Thursday, 30 January 2014

Quicker than expected

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka. Day 4. 1st Test. Dhaka

If the last test that Sri Lanka played was any indication as to why over conservatism and negativity can make you lose games from positions you could win, Bangladesh re-assured Sri Lanka's safe-play methods by showing exactly how over confidence and positivity can cause in self destruction. To a keen student of the game, both games were lessons of how cricket, being the funny game, is a matter of handling different situations with different approaches, with the balance of the two extremes being the most decisive factor. Bangladesh though, just didn't seem to find a single gear between neutral and top. Looking back the scorecard, it might even seem that they were on reverse at some point.

There are two ways to go about the game when you are almost 500 runs behind and have two days to bat out for draw. The more common and sensible approach would be to tire down the opposition, putting a price on one's wicket, and frustrate the opposition bowlers with every dying minute. Of course, you might ultimately get one with you name on it, specially on a deterioration pitch like that, but at least you are making sure the bowler needs to work hard for your wicket. Only then could a team take the game to the 5th day, and give themselves a chance of defying a victory for the opposition, by means of weather, at least. Even if you had lost, the opposition would have had to earn it.

Or there is another approach. The approach Bangladesh took. The same approach we saw from England, in the 4th innings of the final Ashes test. Bangladesh might think they batted as if they had nothing to lose, but it only looked like they batted as if they had nothing to gain. Wickets were gifted at times Sri Lanka didn't even look threatening. Shaminda Eranga's bouncers were made to look like Mitchel Johnson on a Perth wicket, while Suranga Lakmal's reverse swing was played as well as the Aussies played Simon Jones in '05. Dilruwan Perera's flat, straight "off breaks" were treated with the fear and respect that Murali would get on a 5th day dust bowl at Galle. Bangladesh made everything look so much harder for themselves while making everything looks much easier for the Sri Lankans. They just went on self destruct mode. It was Hara-Kiri. Suicide, to the point where it's not hard to find irony in the fact they call themselves "The Tigers". 

To be fair to the Sri Lankan bowlers, they did bowl in good areas consistently. The fast bowlers used the short ball to good effect in the first hour, particularly Shaminda Eranga, who seems to know just where it is most uncomfortable for a batsman when he needs to pitch it short. Lakmal was exceptional with the old ball, getting it to tail in considerably. If he could keep the skill and fitness at this same level, he's going to be a handful with that Duke ball in early summer conditions in England. Dilruwan bowled four rubbish balls an over and the Bangladeshis were generous enough to hand him 5 wickets in the other two good deliveries he bowled per over. Although credit needs to be given for his maiden 5-wicket haul, he will need to improve on his consistency if he is to prove an able partner to Herath, for taking 5 for 100 in 20 overs, out of a total score of 230 will just not be good enough against better sides.

Instead of getting much purchase "from" the wicket,
Dilruwan's approach was to purchase wickets for the trade of runs.
Although Eranga's bouncers, and Dilruwan's straighter one and the whole end to the match seemed much quicker than expected, Sri Lanka will take many positives from this game. Kaushal's solidity and Kithruwan's flamboyance, Dilruwan's ability to take wickets out of nowhere and the fast-bowlers' consistency will be things they will look to emulate in the rest of the tour, and also take with them to England where things are expected to be severely tougher. Although Bangladesh may be the worst yardstick available in the Test arena to measure any sort of performance, specially with the sort of attitude they played the last game, runs scored remain to be runs recorded and wickets taken will always be wickets tallied. No matter how unfair, or mismatching or minnow bullying one would like to call it;

A win is a win.

Catch you before the next game.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Positive cricket and a Kiththa Special

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka. 3rd Day. 1st Test. Dhaka

Sri Lanka were heavily criticized for their negative batting display in the UAE. Although for the most part, it was proper Test match grinding, being watchful and conservative, after how the Pakistanis came out and chased in the very last innings of the series, it seems to over-emphasize Sri Lanka's general conservative approach. After all, being known as such a flamboyant limited overs side, the expectation is for them to play the same way in the longer format as well, which they tend to do, from time to time.Yesterday was one such day.

Sri Lanka lost only one wicket, and scored 355 runs in 79 overs. By the time they declared, they had managed to push their overall run rate which hovered just above 3 an over for the most part of the innings, to almost 4. Not that Bangladesh bowled particularly bad, but if they want to say they bowled particularly well, they are lying to them selves as much as the BCCI, who have assured the WICB that they will increase their revenue by 100% if they sign the new draft proposal. Maybe their mommys didn't teach them not to take candy from strangers.

Mathews and Mahela started well in the morning session. They saw off any movement off the deck in the first hour, not that there was much to negotiate with anyway, due to the flatness of the wicket and also to an extent due the ability of the Bangladeshi seamers. Or the lack of it, to be precise. Once Mathews got his eye in, and Mahela got his hundred, the onslaught began. Mahela caressed and patted the bowl away to the boundary with the gentleness of a new father. Such is the brilliance of Mahela. He will slaughter you, rip and thread you in to pieces while you seem to enjoy every swift move he makes. He has such deceitful and a charming elegance. On the other end, Mathews used his strong wrists to muscle it around before he threw away another hundred for the taking for the ninety fifth time. Pun intended.

After tea, Mahela gently and mildly strangled Bangladesh's neck,
while Mathews and later Kithruwan continuously and brutally fired at the chest.
Mahela was then joined by Kithruwan, who wasn't going to be as generous as his captain was to the Bangladeshis, and swatted the ball to all parts of the ground, specially through mid wicket and backward point to bring up a 99-ball hundred. If there was ever a doubt about Sri Lanka's positivity, they were erased and severed by the flashing blade of Kithruwan. Sri Lanka had always needed a solid positive number 6, who can punish the bowlers by coming in when they are tired, or take the pacers on when the second new ball is taken, but also have enough ability to push for long innings when the side is 60 for 4. His positive innings had shades of Adam Gilchrist written all over it. An English journalist once said, Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martin were the warriors in the middle, but Gilchrist was the Samurai, with the long flashing blade. The top four will beat you to the ground and have you at their mercy, but it is Gilchrist who will come in at the end and offer none of it, sever your head and end your dreadful misery. On this day, Kithruwan did exactly that. 

His cry for joy once he got his hundred were soon joined by those of Mahela's when he scored a double century that sealed the deal for the declaration. And just like how Sanga watched over Kaushal's innings, Mahela had made Kithruwan his under-study. The seniors had played their part, and the juniors had responded.

Soon after, Herath spun his web around Tamim Iqbal and left Bangladesh with close to 180 overs to bat out, with 9 wickets in hand, to save the test match.

There ends my summery of the day's play. I don't intend to bias my opinion on the innings of Kithruwan although there is a strong will to do so, but since I know I'd regret it if I don't write more on him, I shall do so in the next part of this post.

Hoping to see Herath, Dilruwan, and maybe a bit of Kithruwan spin square around the Bangladeshi batsmen, and hoping for a win,

Catch you after the end of day four.


The Kiththa Special

I got to know Kiththa at the age of 11. It was an under12s pre-season practice game. The Royal U11 side of the previous year had gathered at the College Main grounds for a game against Susumayawardhana MMV, Borella. It was the first time we were playing in full whites and more importantly, since we would play their first tournament in the on coming season, we had been given permission to play at the College Main grounds, for the very first time. The team consisted of the likes of Bhanuka Rajapakse, Ramith Rambukwella, both who would go on to captain the Royal 1st XI side, Maneesha Tantrigoda, Royal's first and only bowler to scalp more than 100 wickets a season, and Chalaka Bogoda, who became one of only two centurions in the history of the prestigious Mustangs trophy game at the time. 

It also featured a new face. Kithuruwan Vithanage. At first, we did not even know how to pronounce his name, as a matter of fact I'm still confused as to whether he is Kithruwan or Kithuruwan. Kiththa is much easier anyway. Royal won the toss and decided to bat, and Kiththa was sent to open the innings. On a ground that most of us barely could hit past the 30-yard circle, Kiththa scored a calm and fluent 46. The new boy had made his mark. But it wasn't until we took to the field that I really saw what Kiththa's game was all about. I used to field at cover-point and Kiththa took his place at cover, two positions we later made our own, during the tournament to come, consistently challenging each other to stop anything hit in the region. 

Somewhere around the 10th over, one of the batsmen pushed towards Kiththa on the the off side, and took off for a single. Kiththa stooped on the ball, collected it and threw the stumps down at the non-strikers end, all in one motion. At 11 years old, and with fielding being my favourite art of the sport, it served me like a bit of magic. I remember telling, who I think was Rajind Pathmanath, at Gully, that this boy is going to play 1st XI with Bhanuka one day, while running to congratulate him. I reminded him of the incident when I recently met him, and to each other's amazement, we had both clearly remembered the event.

Kiththa never looked back from then. He scored heavy. I remember his first fifty, at the Panadura espalande, his homeground and a 5 wicket haul he took with his loopy leg-breaks against Ananda, our toughest opposition that year. He went on to play U15s, U17s and then finally the 1st XI side. Together with Charith Fernando, he rescued Royal from a dangerous position at 5 for 67, athe 129th Battle of the Blues. It was only fitting that both men were awarded the Royal crown, on two separate occasions, Charith for his century, and Kithruwan later, for his performances with the national U19 side, which he vice captained at the world cup.

He's achieved a lot since then. Memories of his knocks against St. Peter's where he belted Chathura Peries, Sri Lanka's National Youth captain, off a hook that went out of the ground and landed on the Colombo University bus halt, how he, Bhanuka, Kusal and Angelo Perera demolished the Kandurata XI to win the Sirasa Schools T20, his countless match saving knocks with Akshu Fernando and Rumesh Buddhika at the Youth World cup, his man of the series winning performance at the U19 Tri Series with Pakistan and Bangladesh, then his back to back centuries for Tamil Union are among a few of my favourites, with the hammering of the Thomian seamers at the one and only Roy-Tho T20 topping the list.

But he's got miles and miles more to go. He's only so far played against Bangladesh, who are probably the worst measuring stick someone could use to sum up a player. An England tour beckons in March, specially after the century, and if he gets to play, will be the true test of his ability. Knowing the man Kiththa is, the hard working, determined and self confident approach will suit him to build a long career, and I could only wish more for him.

My father talks of his time at Royal, when they had Ranjan Madugalle, who was the College's child prodigy who went to perform at the international level. With a strong bias, he calls his long-time batch mate his most favourite cricketer through the ages. Stories of a brilliant and jubilant school era and those of how his mate is the best in his book are never ending. His era has their Madda.

And now, in my era, we have our Kiththa.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Happy days

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka. Day Two. 1st Test. Dhaka

Sri Lankan fans are a happy type. We get off on the slightest bit of positivity. When Sri Lanka loses close chases, when we fall short of defending a target, drawing a series we should have won, or even losing a fourth consecutive world cup final, Sri Lankan fans find things to be happy about.

So when we win, or are in a position to win, we are the happiest group on Earth. Because we find joy in even the most disappointing scenarios, when there are constant positive signs, we treat our selves with a surprise induced happiness. Which is why the recent success of Eranga and Suranga, even though they really haven't proved themselves against a tough opposition, bring bright smiles. Which is why the Jayasuriyesque audacity of Kusal Perera is treated as if it's a god given gift and why the young Akhila Dhananjaya now is everyone's favourite teenager.  This surprise induced happiness is exactly what Kaushal Silva gave Sri Lanka yesterday.

Because Sri Lankans are used to expecting to win games with big hundreds from Aravinda and Sanath. With bucket loads of wickets for Murali and Vaas. Off late, the test winning formula consists of a combination of Sanga Mahela Dilshan and Herath. We don't associate us with winning games from the performances of the lesser known. So, when some one you don't expect joins the party, it brings an incomparable, inexpressible sort of joy to the face of the common Sri Lankan fan. The kind of joy that a Sangakkara or a Mahela hundred can never bring. 

Kaushal had his let-offs. To say he was lucky would be a complete understatement. He was on Felix Felicis. And he made it count. He drove, he pulled and he paddled round the corner, used his feet to the spinners and most importantly left the ball well. It does seem though, that he doesn't favour the cut shot much, unlike most batsmen of his stature, but it could also be due to the fact that he would rather leave anything short and out side off alone. As long as he can keep scoring as he is scoring now, whether he cuts or does not cut will not be a question anyone would bother asking.

Aided by the Bangladeshi fielders and the stumps,
Kaushal brought up a century that induced much needed joy.
Sangakkara too batted with immense class and confidence, the likes which we see him bring out every time there is a Bangladesh tour. Sanga's last 3 test hundreds have come against Bangladesh, and his previous test hundred against another opposition has come in the June of 2012. Knowing the stats buff he is, he will want to change that soon. Maybe it was a good thing he didn't get to a hundred. No one would want Sanga to be known as the Minnow-Basher, would they? 

Dimuth also batted with ease, actually looked more set than Kaushal. But Dimuth always looks more settled than we think he is. Because Dimuth has the ability to get out in the most in-daunting, untroubled situations ever. But these starts he's giving the team is really what keeps him in the team. When there are those who score 100, 0 and 20 in three innings to average 40, Dimuth is the type to get 40, 40 and 40. It's the sort of consistency you can't really be pleased about, nor can you complain.

During the evening session Sri Lanka started to milk the tired Bangladeshi bowlers, with Mahela and Chandi trying to make the most out of the opportunities handed. Sri Lanka will now have to begin the 3rd morning a fresh, quite possibly with Mahela and Mathews and try to bat Bangladesh out of the game. With Vithanage and Dilruwan to follow, they should be disappointed if they don't. But if Sri Lanka really want to test the mettle of the youngster, they would want to send in Kithruwan ahead of Mathews, giving him assured batting time with Mahela, and a scenario from which he can establish a name for him self with a big innings.

With questions to be answered, the laptop spectator shall gaze his sleepy eyes upon the live stream, for another day's play, and will pitch in his opinions at the end of it.

For now, these are the happy days.

Until then,

Monday, 27 January 2014

Negativity, Selection and Success

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka. Day One. 1st Test. Dhaka

Sri Lanka fought from a losing position to draw the 1st test against Pakistan. Then they fought for a win from where Pakistan could have drawn the match, in the second. On the third, Sri Lanka didn't fight. Not just on the very last session. Not just on the very last day. From day one, Sri Lanka didn't fight. Sri Lanka slowly and safely batted themselves in to series winning, test match drawing position in the first innings. Bowled safely and tidily to gain a formidable lead, and batted not for runs, not to win, but for time in the second innings. And once all the safety locks were in place, in the blink of an eye, Sri Lanka lost the test. And had to share a series that they had deserved to win for fourteen days of cricket and a session. Cricket gods don't usually favour those who play like a bunch of softies.

On the back of that heart breaking loss, Sri Lanka have arrived in Bangladesh. They face similar foes on similar conditions. They've been forced to make one change, adding Kithruwan Vithanage to the middle order replacing Prasanna Jayawardane who returned to the island for personal reasons. The unforced change is welcome for the young batsman, who was dropped from the test squad for reasons unimaginable after a good debut series. But such is the complexity of Sri Lanka's selection criteria, for a formula that selects a front line spinner for making 95 runs without bowling a single over in the fourth innings of a test match is a formula that defies the brain capacity of the rational thinking cricket enthusiast. Sachithra Senanayake must wonder why he worked hard on his bowling when all he had to do was get more batting practice to become a better bowler. He even gets dropped from the squad. 

Sachithra will have to score more first class hundreds
if he is to play more tests as a front line spinner
Amidst the meta-quantum-string-theory-and-lots-of-other-big-words selection criteria, Sri Lanka have started the test well. The Eranga-Suranga combination has once again weaved it's web around the top order on a flat wicket, but once again having taken out the top 6 for 150, Sri Lanka leaked a further 82 runs to get the tail out. Although, with a century to boot, Sohag Gazi was hardly the tail, after winning the toss, electing to field and sending back the better batters, Sri Lanka should be disappointed that Bangladesh still made 230, knowing that they will have to bat here on the fourth innings.

But Sri Lanka's ability to win this game would be dictated by how they bat in their first innings. And so far the two young openers have made a solid start. Obviously Sri Lanka will want to build on it, and obviously they'll want to get a big lead and bat Bangladesh out of the match. Oh the rest of it is too boring to write!

How easy it is to picture the right way to do something. If only words could win games.

Catch you again before the next day's play.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

With apologies and hope

Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test. Day 1. Sharjah

Test matches shouldn't end on Saturdays. Well, technically its the players and the pitch that decide in how many days a certain game would end so, to be precise, Test cricket matches shouldn't be "scheduled" to end on Saturdays. Not because it's the middle of the weekend, or because Sunday is probably everyone's preferred day to go watch cricket or anything. Because I'm usually busy on Saturday nights and Sunday morning just don't occur around here. Just Sunday nights. Which means a match that I wrote on for 3 or 4 days ends without me being able to write about the final day and the result. So, my apologies about that.

Looking back at the win, it was fairly obvious by the end of the 3rd day that Sri Lanka were too far ahead for Pakistan to catch up. Once Pakistan were bowled out for 165 and a lead of 200+ was mounted up on them, a 3rd innings score of at least 500 was needed to make a competitive 4th innings chase. The 130 odd was easily knocked over by Kaushal and Dimuth which ended what was a well eared victory for the Lankans, with almost everyone contributing. But a win here and a win there won't prove anything about the calibre of this team. There have been Sri Lankan teams of the past which have defeated South Africa away and England at home, both when the said teams were the world's #1 team. Pakistan is no world #1, but if they can win twice against them, it would add a bit of consistency to a Sri Lankan team that has thus far been as consistent as the rolling of a dice on a Sri Lankan Casino craps table. Or the Sri Lankan Casino act it self. Take your pick.

And already, the hunt for consistency has begun. And already, questions about the consistency of Sri Lanka's middle order can be raised. Dimuth Karunaratne is probably Sri Lanka's most consistent batsman of the series. Scores of 30s in almost every innings he has batted. Not that it should impress anyone, but enough to keep his place. His second innings score on this track, could well tilt the balance between the two sides. Kaushal failed for the first time in the series, perhaps, and therefore can be excused. Sanga and Mahela played them selves to good starts, but on a pitch that looks to have a ball with your name on from the first day it self, their near 50 scores might have been enough of a foundation. Angelo and PJ are once again the overnight batsmen and they will want to capitalize on their starts to push Sri Lanka towards "300", but if they don't, and get bowled out for 240, tonight Sri Lanka might have to "dine in hell". And Chandimal will be dropped for Thirimanne in the next series if he doesn't get an 80+ in the second innings. Madness? Madness?? This.Is.Sport-a.

Dimuth Karunaratne's level of consistency with the 30s is surely unmatched.
But if wants to impress anyone, he should probably get a 100.
There actually isn't much to write about the day's play. The slowness of the pitch indicated that it was probably curated by an ex-SLT ADSL agent. The bounce seems to be fair for now, but as the game goes on the slips will need to be a little aware of it than usual. Hawkeye may also need to do so as well. PJ's LBW looked pretty plumb. I reserve my comments on the DRS, as to me it's fairly obvious that it's a much better judge of a decision than an on field umpire, so even if it is not 100% accurate all the time, why should you scrap it all together in the first place and resort to the word of a retired, old human being, just because he wears a white hat.

The morning session on the 2nd day will be crucial for Sri Lanka, more so than Pakistan, as this is their last recognized batting pair. The pitch looks slow and it has already taken turn, and if rain doesn't intervene, a result looks obvious. But as cricket has shown its fans time and time again, a pitch should not be judged until both teams have batten on it. So we wait.

And so we hope.

PS: A note about Dilruwan Perera's selection over Sachithra. To quote the old guy from Indiana Jones; "You chose POORLY!". Even if he gets 8 wickets in the match; "You chose POORLY!". Even if he becomes the man of the match, "YOU CHOSE POORLY!". I don't need anyone to agree with me, but if you want to know where my opinion comes from, check his age on espncricinfo player profiles.

Catcha after the end of day's play,


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Through arrows and bullet wounds

Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Day, 2nd Test. Dubai 

John Hamish Watson recently wedded Mary Moston on BBC One, on their hit TV Sherlock. Mr. Holmes was the aptly chosen to be his best man and in the process of being quite possibly the worst best man ever, he delivered a best man's speech for the ages. At one point, he said "I will solve your murder, but it takes John Watson to save your life".

If Sherlock Holmes is to Kumar Sangakkara, then John Watson is to Mahela Jayawardane. Sangakkara will be the pinnacle of Sri Lanka's batting prowess through the ages, he will be the master wordsmith who delivers the fanciest speeches, and he will be the one to win all the ICC awards. But it takes Mahela Jayawardane to score a hundred at the World Cup final. It takes Mahela to muster up a draw at Lords, and it is he who you depend on to save you and then win you the game. And on the 2nd day's play, he proved that and a bit more.

Although Kumar is much like Sherlock, the star of the show and the best man around, Mahela is more than just a John H. Watson. On a day most others had written him off, due to his double ducks in Abu Dhabi, which probably symbolized both his lack of form and his injury, Mahela strolled out to bat with Sri Lanka in a bit of trouble, at 88/3. One may argue, that even if he had got out cheaply, the in form Mathews along with PJ and Kaushal would have got Sri Lanka a sufficient lead anyway.But Mahela doesn't usually leave things to the rest without giving it his all.
Mahela's smile is one through pain, criticism and courage,
much like his hundred.
On the innings, he may not have played as perfectly and majestically as we had seen him in the past, but this would classify as one of his greatest knocks, simply due to the personal battles he had to face up to. He'd been the passenger in the team that drew in Abu Dhabi, and with two ducks at the age of 36, attracted much of the critic attention. Mahela doesn't come under fire often, if at all ever, but when he does, his replies are wittier and more sour on the eyes of his critics than the total combined tweets of Warne, KP and Piers Morgan.

He was ably supported by Sri Lanka's latest spark on the field, Kaushal Silva, who proved yet again than Dilshan's retirement was timely as his peaking to form. Taking crucial catches, making important runs at the top, and being the voice in the field that once Dilshan was, Kaushal as already filled half the boots that the Dilscoop artist has left on the Test field. Let alone, Sri Lanka's test future, Kaushal has certainly further lifted the team in to a position from where they could command the game.

But as this series has gone, on the third day, Sri Lanka may still squander and falter and muster up only half the lead they may have planned over night. If not, we will once again see the declare dilemma that Mathews still looks like he needs to master, around the time of Tea. If Mahela can continue in his merry way, and if Mathews can repeat his magic at Abu Dhabi, and this and that and all the finest of permutations come together, Sri Lanka might leave the field on the 3rd evening with a first over seas win since Durban in 2012. Or Pakistan may just accidentally press on the hulk button.

While the 2nd day belonged to Mahela and Kaushal, an enthralling third day is ahead of us.

Catch you then.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Unfamiliar territory

Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, 1st Day, 2nd Test. Dubai 

Gryffindor doesn't always win the Quidditch Cup. The rabbit doesn't always get out of the Red Queen's maze alive. Hobbits don't often "simply walk in to Mordor." Sri Lankan fast bowlers don't often bowl out oppositions for less than 200 on the first day.

Nor do they hunt in packs. Or stick to a line and a length for long, consistent periods. They hardly ever build pressure from either end, without the aid of a spinner. This is indeed unfamiliar territory for Sri Lankan cricket fans. But territory they would love to get used to.

But it was such a day. It was such a pitch. Unfamiliar. Where most, along with the fingers-crossed Abdul Rehman and Sachithra Senanayake, thought it would be a square turner, either team opted for three pacemen. Winning the toss, Angelo decided to bowl first. In hindsight, it looked as if the decision was made, not because Sri Lanka's pace attack was potent enough to make early in roads using the conditions and the pale green tinge on the track, but more likely because such advantage could not be risked in to the hands of Junaid Khan and Bilawal Bhatti. The Ranga-duo along with Sirasa Pradeep could not have proven that predicament more wrong. Mathews went from foolish Nasser Hussain at the Gabba, to genius who ever it was, on a green top in Durban or Old Trafford.

Last week in Abu Dhabi, for the first time in a long time, Sri Lanka were put on the front seat by the collaboration of it's pacemen. Now they've made it two in two. They nicked off 7 for 80 on the 3rd morning in Abu Dhabi, and they've bettered those figures by taking 9 for 90 in Dubai.

You don't really know how many times you have to look at the scorecard before you believe this sort of thing. Or how many times it needs to be repetitively iterated, in a hundred different ways, in a sort of literal way of pinching your self, to let it really sink in. Like the effect of Professor Umbridge's punishment quill. "Umbridge's quill effect" should be a thing. It probably already is a thing.

Sri Lanka actually have a capable pace attack that can turn games around.
And it's happened not once, but twice!

These good days don't come often. And a Sri Lankan fan would know that they won't last long either. Sri Lanka are the equivalant of Manchester United under David Moyes. One day they are beating the table toppers, the next they are drawing games that they should have won against mid table teams, and on another they are getting out played by the bottom dwellers. Sri Lanka need to make hay while the sun shines. Literally.

Sanga and Kaushal have been provided the golden opportunity to get Sri Lanka a big lead. They both have their eye in. And if they can see off the morning dew, when the sun shines, the hay making shall merrily begin. Sanga doesn't usually miss out on such hands. And specially with Mahela having split the webbing after his wife gave birth, it will be up to Sanga along with the Chandimals, PJs and the re-born Mathews, to make the unfamiliar ground that they were lead on to by the pacies, a one of their own.

Sri Lanka, though, are mercurial. But so are Pakistan. Whether which or either of those are good or bad, is yet to be determined. And thus, a compelling second day's cricket awaits.

Until then,

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A Sign of Things to Come

2014 has started with quite the bang. Afridi's lost his most famous world record, out of many, to little known Corey J. Anderson. The final punch was thrown at England in a fight they had already lost. Haddin and Johnson have brought back memories of the Aussies of the 90s. Sri Lanka's middle order didn't capitulate after Sanga and Mahela fell. And I'm back on the blog.

Let's leave every other cricketing nation aside. Sri Lanka is back to playing Test cricket. Good test cricket. Against a formidable side. The last time Sri Lanka played good cricket against a formidable test side was way back in late 2012, when Mahela Jayawardane single handedly defied New Zealand at Galle. Then they lost in Colombo, and have never looked back. Or should I say, have never moved on.

Until five days ago, on the 3rd morning of the 1st test at Abu Dhabi. On that day, Sri Lanka turned a new leaf in it's test cricket book. Newbie Kaushal Silva took a one handed blinder, Suranga Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga bowled two 10 over spells, probably the first time a Sri Lankan pace bowling pair has ever done, Herath cleaned up the tail, four wicket keepers soldiered to four fifties and Mathews batted Sri Lanka out of a loss.

Then he batted Sri Lanka to a position from where they could not lose. Then briefly, he batted Sri Lanka in to a position from where they couldn't win.

But, in all honesty, Sri Lanka wouldn't have won that test even if they had a 600 run lead, five sessions to bowl Pakistan out, and had Murali come out of retirement to bowl with Herath from either end. Not on that pitch. 24 wickets fell on the first 3 days. 2 on the last two. It started out as the "Samagi Mawatha", with a lot of grass and some fiery bounce, and then turned in to the Katunayake Expressway. 22 yard road, flat as ever, and not enough exits.

Sri Lanka's younger brigade showed fight and character.
But how consistently can they fight?
But Sri Lanka fought. From a position where they were doomed for certainty, Sri Lanka clawed back inch by inch. Apart from Mahela and to an extent, Sachithra Senanayake, everyone else contributed. Dimuth and Kaushal saw off the new ball in both innings. Sanga batted sensibly, but not up to expectations, but sensibly. Chandimal and PJ put their hands up when it was needed. The Ranga-duo, Suranga and Eranga, finally put up a performance. Herath was Herath. And Mathews just batted. He batted and batted until all my doubts of his ability as a test batsmen had been cornered to pitches in Australia and South Africa.

But if anyone thinks such a performance could be mimicked twice in two tests, or even thrice in three tests, they should pinch themselves. Maybe if they do it here, and do it again in the next test, I would expect them to do so in the next series. But as of now, it's only a one time affair.

Seldom performances mean nothing, consistency is the evidence of true ability.

And so are the seldom failures. Which is why for the test that starts today, I would personally leave the team unchanged. Mahela doesn't usually fail twice in two games. Sachithra is the future. Dilruwan is old and it's high time he wore a tie and went work full time at the bank, and I will stand by it even if he plays the next game and claims 15 wickets.

As pleased I am with the performances of Dimuth, Kaushal, Chandi, Ranga-double and Mathews, until they perform as consistently as they should, I would not be satisfied. Sri Lanka have gained a reputation as fighters. They have come to be known as the team that fought till the last bowl was bowled. But they wouldn't want to be the team that fought. They would want to be the team that fought, and won.

And therefore we wait...

More on the game at the end of the 1st day's play.

PS: It's damn good to be back.