The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The young brigade in one voice said “Yes Sir”


Well the mini and the midi stuff is over in Sri Lanka’s bilateral Future Tours Programme series against Pakistan and we have moved into the maxi-five-day stuff.Yet, looking back, especially at the five one-dayers, we must analyse the series and discuss strengths, weaknesses and ways of taking the game into the next world cup, which will take place Down Under in 2015.

The Lankan young brigade celebrating one of their victories against Pakistan in the ODI series.

We must take these as the initial steps of a rather lengthy walk ahead. This is the time where we transform the experiences and lessons of the 2011 World Cup into a new potpourri, so that we once again hit the right balance that mingles youth and experience, and a cupboard full of exposure.

It was a series that took place between two equally balanced sides, though the strengths and weaknesses came from different directions.
The Pakistani camp was spot-on with its bowling talent that had direction and application, but the batting consistency, barring Azar Ali and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, along with the fielding, needs much improvement and Whatmore.

However, it is the local camp that is our topic and the more we put it under the microscope the better it is for the health of Lankan cricket.

It was a closely-fought series, except for the first ODI, which the Lankans surrendered meekly. The second game, the Lankans ruled the roost and the third game was lost to rain. The two final games were on an even keel and only a sudden jolt swerved the game into one camp’s lap which incidentally happened to be the hosts.

The Lankans, who ended up with their heads held high after ending up as World Cup runners-up, hit a bad patch for a while but had a resurgence in Australia. They took on the hosts and India in a triangular and ended up as the losing finalists once again – but we take that as an achievement because the Lankans were playing two of the best ODI teams in the world.

However the Sri Lankan fortunes reversed at the Asia Cup where they lost even to Bangladesh. Taking that as a yardstick this series was a good eye-opener because during this series the younger brood stepped forward and wanted to be counted.

That important fact should be counted as the most noteworthy discovery in this exercise against Pakistan. What transpired there will be spoken of during many a moon to come.

In the first game, young left hander Lahiru Thirimanne held the innings together in spite of the big guns going silent early in the innings and made the visitors score 140+ to win that game with his own knock of 42 not out.

Though in the second game experienced T.M. Dilshan came up with a well-calculated ‘ton’ to prop the Lankan innings, it was the effort of fledgling allrounder Thisara Perera that stunned Pakistan. First he hit a brisk 24 not out in 14 balls and then followed it up with his career best 6 for 44, which now stands as the best effort by a Lankan against their sub-continental neighbour.

The third game was buried in a watery grave and the fourth was left out for contention. While the Lankans were at the crease it was their senior duo of Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara who showed the visitors who the masters were. Yet, the game gradually began to drift towards the opposing camp as Azad Ali once again put up steady resistance, along with his skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. When the Pakistan batting power play was called for, with a manageable number of required runs per over and with all the wickets in the world to follow, the game was all but over.

Then came that jack-in-the-box sliding catch by Nuwan Kulasekera at mid-off as Pakistani skipper Misbah-ul-Haq went for a lofted drive against Lasith Malinga, and young Thisara Perera then took the initiative to turn the game on its head with a hat-trick a four-wicket haul. From a very unlikely position, the Lankans romped home to a memorable 44 run win.

Though there would be only one clear winner in the series, Pakistan had the chance of salvaging their pride if they had won the fifth game. Unlike in the previous game, Pakistan won the toss, elected to bat and put 247 runs on the board.

The game moved like a carbon copy of game number four. With a similar number of runs on the board, the Lankans had two early wickets in the fourth match before Azad Ali and Misbah dug themselves in during the previous game. In the final game it was just the same. Left arm seamer Sohail Tanvir had accounted for both openers T.M. Dilshan and Upul Tharanga with only nineteen runs on the board.

Like Azar and Misbah did in the game before, Kumar Sangakkara and Dinesh Chandimal set up camp at the crease. When the innings was progressive it was nice to see how Sangakkara from the other end was nurturing young Chandimal’s innings. Chandimal, who had never scored more than 32 runs on home soil, went on to post his first half century. Prior to that something similar to the Pakistani innings in the previous game occurred in the Lankan innings too. After posting a self-assuring 78-run stand for the third wicket, Sangakkara was out after making 40 runs. And in the very next ball as Afridi walked back in the previous game, Mahela Jayawardena walked back after scooping a return catch to Afridi, who was operating at that time.

Though the Lankan senior brigade was back in the shack with only 97 runs on the board, this was the end of the similarity of the two innings between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the last two matches. Now it was the turn of the Lankan young brigade to show their maturity and mettle. Building the rest of the innings around vice captain Angelo Mathews they worked sensibly and achieved a feat that looked almost impossible through most parts of the game.

In the overall picture the Lankan bowlers, though not as versatile as the Pakistani composition, kept to the right areas and the fielders backed their bowlers with good catching and fielding – the hallmark of a youthful side. In the present Lankan team, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Thisara Perera, though well set in the side, are yet in their early twenties. Upul Tharanga Nuwan Kulasekera, Lasith Malinga and Jeewan Mendis are in the latter part of the twenties, with Mendis at 29 being the oldest.

These seven players definitely could form the nucleus of Lankan fortunes during the next four years. To sustain the adrenaline in the setup, the experience of Sangakkara, Jayawardena, Dilshan and Rangana Herath could be harnessed and used with care.
Though the domestic standards are still low and the schools system is rotten, it shows that Sri Lanka still keeps pumping talent into the national grid. Good for now, but what do we have for the future?

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