Is the Test series the making for Sri Lanka? | Daily News

Is the Test series the making for Sri Lanka?

Dinesh Chandimal inspirational  captaincy and top batter for Sri Lanka.
Dinesh Chandimal inspirational captaincy and top batter for Sri Lanka.

DELHI, Saturday – Having suffered an ignominious 3-0 whitewash at home against India, Sri Lanka somewhat improved on that record to hold the number one ranked Test side to a 1-0 margin when the two sides met for the second time in three months in back to back series.

Virat Kohli Man of the Series with 610 runs. 

The timing of the series so quickly did not seem a good advertisement for cricket in India and it was expressed in no uncertain terms by their captain Virat Kohli who called for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to give his players some breathing space when scheduling international cricket fixtures.

In fact this Test series was originally scheduled to take place in around March next year but Sri Lanka Cricket wanted to celebrate the country’s 70th year of Independence with a tri-series named the Nidahas Trophy involving India and Bangladesh in March and thus the tour was brought forward to December cramping the Indian international schedule.

However as interim coach Nic Pothas pointed playing back to back Test series with the top side in the world (despite the poor results) was advantageous to the struggling Sri Lanka side as it would only improve their performances individually and as a team.

“I think these two series back to back against India is going to be the making for Sri Lanka. When you play against quality teams under pressure, you become better,” Pothas said after the rain-hit first Test of the series ended in a draw at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.

India with the tour of South Africa in January in mind prepared a green track at Kolkata for the first time that nearly proved their undoing as Sri Lanka with their limited bowling resources ran through their powerful batting to put them out for 172 and then gain a first innings lead of 122. However India fought back in the second inning via a century from their captain to put the pressure back on Sri Lanka who managed to hold onto a draw at 75/7.

Having got the scare of their lives the pitches prepared for the next two Tests at Nagpur and Delhi hardly came close to the Kolkata track. All talks of making pitches to prepare for South Africa were thrown out of the window as India resorted to tracks that were more suitable to their spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. These two top ranked spinners took 13 wickets between them at Nagpur to fashion out India’s biggest Test win by an innings and 239 runs. At the same time the margin of defeat was also Sri Lanka largest in their history.

In this Test the ghosts of Sri Lanka’s batting debacle in the three Tests at home where they were whitewashed returned as they were bundled out for substandard totals of 205 and 166. Only skipper Dinesh Chandimal stood out scoring twin fifties but as former captain Angelo Mathews had pointed out on an earlier occasion one cannot win Test matches scoring fifties, but at least one or two batsmen must make it big by scoring hundreds.

Mathews as the senior batsman in the team was under pressure to deliver. Coming to the third and final Test at Delhi he had scored just one fifty in four innings – hardly the inspiration for the rest of the side.

Sri Lanka had a few problems in their batting to sort out – the openers were not seeing the new ball off and the middle order was getting exposed to the fast bowlers who were still fresh and bowling their first spells. There was also the crucial no. 3 spot where Lahiru Thirimanne given another opportunity to seal it failed miserably scoring 90 runs in four innings.

The situation required a few changes to the batting order for the final Test at Delhi and Sri Lanka who had gone with a 6-5 combination for the first two Tests decided to strengthen their batting which had been their bane and opted for an extra batsman at the expense of an all-rounder Dasun Shanaka who had played in the first two Tests.

Sri Lanka capped Roshen Silva who had been a heavy scorer in domestic competitions and was in the Test squads for the series against Pakistan and India without getting a break. They also gave the no. 3 spot to Dhananjaya de Silva who had gained selection along with Silva for this series following their good performances for Sri Lanka A on their tour to West Indies.

These two batsmen starred in helping Sri Lanka to an honourable draw in the third Test at Delhi despite the nasty experience of having to inhale polluted air, after India had set them a daunting target of 410 to chase. De Silva batting fluently and at times showing glimpses of arguably the best batsman produced by Sri Lanka Aravinda de Silva in his stroke play went onto complete a fighting century before he was forced to retire hurt with glute tightness in his left leg when he and Roshen Silva were carrying Sri Lanka towards safety.

If India thought that they had an opening with De Silva’s retirement to get to the rest of the Lankan batting they were in for a surprise for Silva showing great reserves of concentration and skill along with Niroshan Dickwella batted out the rest of the overs to ensure a draw.

Silva after a third-ball duck in the first innings to the start of his Test career went onto score a defiant 74 not out to join a small band of Lankan cricketers who had been dismissed for a duck and scored a fifty in the second innings on their debut – Roy Dias, Athula Samarasekara and Dimuth Karunaratne.

Silva was to relate later that it was the experience of playing in the ‘A’ series in the Caribbean that stood him and Dhananjaya de Siva in good stead during tough times against India.

“No one saw that West Indies series. But that was a massive challenge. It was as tough as India. Dhananjaya was superb in that series. First match we were beaten. There were two pacies who were bowling at 145kmph and one guy was bowling at 140kmph. There were two good spinners as well. The challenge there was huge. You can’t simply explain. I think the three knocks that I played in West Indies helped me to get a spot here.” said Silva.

This was the fighting spirit that was lacking in the Lankan batting and it was given an injection by the captain Chandimal who set an example to the rest of the batters with a monumental knock of 164 in eight minutes under eight hours in the first innings that enabled Sri Lanka to avoid the follow-on and force India to bat again. Chandimal didn’t put a foot wrong during that innings and it inspired his former captain Mathews to come out of his poor run of scores with a long overdue Test century after two years. Mathews was fortunate during his knock but he deserved every bit of luck to see him through to his century that would have lifted a heavy load off his shoulders.

Dhananjaya de Silva century on comeback to Test cricket.

Sri Lanka managed to dismiss Kohli cheaply only once in the first innings of the series for a rare duck at Kolkata, after that the Indian skipper was in his element reeling off an unbeaten century in the second innings and following it up with back to double centuries and a fifty to boot. He was certainly in a different league compared to the rest of his team mates and it was no surprise when he walked away with the Man of the Series award with a handsome aggregate of 610 at a Bradmanesque average of 152.50.

Although Sri Lanka’s main bowler Rangana Herath didn’t make much of an impression in the first two Tests he played picking up only a solitary wicket for 115 runs, his fitness is something that Sri Lanka will have to monitor very closely. He is not getting any younger at 39 and it is the second time in successive Test series that Herath has been forced out of a Test with back stiffness.

Asanka Gurusinha the Lankan cricket manager said that Herath used to get the stiffness whenever he tries to bowl a bit quicker than he usually does. The pitch at Nagpur required that kind of effort because it was slow and Herath sent down 39 overs as India racked up 610-6.

Off-spinner Dilruwan Perera has been Herath’s spin partner for quite a number of years but he too is on the wrong side of 35 and although fit how long he will continue is a matter of conjecture. In the circumstances Sri Lanka are trying to groom Lakshan Sandakan the left-armer who bowls chinaman. Sandakan can become a match winner provided he is consistent with his lines and lengths which he will have to work hard at. Muthiah Muralitharan was such a great spinner for Sri Lanka because he could bowl almost all six balls in one spot. There is also the uncapped 27-year-old right-arm leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay and left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara who broke into the Test circuit in August against India at the age of 30.

On the fast bowling side Sri Lanka are well served with a battery of fast-medium bowlers headed by Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Gamage, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara and Dasun Shanaka.

The return of Kusal Perera and Asela Gunaratne from injuries and with Kusal Mendis waiting on the wings to make a comeback after rectifying his batting mistakes, the return of Dhananjaya de Silva and the introduction to Test cricket of young Sadeera Samarawickrama and Roshen Silva not forgetting Kaushal Silva the Lankan batting line-up is not only going to be exciting but very competitive for places which is the success of any international team. Chandika Hathurusinhga has timed his arrival as head coach to perfection.

The Indian team retained their no. 1 status with their 1-0 series win.   


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