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,

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