Friday, 7 February 2014

The difference between the two

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka. Day Four. 2nd Test. Chittagong

I'm not a big fan of Kumar Sangakkara. I don't adore him. He's not my favourite cricketer. I don't think he's the best batsman to play for Sri Lanka, let alone the world, and I don't think I'd ever adore him to the levels of Aravinda de Silva or Mahela Jayawardane. But that is a mere personal opinion. It takes nothing away from the Great Batsman that Kumar Sangakkara is.

He's got Test centuries in all the test playing countries, except for the West Indies which is due to the fact that he's only played 4 tests there, and the test tour to the West Indies was cancelled by the SLC when Sangakkara was in prime form, in mid 2013. Sangakkara holds the highest career average for any cricketer who has played over 20 tests since the 1990s. He's got hundreds against Australia in Australia, South Africa in South Africa when both teams were #1 in the world. He's saved Sri Lanka from defeat in green tops of Southampton to dust bowls in Abu Dhabi, and he's driven them to victory in breezy Wellington and in scorching Lahore. So, after killing the Namien Lion, slaying the Hydra, shooting down the Stymphalian birds, capturing the Cretan Bull, and all the rest of it, isn't it fair for Hercules to feast at the top of Mount Olympus?

To all those who undermine Sangakkara's knocks in Bangladesh, one must only look at Sanga's overall record to realize that such comments are only a bunch of balderdash. If the Multi-Barrel missle launcher is designed to wipe out entire cities at long range, it takes no Einstien to figure out what happens if you fire it at the rioters in front of the camp. Sangakkara merely feasted on a friendly bowling attack and a placid pitch. True, if Sanga had gone on to make 401* and had broken Lara's record, it would have been a shame for Lara, who scored that against the likes of Harmisson, Hoggard, Flintoff and Jones, the very attack that decimated Australia in the following year. But what is Sanga to do? Get out cheaply, because it's only Bangladesh and it's not fair to score runs against them? Get to 50 and throw it away, and have those very same critics asking him questions about Sanga's ability being tested by the mediocre Bangla bowlers? Sanga has scored runs all over the world, against the toughest attacks, on the toughest pitches in the toughest situations and he has earned a right to have a day off against Bangladesh and score a few easy hundreds.

Another interesting fact is considering what would have happened to Sri Lanka had Sanga not got the runs he did. Sri Lanka's first innings total would have been 268, meaning they would have conceded a first innings lead of 158. Then, if the second innings hundred is taken off, Sri Lanka would be 200 for 4, leading by 42 runs, with 6 wickets in hand, and 90 overs left. If that doesn't emphasize how important Sangakkara's innings were in this test, I don't know what will. At a time when Sri Lanka possess a bowling attack weak enough to lose to Bangladesh, Sangakkara's 319* and 105 was the saving grace for them, without which Sri Lanka would be staring down their 4th test series draw after winning the first one and taking the lead. There are times I would argue why I don't consider Sangakkara to be the best batsman to have played for Sri Lanka, but then there are times like these, when I know I cannot win that argument.

Sangakkara's hunger for runs is considered one of his best traits.
Besides Sanga's heroics, Sri Lanka's weaknesses were once again on show. Mendis and Dilruwan bowled until the batsmen gave up and threw their wickets away. Lakmal looked good in patches, but looked as if he needed a rest, having bowled over 150 overs since the first test in Abu Dhabi. Nuwan Pradeep was once again a deer in headlights. The lapses in the field didn't help either. After a certain point it started getting a bit slap-stick, Kithruwan dropping a catch, then catching one two balls later only for it to be called No-Ball. Dimuth dropped a skier at the dying moments of the day and it all but sealed the comedy relief that was much needed for a test match that was thus far a bit boring.

Chandimal also sneaked in a century, to the dismay of many. Some because it was sort of a Shane Watson effort; of not playing well the whole series and then getting a useless 100 on the last innings on the verge of being dropped, to seal his place for three more tests, and some because it delayed the declaration by about 10 overs and left the Bangladeshis less than 100 overs to bat out for a draw. Both reasons are arguable. Chandimal's 100 steadied the innings with Sanga's, for at one stage Sri Lanka were 78/3, which made his innings a bit more worthy than useless. It also ensured that Sri Lanka wasn't in a position to lose, specially after their debacle in Sharjah, not too long ago. Although he could have scored a bit quicker once Sanga had got out, Chandimal's innings has put Sri Lanka to a position from where they can only win, and by doing so, he has probably sealed his place in the XI for the 1st Test at Lord's, ahead of Kithruwan Vithanage, given that Prasanna Jayawardane is fit for the tour.

That leaves Sri Lanka with 90 overs to wrap Bangladesh out, which seems highly improbable with this bowling line up and the flatness of the wicket, but considering the fact that Bangladesh are also known to press the panic button, like they did in the first test, a result for Sri Lanka is still a possibility. It is also the final 90 overs for Nuwan Pradeep to gain some confidence ahead of the England series and for Lakmal to be up to par with his consistency, but for Dilruwan and Mendis, it should be a matter of proving that they are worthy of selection, as neither are expected to play test cricket until Sri Lanka host South Africa for 3 tests in July of 2015.

With a draw looming ahead, a dull day of cricket awaits. For Sri Lanka's sake, let's hope that would not be the case. For now though, it is time for everyone to look back an enjoy a tale of two innings from Sanga, which clearly was the difference between the two teams in this test.

Over the years, he's made it hard for anyone not to like him. Even me.

Catch you at the end of it all,

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Leading by example

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka. Day One. 2nd Test. Chittagong

For the past half a decade or so, the Sri Lankan cricket team has been under the guidance and parenthood of two extra-ordinary gentlemen. Although several different captains have taken the reins, the younger brigade has always been under the watchful eyes of Mahela Jayawaradane and Kumar Sangakkara; the mommy and daddy of the Sri Lankan cricket team. Although there is going to be controversy over who's mommy and who's daddy, we have to resort to such terminology, as under the current laws of Sri Lanka, they can't both be dads to the same child. Regardless of gender roles, the two stalwarts have, on many occasions, weathered the storm for Sri Lanka, leading by example on tough wickets, showing the kids how its done. On a slow, uneven surface in Chittagong, they were on show once again.  

Sri Lanka, having rested their two best Test bowlers since the post-Murali era, the only two bowlers to average less than 35 runs per wicket, have had to resort to the raw pace of Nuwan Pradeep and the uncovered mysteries of Ajantha Mendis. Although the reports say both Eranga, and Herath have flown back to Sri Lanka due to injury, it could well be that they are being rested for a tougher and more physically demanding tour in England. If they are indeed being rested, reporting that they are injured is quite misleading, but Sri Lanka have been known to commit to such kindergarten tactics to avoid controversy. The irony of it. 

Angelo Mathews won an important toss and got first use of the wicket. With Bangladesh announcing their team with three front-line spinners and only one pacer, Mushfiqur Rahim might have winced a bit when Mathews made sure those spinners will not be bowling on the fourth innings. The wincing would have faded when Dimuth and Kaushal both gifted their wickets to him, specially Dimuth, getting his routine 30 and giving it away when it seemed he was set for a big one. It always seems though as if Dimuth sees off the new ball, and gives it away as soon as the shine has come off it. Although one may argue, that is exactly what is required of him as he has consistently done in the past 7 innings, he may want to consider a little street cricket trick; getting retired hurt after getting to 40 and seeing off the new ball, and coming back once the 2nd new ball is due and see that off too. It might be the only way for him to get a hundred.

Once the openers were back in the hut, The Sanga and Mahela show began. On a wicket that Sri Lanka averaged less than a run per over until the 10th over, Sanga and Mahela just accumulated the crease and there by the runs, with the most swiftest and most graceful approach imaginable. They tapped the ball on the head on merit, left it alone when they felt lazy, and occasionally came down the track and lofted it for six when they got bored. Sanga brought up his 34th test century, the most by a Sri Lankan batsman, all 4 of his last coming against Bangladesh. That would be something he would want to change, come the tour of England. Mahela got to another 50; his form since the pair in Abu Dhabi seems to have resurfaced to what it was sometime back in 2006/07. Sanga and Mahela added 178 runs. 178 beautifully accumulated runs. It was a lesson, to all the kids watching at home and all the kids in the playing XI, on how to bat on such surfaces. When these two are going well, all seems right with the world.

Fiction provides us with Merlin and Arthur, Sherlock and Watson, Frodo and Sam.
Reality betters it by presenting us Sanga and Mahela.
Towards the latter parts of the day Mahela subsided to the uneven bounce when a Mahmudulla off break kept low and struck him plum while playing across the line. Mathews and Chandimal then showed everyone why they aren't mature enough to take over the reins from their predecessors, by getting out to balls that never deserved wickets, and shots that never deserved a place on a first day evening of a test. Chandimal's failures have been emphasized with the performances of less senior batsmen, and if a large 2nd innings score isn't tallied against his name, he might struggle to find a place in the team for England if Prasanna Jayawardane is fit. 

Sri Lanka will come in to bat on the 2nd morning with Sanga on a 160 not out and young Kithruwan Vithanage, both who will look to capitalize on the solid base that has been laid for a towering first innings score. Vithanage's previous two worthwhile contributions with the bat have both come against Bangladesh on two very flat wickets. He will face his first test on a less generous surface, and will look to consolidate his place in the team as a dependable yet aggressive number 7, a much needed entity in the Sri Lankan batting line up, while also booking his tickets to England later this year.

At some point Sri Lanka will also have to come out and bowl, given that the rain gods will not interrupt, and it would be interesting to see how they cope with the absence of both Eranga and Herath. Their stats do not convince that they are capable of taking 20 wickets, but this would be more than a good opportunity to prove it wrong.

They say that the second and third day is when the direction of a test match is decided. 
Catch you at the end of it,