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