In Part 1  – We discuss the IPL and the Sri Lankan players participation in it and the the role of the Sri Lankan Cricket board in all the controvery that has come with it. (Sorry about the up and down audio on this one!)

In Part 2 – We watch sadly on the sidelines as the Sri Lankan bowlers struggle like we knew they would

In part 3 – We look at how little the batsmen did against England.

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Damith (www.theflylsip.net and on Cricinfo Here . Follow him on twitter @theflyslip).

Andrew Fernando, who writes for The Pigeon and has a column here. Check him out on Cricinfo here.

england in sri lanka 2012 podcast

King Cricket’s asked if a 1-1 result is satisfactory for England. Given how the series started in Galle and with the shadow of Ajmal looming over them you would have think it’s acceptable. But what about Sri Lanka?

After a hard graft in Australia and sleep walking in Bangladesh, this was a chance for Sri Lanka to prove that Durban wasn’t a fluke and their bowlers d0n’t have to pay seedy Moratuwa University computer geeks to hack into Andy Flower’s computer. Or Ajmal’s.

Sri Lanka were pretty lucky to win at Galle. And in Colombo their luck ran out and England’s batsmen suddenly realised they were once ok at this batting thing. But that Galle win also glossed over a few issues that have been hurting Sri Lanka for a while now and it was bound to bite them in the backside with a vengance.

Openers

Do Sri Lanka have any? Dilshan, Thirimanne, Paranavitana, Warnapura, have all been tried and are in stuck in a continuously revolving door. No one is really being given a chance to either make it or break it. There have been no less than 8 combinations tried since the start of 2009. Of them the combinations that are worth mentioning are

NT Paranavitana, SM Warnapura
NT Paranavitana, HDRL Thirimanne
TM Dilshan, HDRL Thirimanne

When the Selectors did actually give some consistency to this position, with Dilshan and Paranavithana, they averaged 40 in 32 innings. Sometimes stats don’t tell you much. This is not one of them. We are not saying Paranavithana should open with Dilshan. We mean that consistency is important in this highly specialised role. Openers aren’t born overnight. They require a set of skills that most don’t value but few actually have. Leaving on length and having the discipline to see off the new ball is an art. Art is cultivated. Not artifically put together over a couple of games.

Then there is the issue of Dilshan. You can always talk about his lack of centuries but what hurts the most is his lack of consistency. There are plenty of innings where he does not get to 35 leaving Sri Lanka handicapped from the outset of a test. His technique has been exposed in SA and now at home by very skilled new ball bowlers. It’s hard to really figure out what his role is anymore. It used to be to score quickly. Now he doesn’t score at all. We don’t think he should be dropped down the order but it is getting dangerously close to it.

Sangakkara fails to ignite

Is The King fading? It’s hard to even think it but Sangakkara isn’t all there at the moment. One thing we have noticed is the lack of runs at the start of a series.11,14,26,12 v Eng, 10,17,48,68 v Aus, 1,2,0 v SA, 0,14,0, v Eng. In fact he started with a duck against Pakistan too but turned that around pretty quickly. This could be due to a number of reasons, getting in too early, not adjusting from one format to another, but it highlights another problem for Sri Lanka in that it is costing them vital runs in the first innings of a test and at the start of a tour. In the 2nd innings at the P Sara, he looked like a man who  is frustrated, as he has for a while now, pushing and prodding, unsure, searching for something, anything, to build on. But it never came. It’s not a Sangakkara we are used to seeing.

Test Mathews

Angelo is undoubtedly a talented cricketer. And he has a lot to offer Sri Lanka. But weirdly batting in tests isn’t something he does well. The one day game suits him because his requirements are clear and set out. And he knows the time frame in which he needs to do it in. Watching Angelo bat in tests is like watching someone learning to walk. It’s not pretty. Mathew’s essentially does not know how to approach a test innings. And the only time he looks like he has an idea is when Sri Lanka are going belly up.  His technique isn’t outrageously good either. Maybe he just needs to bat more with batsmen to figure things out. Him batting between Sangakara and Jayawardene isn’t the worst thing that could happen to his career.

Sri Lanka needs to figure out what they want out of him too. Do we need a version of the 05 Flintoff or Thilan 2.0. Somehow the ideal seems to be somewhere in between.

Quicks, what quicks?

The most significant contribution by a Sri Lankan fast bowler was Dhammika Prasads runs when he opened in the 2nd innings. That is the story of the Sri Lankan pace attack in a nutshell.  The new ball should be something that Lakmal and Prasad never see again. They have no consistency and they offer no movement. And if anyone uses the dead pitches argument I have one word for them. Anderson. One of the most important factors going into this series was always going to be Sri Lanka’s ability to quickly break into England’s middle order. Between Strauss, Trott, Bell and Cook they’ve scored a trillion runs recently. And although they didn’t do that, it was never because of our fast bowlers.

Another skill most of the attack lack is the ability to use the older ball. Jayawardene knows this and that is why you hardly see our quicks given the older ball.  And again, Anderson, Bresnan and co wins that battle too. We support players getting an extended run but Lakmal and Prasad are not test match bowlers by any stretch of the imagination.  They would struggle to make a Bangladesh side at the moment. The time is right for Eranga to get his chance. He is a bowler who can genuinely swing the ball. Add a working Welegedara and SL have a new ball attack that at least promises.

Friendly Spin.

We like Herath. We sort of have to as otherwise Sri Lanka are better off playing 11 batsmen. He is the only bowler who really offers Jayawardene any control right now. Herath seems to have the minimum requirements to call him a spinner. He lands it on a length more often than not and spins it subtly. But the problem with Herath is always going to be that he simply does not threaten the batsmen enough. In some spells you could almost play Herath in your sleep. There is no vicious turn or bounce to unsettle the batsmen. While Swann was quicker through the air in the 2nd innings which caught out a few batsmen, Herath just wheeled away on cruise control.  Apart from a few wickets, it was more a case of Englands batsmen just not having the confidence to play spin that made him a threat. It was a classic example of a mental problem for England than any physical threat on the field.

Randiv was also average. There are a lot of things that are going for Randiv, his height, and the fact that he can at times get a bit of drift. But he is not consistent enough to make those elements a threat to top players. Guys like Ajmal are quicker through the air, spin it more, have doosra’ss and teesra’s  and are constantly asking questions of the batsmen. Randiv doesn’t need to develop six different variations, as Swann as shown, but he must develop consistency and the ability to put pressure on the batsmen every over if he is to be considered a first pick in the side. He usually ends up ruining good overs with a bad ball. And he releases pressure built up from the other end. He should be given more chances to prove this as he is also another player who gets the revolving selection policy. If the selectors see him as a test specialist that could prove to be a mistake. Randiv is the sort of player who needs to be play consistently to improve. Earmarking him for one format could be the death of him.

1-1 is an fair result. And Jaywardene was lucky to catch England off guard in Galle. But there are plenty of things that need real thought and to be decided upon. Sri Lanka won in Galle after being three down for 15 runs in both innings. Jaywardene should know that this is not going to happen very often. He should also know that lack of early wickets and limp spin will not cut it if he is turn this sinking ship around.

 

england in sri lanka 2012

What defines a good test side? The obvious answers include bowlers who can pick up 20 wickets, a good all rounder, a cogent number 3 and an astute leader. One aspect that can get overlooked is the role of the openers. Throughout crickets vast history the sides that have genuinely done well have always relied on a good opening pair. Grenidge and Hayenes, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Hayden and Langer, Chauhan and Gavaskar. And more recently Cook and Strauss for England. The openers form your frontline against the opposition. They are the guys in the coalface and while their importance can easily be overlooked, it cannot be denied.

Sri Lanka have had the ingredients to make decent test sides in the past. But too often they have excelled at them sporadically. And currently the role of the openers appears to be an area where they are not even bothering with.  And at the heart of the issue is Tilekeratne Dilshan.  Dilshans career was reignited in 2009 when he was asked to open. You can’t fault a man for taking his opportunities and Dilshan reeled off the runs at 65 in that first year. Since then though, he has been a bit hit and miss. In a phase of Sri Lankas cricket where Dilshan is the senior opener his inconsistency is hurting the team badly

Since the lofty heights of 2009 Dilshan has only scored 1 century. And while centuries from an opener are important the issue has been the scores in-between. In 19 of his 28 innings since January 2010 (when he opened) he has not scored more than 35. The domino effect has been that the Sri Lankan opening pair have only gone past 35 on 13 occasions out of 30 innings in that same period.. That is a failure rate of nearly 60%. Every game Sri Lanka have lost over the last year has been due to poor starts. They have been unable to get to a competitive total in the first innings, scores over 300 have been scarce, and that has largely been due to the fact that they are on the back foot almost as soon as the game starts.

Dilshan might not be at fault entirely for those losses or the paucity of big totals. But as the opener he plays a significant role in providing his number 3 and middle order a platform to build on. Kumar Sangakkara has virtually become an opener in the past 12 months. This is one of the reasons why he has developed a dangerous trend in starting series poorly. As a number 3 it is workplace hazard you should expect. But when you are consistently being put under pressure early on failure is just around the corner. It hasn’t helped that Mahela Jayawardene has also been out of touch. But that again only personifies Dilshans importance in getting Sri Lanka off to a solid start.

Dilshan was never a natural opener. He plied his trade in the middle order for years where he would generally come in against the spinners and the older ball. With opening comes the challenge of technique and adaptability. The moving red ball is vastly different to the white ball, where Dilshan is still a threat. As soon as there is movement Dilshans attacking abilities were going to be tested. A poor run against teams with good opening bowlers backs this up. He is also a confidence man. Lack of runs leads to self doubt. Self doubt leads to being unable to trust your instincts. Right now Dilshans head appears to be in a muddled mess. Against Australia lack of self belief made him drop himself down the order. Against England, he was not confident enough to come out and do the job he is being paid to do.

But the problem with the openers doesn’t begin and end with Dilshan. Since Sri Lankas most successful opening pair in Jayasuriya and Attapattu, Sri Lanka have not found a settled pair. Vandort , Tharanga, Mubarak, Warnapura, Paranavitana, Thirimanne have all featured in the last few years. An opener cannot be made overnight, which appears to be what the Selectors are hoping for when you look at that track record. A player needs time to fit into this highly specialised role. To learn his limitations and strengths. Specially in Sri Lanka where the step up from playing 3 day first class cricket against average bowlers on dead pitches to facing up to the best bowlers in the world cannot be quantified.

The Selectors have 2 important decisions to make. One is to ear mark a young player who they think is capable, which currently is Thirimanne, and give him the opportunity he needs to develop. He has proved that he can score runs at this level in the CB series. And while opening in tests is vastly different, Thirimanne has to be provided the opportunity to prove himself, either way. The openers slot isn’t something than can be constantly tinkered with without having a negative impact. In fact it already has.

The 2nd is Dilshan. Right now Sri Lanka’s openers have no plan. And plans are important. Andy Flower uses his openers to blunt the ball. They are not worried about scoring quickly like Australia was in the last decade. Their role is to see off the new ball and give Trott,Bell and KP the opportunity to build a massive first innings total from where Strauss and his bowlers can control the game.

Dilshan, when on song, offers an incredible dynamism to Sri Lanka in that he can score quickly to give Sri Lanka’s bowlers more time than was needed when Murali was around to bowl a team out. But it is his style of play that is also hurting the team at the moment. Too often Dilshan seems to throw his wicket away, mindlessly throwing his bat at every ball. There is only so many times you can turn away and say ‘well that’s how he plays’, as India are now finding with Sehwag.

Can Sri Lanka afford to lose that significant opportunity by dropping him down the order and relying on a more sedate but hopefully more solid combination? If so and ignoring what it might entail as personnel to support such a move, do the Selectors have the nuance and patience to back up those players in what will almost certainly will be a steep learning curve. Based on past evidence, you shouldn’t be holding your breath.

The decision Sri Lanka makes around Dilshan and the openers will prove to be as important a one as they will make in this re-rebuilding phase under Jaywardene. Sri Lanka won in Galle after being 14-3 and 15-3. Don’t count on that happening very often.

england in sri lanka 2012

england in sri lanka 2012 podcast

We don’t know how long it has been exactly since Sri Lanka won a test at home.  But it’s felt like an aeon. We were going to write up a flattering post last week when they pulled off the win but we then ate  some thai food we didn’t agree with.

A test win is a test win and probably one that should not be argued against. Test wins are hard fought. And this one certainly was. Mahela Jayawardene is probably being bathed in pure white milk by nubile virgins as we apeak.  And so he should.

The win however, should not gloss over some of Sri Lankas timeless battles with consistency at the top order. Of course you could argue that 15-3 and 14-3 are nothing but.

Sri Lanka continue to search for the ideal opening pair. Paranavithana has now been dumped for Thirimanne. A right he has earned on the back of his decent run in the middle order in ODIs. A quick stint at the top against the red ball, with pace and spin, has proved yet again how vastly different the two formats are.

Thirimanne isn’t a bad player but he can easily drift into being another player shafted for failing in a couple of tests. In the middle order he proved that he can survive in an alien world. But maybe it hid the fact that his technique is too loose against the moving ball early on. Sri Lanka should give him a chance to prove that he can be a test match opener and with most of  Sri Lankas next assignments being at home, it would be stupid to not give him any leeway.

Dilshans contributions in this test were bordering on comical.  Dilshan doesnt need to tame himself but there is no harm in getting yourself in. On a pitch like Galle, blocking 20 balls is worth it before trying to belt one into the sea.

Sangakkara continued his stop start form from the ODIs in to the test. He has been setting a dangerous trend in starting series badly. And it is hurting Sri Lanka. And it hurts us. So get it together Kumar.

It’s barely believable and we feel weird writing about it but the thing that impressed us the most about Sri Lanka was the fight they showed in the lower order.

Sides dont usually win after being 3 for nothing in both innings. And they shouldn’t. The fact that England could not polish off Sri Lankas tail which fetched a 160 and 110 runs for the last 4 wickets in each innings played as important a role as Jayawardenes (plural) batting and Heraths bowling. And of course England ‘sin ful’ batting

It seems like an extension from their ODI form where they refused to give up. And if anything should be carried over from an ODI series (the Asia cup did not exist in our minds), we are glad it’s this.

Sri Lanka it seems, no longer wilts under the pressure but are willing to scrap. And if they are to string together a meaningful number of test wins and not just isolated triumphs then scrap they must.

And scrap they did. We liked it. We liked it a lot.

england in sri lanka 2012