You can use any number of hackneyed clichés! One may say “The lads were thrown in at the deep end” or say “It was an acid test” — yes, that was all reality. The young Lankans were tested in real terms and their plight could be explained with the clichés at hand, and they did [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Taking a deep look into the Lankan Test tango


Milinda Siriwardena has earned the reputation of the Sri Lanka team’s Mr. Dependable

You can use any number of hackneyed clichés! One may say “The lads were thrown in at the deep end” or say “It was an acid test” — yes, that was all reality. The young Lankans were tested in real terms and their plight could be explained with the clichés at hand, and they did lose the Test series, but in real cricketing terms it was not a defeat perse.

Prior to the series, there was scepticism on the abilities of the greenhorns who were to be tested against one of the toughest Test-playing teams in the present context – New Zealand. Yes, there was enough material for criticism if the Lankan squad is analysed individually, but as a unit the young cricketers performed far beyond expectations.

Definitely New Zealand is a side that is steadily climbing the ladder of success in World cricket. Under Brendon McCullum they have made significant strides in the recent years. McCullum, who took over the captaincy from Ross Taylor under rather strange circumstances, is credited with developing New Zealand’s highly aggressive brand of cricket, especially at home.
When New Zealand beat Sri Lanka in Hamilton last Monday, McCullum’s New Zealand equalled the team’s longest undefeated home run, of 13 Tests.

In contrast, when champions Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena bid adieu to International Cricket, or I rather put it as representing Sri Lanka (because the duo are still globetrotting with their bats at every possible cricket park – you just mention the venue, they are there) the Lankans were under the impression that the black hole of degeneration would swallow our park. No one ever gave them a chance. But, the Lankans came back and came up with a gritty show to give Sri Lankan cricket a glimmer of respectability.For in spite of arguably having the weakest composition in Sri Lanka history since gaining Test status way back in 1982, Lankans ended the year with five wins and seven defeats. This is not a dismal record in the true sense of international cricket.

The year started with the swan song of Mahela Jayawardena at the end of the second Test against the Kiwis in New Zealand in January, while Kumar Sangakkara was looking into the tail end of his illustrious career. Still the New Zealanders in that match did not budge an inch in spite of a memorable double hundred by Sangakkara. Yet, the Lankans lost the game by almost by a double century.

In the second Test in New Zealand in the just-concluded series, it was a similar story for the Lankans. In both the January and December Second Tests, Lankans led the opponents in the first innings and capitulated in the second. In the January Test, the Lankans led in the first inning and failed in the second inning and even could have thought of a win, if not for the resolve of Kane Williamson who sandwiched an inning and effected the difference.

Last week the story line was the same. If it was not for Williamson’s emphatic batting the Lankans could have slid through to an unlikely win. Also strangely during the match that was played early January, in the second inning where the Lankans failed, it was their No. 2 batsman Kaushal Silva who top scored with 50. In the match that the Lankans lost last Monday, it was No. 2 batsman Kusal Mendis who top scored for them with a flashy 46.

Most interestingly at the end of the two series that ended with wins for the New Zealanders, and, both Marvan Atapattu and Jerome Jayaratne grieved about the lost chances. The Lankans lost all four Test matches that were played overseas, but, won a Test each against Pakistan and India though they lost their series to the visitors. Nevertheless the Lankans beat the West Indies 3-nil in the face of a rather loosely packed performance by the visitors.

Though there were minuses in excess during the year, there were some positives too. First was the discovery of south-paw Milinda Siriwardena who strode himself into fame in just six months of top grade cricket. He made his debut way back in 2005, but, strangely failed to capture the attention of the selectors in spite of a string of impressive performances in the club circuit. He has a record of seven centuries and 37 fifties in domestic cricket with a tally of over five thousand runs in 93 matches.

However, when he was given the break, the 30-year-old allrounder who hailed from Kalutara Vidyalaya has not looked back. Now is he a regular in all three formats of the game. Besides there are other significant features too. The first is the graduation of Dinesh Chandimal as a top order batsman. This is an encouraging development, considering the tentative period that he was experiencing a year ago. Another positive feature is the emergence of young Dushmantha Chameera as a genuine fast bowler. It is now upto the custodians of the game to nurture this rare talent by Asian standards.

It goes without saying once again the leadership qualities of skipper Angelo Mathews stood out and also there is enough evidence to believe that the coaching team had worked overtime to get the young team prepared to face the Kiwi challenge.
May be the batters failed in the last inning and may be the pressures of playing the last inning of a crucial tough game overtook the grit and the emotions of a young side, which is still learning the ABCs of real International cricket. Once again we reiterate the main cause to this malady is the lack of a proper first class local tournament – thanks to the prevailing administrative structure of Sri Lanka cricket.

Coming back to the game, in the collective batting composition there were flaws. It was seen that though Dimuth Karunaratne has the necessary ingredients to make to the top, he has to learn how to take responsibility and be the batsman that he is expected to be. Out of the four innings at least on two occasions he was out, playing loose shots.

Kusal Mendis did score some runs at No. 2, but, it won’t be long before the rivals in the international bowling machine discover that he has a penchant to drive and even drive in the second stump outside the off stump region. We hope that he will not run into the same trap that was set for Upul Tharanga.

With an unsettled batting line up, the Lankans should draw inspirations from the batting order that was employed by the Arjuna Ranatunga work chart. There they had Asanka Gurusinha playing the anchor role and absorbing the pressure so that their run machine Aravinda de Silva could play his natural game, and it worked. May be if Kaushal Silva could fit himself into that role, there would be more room for Chandimal, Mathews and Siriwardena to manoeuvre. Then may be Upul Tharanga with his experience in the international arena can drop himself down and take over a more responsible role in the batting order.

In bowling the young lot is learning fast to bowl in the right avenues and the team coached by Champaka Ramanayake are impressing on those points. But, at thirty seven the left arm lifeline Rangana Herath is bowling more with his wits rather than ability – there is a limit to the pressure that a work horse can take, but please do not shoot this lame horse, that’s all we’ve got.

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