Murali holds the key
A tour of Australia has come and gone. Sri Lanka were beaten two-zero. It is very tough playing the Aussies on their home soil, but Sri Lanka’s effort could be summed up as, ‘not good enough’. They were lacking in preparation to meet a force so good and that was disappointing. There were external factors. Marvan Atapattu stood in the middle of the controversies – his selection and then the comments that were made correct or not. It does not help the team’s cause. Then the injuries to Kumar Sangakkara, forcing his to miss the first test, while Farveez Maharoof was a passenger for about seventy five percent of the second test. That added to the woes.
Now, with there hardly being any breathing space, the team faces up to the Englishmen. Three of the thirteen who were in the fray in those two games will not be seen in action – Marvan Atapattu (retired), Farveez Maharoof and Thilan Samaraweera. The composition of the final eleven will be of interest.
Upul Tharanga, who lost his place in Australia, had a good opening game against the Englishmen. He made the most of batting on a good pitch against a team of players looking to find their feet. He is a fluent stroke maker, a naturally talented player who will improve to become a very good player, provided he stays really focused. His rise to the top in the last couple of years has been quick. Today stardom for Sri Lankan cricketers is filled with distractions. To manage himself and follow the straight path is essential. He does not have to look far. Most, if not all the seniors in the side, have not lost focus or direction. Tharanga has many role models to follow.
In the second game Sujeeva de Silva bowled with penetration and picked up some wickets. The left arm medium fast swing bowler has been a slow developer, but is now reaching the peak of his bowling powers and is knocking on the door for a permanent place in the side. He deserves an opportunity to prove his cause.
Sri Lanka will depend on Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara, Muttiah Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas for the big performances. All five will want to prove their worth. They have done their part for the team on numerous occasions. It is after a while that Sri Lanka are playing a three test home series against a tougher opposition and all these proven players must be looking forward to it in earnest.
Captain Jayawardena and deputy Sangakkara will go into the opening test after scoring centuries against the Australians. For any to go to Australia and score a ton is a life time experience and a huge boost in confidence. This duo are the top two batsmen in the team and in the top dozen amongst the best in the world. Their responsibility will be huge for the next four to five years, until younger players develop and mature into seasoned campaigners. They will have to play match winning or even match saving innings regularly in the coming years. They have done it before, nearly did it in the last outing at Hobart and will have to do it more regularly starting from this tour.
Veteran players Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas will be squeezing out all their ability and experience. They must know the value of these three games, both for themselves and the team. Their contribution is eagerly anticipated. Muttiah Muralitharan will be licking his fingers waiting for that moment when he will go past Shane Warne’s record for the most number of wickets in test cricket. He could not do it in Australia. The surfaces were flat and good to bat against spin and the Aussie batsmen played him well off the pitch and were prepared to wait for the delivery that they could score off.
The print media had mentioned some days ago that the English batsmen also had put in a lot of work preparing to play Muralitharan. They had programmed his variety of deliveries on the bowling machine and had spent hours practicing against the machine. Every team knows the key to succeeding against Sri Lanka is to clip Muralitharan’s wings. So far very few teams have succeeded. England these days spend a lot of time in preparation for their overseas tours. An aspect they often did not put too much of emphasis on in the past. Times have changed and all teams must change with the times.
Two players from whom contributions will be much required are Dilhara Fernando and Lasith Malinga. They couldn’t put it together in Australia where quick bowlers do have an advantage. They were not able to consistently land the ball in the right areas and suffered as a result. They have to soften the top order of the English, so that Muralitharan can get to soften into the middle and tail.
England under Michael Vaughan in the test matches and under Paul Collingwood in the ODI’s have shown fighting qualities and a keenness to win. They too will view this as a great challenge. A number of the younger players have displayed they are capable. The seniors too although not vastly experienced, have sufficient performances under their belt. Their build-up through the training sessions and the warm-up games must make them feel prepared.
Now onto the games. It is a vital period in the cricketing journey of Sri Lanka and to win this series is of such great importance.