There can be no illusions about the current state of Sri Lankan cricket. Last year was hard. The home season was brutal. Sri Lanka’s only series win came against the West Indies. Against India, Sri Lanka won the first test and lost the remaining two to lose the series. Pakistan who toured before India won the first test and the last. The ghost of two away tours to New Zealand, where they lost all 4 tests still haunts them.

Within those battles and loses, Sri Lanka have had days very similar to their change of fortunes at Chester-Le-Street. Against New Zealand in December of 2014, when they were asked to follow on with a massive 303 deficit Sri Lanka somehow summoned their resolve to score over 400 and make New Zealand bat again. Against India in 2015 they started their second innings 192 runs in arrears. They were 3 down with 5 runs on the board before they knew what had happened. Then 95 for 5. That time Dinesh Chandimal played the innings of his career and together with a couple of others and a helping of Herath brilliance pulled Sri Lanka from abyss and went on to win that match at Galle

It’s as if Sri Lanka need to be pushed to a corner with no avenues for escape before they respond. Maybe that is the lesson here. They are reacting rather than taking the game by the horns. When they have had the game under control they let it go. Sri Lanka have had opportunities in both tests so far with the ball to find a corner for themselves in the game. Only to squander them with poor tactics and fielding and then even worse batting. It is as if they face opportunity in the eye and say “‘No, not today”

So finally Sri Lanka have been provoked into a reaction again. It all began with a simple adjustment to their approach. Where before they had been timid and overawed, in the second innings they have shown enthusiasm and finally, finally, a bit of life. There were off stump guards. There was the avoiding of stepping foot inside the corridor of uncertainty. There were positive leaves. There were leaves on length There were quick singles. Some attempted even when they weren’t really there. So much so that Kaushal Silva nearly ran himself out a couple of times. But who cared. These guys were trying. They were doing something. Anything. And it was beautiful.

This team has days like this in them. They’ve had days like this before. The blueprint is there. But it seems to get flushed from their memory after a while. Only to be accessed randomly. This is the sort of day Sri Lanka needs to bottle up and wear on their neck like a sweethearts keepsake. The sort of day they need to pack away like a tent and unfurl everywhere they go. All the time.

Chandimal, Siriwardana, Herath, Pradeep, Lakmal, Eranga. Sri Lanka never thought their test batting hopes would hinge on these players. But they do. No one ever thought Sri Lanka would take this game into the fourth day. But they have. So far on this tour, they’ve not managed to link two of these days next to each other. Go on Sri Lanka, give us another.

sri lanka in england 2016

Sri Lanka crafted a few plans on how to tackle what would be a massively trying challenge for them in England. The piece of the puzzle that would be the most difficult for them to fit would always be the lopsided batting one. The one that must fit on the British Isle for there to be any hope of repeating, however unlikely, the teams success in 2014.

To try and alleviate some of the struggles the selectors offered continuity in the openers by placing extended faith in Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva. The expectation was that with the experience of their partnership so far and their performance in England back in 2014, they would once again form a buffer for the newly bred middle order.

26 balls into the Sri Lankan innings, both were back in the pavilion.

When Kumar Sangakkara announced his retirement, it felt like the entire nation went into meltdown. Who would replace him? Who could replace him? The answer for Graham Ford and Sri Lanka lay hidden somewhere between Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne and lately Kusal Mendis. When Mendis showed promise in the two tour matches there was a quiet sense of optimism about how he could announce himself on the scene. This is a plan that they could see panning out; the young gun who comes good on his first tour.

One Stuart Broad special and nine balls without a run was all Mendis had in him.

After the ICC’s cluster mess up of Kusal Perera’s career, Sri Lanka had to rethink how they would patch their lower order. Milinda Siriwardana had the opportunity to prove that he was worthy but then lost his form when it mattered the most. Dasun Shanaka was floated as a possibility. Based on his T20 exploits to be sure but a gamble worth  taking. A century against Leicester added meat to the theory and helped ease a few of those worries. Mahela Jayawardene gave him his first test cap on a cold Headingley morning.

A first ball duck.

There can’t be too many players who have had the support of his captain, ex-players, ex-selectors and current selectors in the face of sustained failures than Lahiru Thirimanne. Still, Sri Lanka picked him for this tour. They watched him fail in the two tour matches and picked him for the first test too. All because the plan was if we gave him enough chances and massaged his confidence he would prove it was not misplaced faith.

He lobbed a ball to mid on after telling Mathews to not review his dismissal.

Before the start of the England tour, Graham Ford, Sri Lanka’s coach said that what people admired about the Sri Lankan cricketers of the past was how mentally tough they were.

“Maybe there are a few question marks about that now, and it’s time for us to start putting that right”.

Here he was speaking about the new batch of Sri Lankan batting hopefuls. He knew it would be an acid test of where his young batting talent truly were in the cauldron that is test cricket.

He only needed to wait for 36.4 over’s to find out.

The series is only two days old and every one of Sri Lanka’s brittle plans came undone in the matter of a few hours. The search for mental toughness has had to ask for another extension on its deadline. Technical flaws have been exposed. There is a real threat of this test ending inside three days.

Sri Lanka will now need to rethink. Regroup. And replan.

 

 

 

sri lanka in england 2016

Sri Lanka have been par for the course so far . The performance at Chelmsford is likely to be the blueprint of what we are likely to see for the rest of this tour.

A mediocre first innings total. Bowlers that not being penetrative. And second innings disasters. The only reason Essex stopped the hurt is because of the enforced 100 over declaration rule by the ECB.

Sri Lanka have so far been a deer caught in the headlights. They expected early May cold and a pitch that seemed other-worldly with grass on it but so far the weather has been hot, the pitch flat but the challenge has still remained the same.

Batting

Undone by a school boy in the first innings. Andrew Beard didn’t do anything significant. But he did enough. And bowled in the proverbial corridor of uncertainty. That was more than plenty for Dimuth Karunaratne who just missed a straight ball and fell over with his technique. Maybe his eyes were still in a different time zone? Earlier Kaushal Silva edged one that nipped away.

Earlier Kaushal Silva edged one that nipped away. This can happen to an opener. It’s a red ball. It’s England. Silva is probably still dazed from that knock to his head. So this is understandable.

There was a bit of rebuilding by Kusal Mendis and Chandimal before Chandimal played an extravagant forward defense and edged behind. The ball really didn’t do anything here either. It was a straight ball for all intents and purposes.

Kusal Mendis had played well apparently but it all seems to have gone down when I dozed off with the BBC commentary in my ear. Dickwella made a case. Mathews played out a thirty. Siriwardene played to form.

The rest of the batting played out exactly as you’d expect. A whiff of resistance but an unceremonious lower order collapse.

In the end it was a bland, drawn out car crash in slow motion. I remained neutral emotionally as I listened to each wicket fall because it had an air of familiarity and homeliness to how reliably Sri Lanka faltered.

 

Bowling

Death pays for life in A Game of Thrones.

Prasad’s shoulder paid for 4 wickets in 605 balls.

Sri Lanka’s tour could be over before it begins.

On a sunnier note Sanath Jayasuriya thinks Sri Lanka has the best attack in the world. And Thirimanne sorted out his visa problems.

 

 

 

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