Almost.

In February, we wrote this about Kulesekara. A somber look ahead to his inevitably sad demise. 6 months on, the lad seems genuinely interested in proving us an utter failure at calling a cricketer. Our biggest fear now is that we will achieve a similar reverse jinx with what is about to follow. But at least we will be safe in the knowledge that we are consistently wrong about our opinions.

It would be interesting to know if someone told Kulesekara at the nets that he should try his hand at fast bowling or whether its something he wanted to do his whole life. But regardless of whether it was forced on him or came naturally, one thing remains clear – that he would have gone into wholeheartedly.

At the root of everything Kulesekara does is his heart and unbridled job of bowling and picking up wickets for his country. By all sense and logic he has no business being in a test side. And about a year ago he had no business being in any of Sri Lanka’s sides. Yet here he is in a test side and picking up top order wickets.

What gives ? Kulsekara’s  strength has always been his consistency, but of late he seems to have entered into that metronome level. He has also developed his skills in what he can do with the ball. In the past he predominantly swung the ball in. Now he can bowl it so that it hold its line and when truly in full flight, even move it away.

His test selection was purely based on his ODI form of late and the challenge for him was going to be whether he could replicate the white ball success with the red one. If you ask a Pakistani top order batsmen you’d probably get a resounding yes. But its easy to get carried away with it all like Sangkkara appears to have been when he called him the spearhead of the attack. Can Nuwan Kulesekara ever be a spearhead of an attack? It seems wrong and odd and an insult to the ideology of it all.

Kulesekara had a good game against a batting line up that were atrocious in covering the line and their decision making in what to play outside the off stump. This is not to take anything away from him. He asked the questions and Pakistan did not have the answers. It now comes down to whether Kulesekara is capable of replicating this feat in the rest of the series. And extrapolating further – against better batsmen, in different conditions. Right now the sample size is too small to pass judgement.

But the promise is there. And that is always a good thing.  Heartening almost.

nuwan kulesekara Sri Lanka v Pakistan 2012

The first test is done. So we thought we might try our hand at a little report carding.

Paranavitana.

Plucked out of the opener’s carousel and slotted into be Dilshan’s latest partner. Although going by stats Paranavithana and Dilshan form Sri Lanka’s 2nd best opening combination in history. We liked bringing him back. Slow yes but probably a little steadier than Thirimanne. Looked alright against the quicks but played Ajmal like he was trying to swat flies with his eyes closed. It didn’t work nor did it look particularly healthy. As an opener you might think batting against spinners isn’t that important a factor but every great opener has been at least competent at it. At the moment the competent line is a dot in the horizon for Paranavitana. The problem for him will always be that he will never be guaranteed an extended run to gain valuable experience at the openers spot. You can almost be certain that if he fails in this series he will be dropped for the next. It can’t be easy playing with one eye always looking over your shoulder. Confidence must be nurtured for players like Paranavitana who need time in the middle more than anything else.

Dilshan

This is probably the best you will see Dilshan play in this format of the game. Too often he plays as if his brain is in a vegetative state. However for this test, the intelligent, controlled Dilshan turned up. And when he does he bosses attacks around. His aggression was subdued but was always a threat. He was never tied down. The scoreboard kept moving and that helps guys like Sangakkara to come in and play themselves in without any real pressure. The most important factor in Dilshans batting in the first innings was his SR against Ajmal which clocked in at 60. By not allowing the opposition’s main threat to settle into a rhythm he put Sri Lanka in control. Early. He also played perfectly in the 2nd innings when Sri Lanka needed quick runs. This is the Dilshan that Sri Lanka needs to show up to test matches

Sangakkara

We’ve highlighted in the past how Sangakkara has started a dangerous trend in starting a test series poorly over the last year. Barring the Pakistan tour to the UAE, he has had an almost abysmal record in the first few innings of a tour. What that immediately meant was Sri Lanka’s first innings totals suffered. Scores of over 300 have been rare. Under 200 too often. In short, Sangakkara is a huge chunk in Sri Lanka’s batting line up. And that is not a secret. In this test he built and built and built in an almost robotesque manner. The King is a man of process and every little drill he practices at the nets was on display in this marathon innings. Throughout the innings we couldn’t help but feel that this is what remains of Sanga. An unrelenting machine who has had a few oil leaks recently. We doubt we will ever see the free flowing Sangakkara who flayed the Australians in Hobart. The new Sangakkara or rather the last days of Sangakkara will probably be seen in the same light as Tendulkar in the manner they score their runs. There wasn’t anything particularly brilliant about it but rather just the construction of runs. He looked steady against the quicks but didn’t seem completely settled against Ajmal but that is his asset. To score ugly runs. Sangakkara has always been a better player of pace than spin and it will be really interesting to see how he fares if he has to come in early with Ajmal on song and pressure.

Jaywardene

To counter Sangakkaras monotony, Jayawardene brought a lazy elegance to both innings. His strike rate of nearly 90 against Ajmal proves just how good a player of spin he is. He was never hurried or under pressure. But the problem with Mahela has always been that he allows his flair to get the better of him. In both innings he played shots he didn’t need to. The fact that Sri Lanka were so ahead probably allowed to him play this way but Jayawardene should know he is better than to throw it away. In the field he didn’t really need to do much in the first innings as Pakistan imploded on the face of some good bowling. But the decision on the follow on was rather poor. With 372 on the board and Sri Lanka having bowled on 50 over’s spread across two days, there wasn’t a logical reason for opting to bat again. We believe it goes down to the Sri Lankan culture of ensuring that the team do not lose first instead of going all out when they smell a bit of blood. Pakistan had shown no capability to make Sri Lanka bat again and Sri Lankans bowlers were in no real need of a rest either. It’s a negative move that tells us that Sri Lanka are still not ready to trust themselves to be ruthless.

Samaraweera.

Looked uncomfortable against Ajmal and had a very poor test. For all of Thilan’s strengths, high quality spin bowling is probably not one of them. The fact that Ajmal, Singh and Swann feature in the top 5 bowlers who have picked him up confirms this theory. This is a concern considering that at no5 Thilan plays the pivot in which the entire batting line up revolves around. But if anyone can find a way to get to the light at the end of the tunnel it is him. It’s rare for him to have a poor series these days so expect him to come back strong in the next two games

Mathews

Another poor performance in test cricket. In a couple of years time Mathews will probably not be bowling in tests. And the question is whether he is capable of playing as a pure batsman. The answer right now is no. His technique against spin is poor. But his biggest problem right now is that he does not appear to know how to approach a test innings. One thing that you immediately notice when Mathews bats is that he has no shots to get off strike. He either blocks it or tries to go for a bigish shot. He is also very tentative and needs to feel bat on ball hence the reason why you see him getting out searching for the ball or lunging at it. All this adds to Mathews being a little out of depth as a test batsman. He is fine when he needs to chase a target in a limited number of overs. He handles pressure well, we know that. But give the man a chance to build an innings – he crumbles. We once felt it might his maiden hundred hoodoo. That came and went and Sri Lanka is still waiting on the promise of Mathews. Right now he is being played on what he can achieve than what he actually is. But for how long. Chandimal anyone?

P.Jayawardene

PJ came out in the first innings when Sri Lanka looked like they were going to let go of the initiative that Dilshan and Sangakkara had built. But as with most of his innings recently Jaywardene set about in a workman like fashion to put SL back on top. He is also probably Sri Lankas 3rd best player of spin after Dilshan and Mahela. And it showed. He was never really troubled by Ajmal and he handled the quicks equally well. And at the moment, you’d have to think that his batting is far more important to Sri Lanka than Mathews. He was safe with the gloves but still looks to be searching for his best form. A good all round game.

Randiv.

How Randiv is now a test specialist can only be explained by Sri Lankas selectors. We’ve always felt that Randiv is a bowler who will only get better with time and his return of 7 wickets for the game shows that he is slowly maturing and is supporting Herath perfectly. He got bounce and turn but I guess at Galle you always do. At times he was a bit short but in general a good confidence builder heading into the rest of the series. The challenge for him now will be to prove that he can consistently pick up wickets.

Herath

Steady and dependable as ever. His arm bowl appears to be Pakistan’s kryptonite. It has been quite brilliant watching Herath emerge out of the shadow of Murali over the last year and a bit to stand as his own man. He is easily Sri Lankas best bowler and the most consistent. There is a steely fire in the man that you have to appreciate. He has dropped his bowling average by 7 pts over the last year. And it continues to drop. The biggest plus for Herath is that he picking up wickets against pretty much every opposition and everywhere he bowls.

Kulesekara

An inspired selection based on current form. Kulesekara has no real business being in a test side but he bowled quite superbly to dismantle Pakistan. Over the last 6 months his consistency has been brilliant. He has added to his repertoire and proved that on form he can be as good as anyone. Sangakkara is already calling him a spearhead which is probably a little premature given that it’s been one game and against flaky opposition. The question was always going to be whether he could translate his ODI form in to the tests with the red ball. He did that and then some. It will be interesting to see his stats in the rest of the series. Pakistan’s technique outside the off stump was quite poor and will surely be one of the areas that they will look to tighten up on. Challenge accepted Kule ?

Pradeep

Bowled steadily but didn’t hit a consistent enough length to trouble anyone. His pace and movement were encouraging and he ran in all day with the same vigour. All good signs. Hopefully Sri Lanka plays him for the full series now that Welegedara is also out. In fact there is no real need to change the playing XI at all.

angelo mathews mahela jayawardane nuwan kulesekara paranavitana prasanna jayawardene sangakkara Sri Lanka v Pakistan 2012 tilan samaraweera

Something in me dies everytime I see Nuwan Kulesekara get to the top of his run. It could be that I know another 125kmph dolly is about to be looped up to an interntional batsmen but it could equally be because it reminds me of an animal who is withering in pain in its last breath.

About 2 years ago Kulesekara served a purpose. Now the very idea of him serves none. Kulesekara, I’m sure is a nice guy, he certainly likes to smile a lot on the field. If a cricketing version of Casper the friendly ghost was made Peter Jackson would be booking Nuwan on the first day. Maybe it is because he is so gentle and lovely that he doesn’t see it himself.

Kulesekara was once ranked the number 1 ODI bowler in the world. IN THE WORLD. Right now it sounds like this may have been a glitch in the ICC rankings. This of course, we know, is not possible.

He appears to be another beneficiary of Sri Lankas in ability to spot a crickter in decay and resolve it. Patches only work for so long until a real solution is needed.

A real solution is needed now. Giving Nuwan one of the 2 new balls is a crime so big that it should probably make you Salman Butts cellmate. Malinga needs someone to back up his aggression. 2 years ago Kulesekara complimented him with his steady dollies at home. Now, away, he is being found out and is out of depth. Him smiling throughout it all only makes it more painful to watch.

And no one enjoys watching something on its last legs. Except those who do.

nuwan kulesekara

The series is done.  There are some 2020 matches scheduled but that’s just for fun. It’s like the entrees in a 5 course meal. But at the end. Bad analogy yes, but it makes the point.

Below we have attempted to rate the SL players in the test and ODI series. The things we took into account include how many runs are wickets these players took. But more importantly their impact on the series and the how adapt they were in flashing their balls. Not literally of course but you get the point.

Test series

10- Kulesekara, Herath

The two players that made the biggest impact in the series.

We have said this before and we will say it again. Kulesekara shouldn’t really make it as a test player, only he does. If you want an example of hard work paying off then Nuwan is it. His work in getting the ball to move both ways had Pakistan shitting their pants.  He reminds me a lot of another Sri Lankan bowler who worked with the limited talent he had worked out a way to get wickets on subcontinental pitches through seam movement and swing. He retired a few weeks ago.

Is this the arrival of Nuwan ? The Kiwi tour might give us a better gauge.

Herath was the wild card entry that went all the way. When Murali got injured everyone focused on Mendis. Which was Pakistans biggest mistake. Herath has always been a good bowler. And like Mcgill he was probably playing in the wrong era. And from the 2nd he opened the bowling on the last day of the 1st test he didnt look back. He was helped by Sangakkara’s shrewdness in picking up that Herath was the danger man.

With Murali coming back will he get more game time against NZ ? If Mendis keeps bowling pies its very likely.

8- Sangakkara

Big runs. Big impact. And balls.

Failed in the first test but came back with two crucial innings in the 2nd.  Apart from the runs King Kumar was at his tactical best in terms of leadership and taking the opportunities that Pakistan were all too eager to offer.

Opened the bowling on day 5 on the first test with Herath when everyone thought Mendis would be the key.

Ballsy.

Threw the new ball to Herath in the 2nd.

Slighly insane but proved to be genius.

All hail the King.

7- Mathews.

It’s been a meteoric rise for Mathews. From his acrobatics in the 2020 WC to making Younis Khan his bunny. Mathews had made a big contribution to SL’s success in recent times. The thing about Mathews is that he is always in the game. Bat, ball or in the field the guy is wired for action.

Apart from a single half century he doesn’t show much in terms of runs but he kept running out of partners nearly every time he batted. If I were Mathews I wouldn’t mind a word in Kumars ear about coming up the order.

6-Thushara , Paranavitana

To say that Thushara was unplayable on the last day of the 5th test is an understatement. And he carried this form on throughout the series. Pakistan had only 1 opening stand of over 50 and that is largely due to Nuwan and Thusharas new ball antics.

These two certainly arn’t the most scariest opening bowlers in the test world right now. But they are possibly the most accurate on their day.

Paranavitana seems to be the first half of the solution to SL’s long search for two guys to replace Marvan and Sanath.

This guy has a solid technique. Plays his shots and knows where his off stump is. You can’t ask for more from your openers.

If only the dude at the other end could do the same.

Lost their balls

Splendid Mendis– Balless, Spineless, ridiculous and finally dropped. As the main spin threat in the country after Murali he didn’t really do much.

Whats going on you might wonder. It appears Splendids got the heebeegeebees. That or he is a shithouse bowler if he doesn’t pick up wickets early in his spell. They inform me he is what you might term a confidence bowler.

He was too full and flat when SL needed him. Time for a visit back to Adams peak for him we reckon. Although the Kiwis are tempting.

Warnapura

Was the first SL wicket to fall 5 times out of 6. Being an opener those stats are always going to be skewed but when you total 96 runs in 6 innings which includes a 50 you start to look pretty pathetic.

SL had just 1 opening stand over 50. Not good enough. Warnapura is dodgy outside off stump. Against better bowlers on better pitches he wouldn’t survive past the 5th over.

ODI rankings to follow.

ajantha mendis anjelo mathews malinda warnapura nuwan kulesekara paranavitana rangana herath sangakkara sri lanka v pakistan 2009 thilan thushara

Sri Lanka

Lost Warnapura on 0. Which wasn’t exactly the start you want when you are 50 behind. Warnapura’s run as a SL opener might be coming to an end. His last 5 innings total 12 runs. He has probably got enough credit to last out the series but if there are no big scores then its going to be a tricky time for him.

Apart from Paranavitana, Mathews and Samaraweera SL really didn’t do much. Mostly the top order mucked around and got done in by a 17 year old. Some days you make love to the pitch and some days you dry hump it. Today a left ‘Aamer’ cock blocked the middle order.

It was good if you were Pakistani, not so much if you were Sri Lankan.

160 is no where close to good enough, unless Mendis pulls out something special with the rest of the bowlers.

But how bad do you want Pakistan to be 100-6 tomorrow morning?

Pakistan

For two days the match was in the balance. Today Pakistan grabbed it by the back and anally stimulated it to their liking.

Aamer turned the game with 3 deliveries that would have given Wasim Akram a raging hard on.
Paranavitana got a screamer that left him. Sangakkara was caught on the walk, for the 2nd time. And Mahela edged it outside off like we all knew he would.

It was brilliant. And it’s hard not to think about Wasim when Aamer bowls like that. Pakistan keep finding these diamonds in the rough and hopefully, if he keeps away from the drugs and politics, he might be taking on the rest of the world for a good while.

Another important battle Pakistan won was when Saeed Ajmal picked up Samaraweera against the run of play. Ajmal looked harmless tell he got Samaraweera with a clever doosra which turned things around for him.

This is Pakistans game to win or loose. Knowing Pakistan you just never know.

Play of the day.
Rameez Raja spying on little kids in the crowd with his Binoculars. We just thought it was weird. Just really weird.

(Lack of)Balls of the day.
Umar Gul never left London. Or so it would seem. A week ago he was looking a million bucks. Now he cant seem to find a good length and some swing if his balls were on the line. While at the other end Aamer looks like he can do no wrong.

We really hope he didnt have a chat with Steve Harmison or something in England. Cuz that would be a real shame.

ajantha mendis anjelo mathews flyslip mahela jayawardane malinda warnapura Mohammad Aamer nuwan kulesekara sri lanka v pakistan younis khan yousuf