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.