. Yes, Muralitharan achieved his goal and Sri Lanka won the match by ten wickets and sadly that was the last time that Sri Lanka registered a test win.

The Vaas-Murali combination which yielded 1,155 Test wickets and so many victories at that discipline of the game has come to an end and now the Lankans are looking at the bottom of the barrel in the bowling department.

Since Muralitharan retired Sri Lanka has played eight tests. There the Lankan bowlers have been hit for a triple century (333 Gayle), two double centuries (Sachin Tendulkar 203, Jonathan Trott 203) and seven centuries. In eight Tests played, the opponents have put totals of 707, 580 for 9 and on three occasions more than 400.

In the three Tests played against England, Sri Lankans posted their worst bowling attacks since they were elevated to the top grade in 1982. There was no bowler at any stage of the three Tests played who was on top of the England batsmen and commanded respect. Even when England lost three wickets for twenty odd runs in the second Test it was plainly clear that it was only a matter of time that they would recover and get back on track.

In the beggar’s bowl Suranga Lakmal and Chanaka Welagedera looked luxuries, but, in a proper Test bowling line up they would not stand a chance. Even prior to the series we said that Dilhara Fernando was a joke and he proved the fact, especially in the third test while bowling off a short run up. We feel that Fernando is most comfortable in the dressing room watching the match and collecting his match fees.

Fernando played one and a half Tests and the poor bloke, who hardly played a match but was in the squad for the past so many series, is now injured and in line to miss his match fees for the ODI series -- and what about the tour of Scotland?

Farveez Maharoof and Thisara Perera looked more like two hippies at the Royal Albert Hall, during a concerto. They were misfits -- totally inadequate. Then the sole spinner on show -- Rangana Heart looked very pedestrian and the English batsmen were comfortable against him.

Off spinner Suraj Randiv, who could be considered the only redeeming factor in the post-Murali era was a mere spare fielder. One wonders how the equation of keeping Randiv out crossed the minds of the tour selectors and even the ones over here.

Just go back to the first Test match that Sri Lanka played in 1982. In that game they had Lalith Kaluperuma (off spin), Ajith de Silva ( left arm orthodox) and D.S. de Silva (right arm leg spin) – three bowlers who could punch a hole in any batting line up. What lacked in them at that time was only the Test exposure. Sadly, the present lot of bowlers -- all were born after Sri Lanka gained Test status -- know everything about Test cricket. Yet they cannot perform to the expectations.

Sri Lanka has a fast bowling unit. Yet, still they cannot produce another bowler who constantly could pick up wickets in the Test arena after Vaas left in 2009. Sri Lanka also has a spinners’ clinic. Did they anticipate that there would be a day that Sri Lanka would be facing a Test series without Murali? If they were anticipating, then what were they doing? We are not saying that we must produce another Muralitharan, but what we should have is a bowler who could hold his own among the international batsmen.

Once left-armer Sajeewa Weerakoon was on the horizon with a stack full of domestic wickets, but was he exposed while on top? No. Both Ajantha Mendis and Suraj Randiv are not bowlers who have come through the spinners’ clinic. So what has the clinic produced?

Then back among the fast bowlers the only bright spot – Nuwan Pradeep was sold to the IPL, till they sapped him out at the nets and was useless for Sri Lanka when he was chosen. He broke down after the initial outing in England.

Shall we just suggest? Walk the same street as Zimbabwe and shall we stop playing Test cricket?

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