Saturday, 27 December 2014

Moving on the Fast Lane

Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, 1st Test, Day 2, Christchurch

Sri Lankan private buses are known for causing road rage in the busy streets of Colombo, usually moving at around 15-20kmph over the speed limit, overtaking on the wrong side, and shoving passengers in with Sardine-can-like precision. None more so than the 138. Any Sri Lankan who's lived in Colombo even for a brief period knows the shenanigans of the 138 drivers. You may own a Ferrari or an Aston Martin, but you will never travel the Colombo streets on a busy day as fast as a Leyland 138 bus would. It is a ride on the fast lane with movement and pace almost identical to that what Boult and Southee produced at Christchurch today. It is only fitting that Sri Lanka were bowled out for that very magic number. That is exactly what they must have felt like; vomitish, dizzy passengers on a fast, unstoppable, rowdy 138 during the peak hours of a busy Colombo day.

Day two at the Hagley Oval was a lot less sunnier than the first, giving ample moisture to the pitch, making it more conducive to fast, swing bowling. It also didn't help that Trent Boult and Tim Southee were much more disciplined with their lines and lengths, forcing the batsman to keep trying to poke at the ball. Five batsmen were snared by the outswing, four of them in the slips, and one leading edge to cover. Two fell to the one coming in, LBW. The other three went down slogging. Sri Lanka looked out of place. Out of character. And out of options. Although Mathews and Thirimanne briefly looked like they would steer Sri Lanka past the follow on mark, once the New Zealand bowlers started hitting the right lengths again, it was only a matter of time until they found the edge. Sri Lanka were humiliated. They might have felt in hindsight that they should have let New Zealand tail bat for the first hour of the day before they wrapped up the innings. Such desperate tactics are never too far away when you are being mauled over. We've all thought how we should have waited for the CTB, while being thrown around sweaty bodies in a 138.

Sri Lanka folded. In just 42 overs, they let go of the reputation they had earned over a period of 12 months as fighters down the drain. Angelo Mathews held on to one end, as he has done so many times this year, but it just wasn't enough. He's usually partnered by either Sanga or Mahela, and sometimes even both for some vital runs in the middle order which would have probably put Sri Lanka past the follow on mark, but Mahela is no more, and Sanga had a rare off day. Dimuth and Kaushal got the worst end of the stick, but they could have done at least a bit better at judging what to leave. The Thirimanne of old wouldn't have lasted six balls in such conditions, given his horrid show in England, but he seems to save sorted his issues with the moving ball, and looked comfortable for a while before he too poked at one he shouldn't have. But then again, haven't we all. PJ put up a fight, as he usually does, but at 60/5 it was too much to ask from him to salvage anything other than just double figures. Dickwella probably played his last game of the series, unless he comes up with something magical in the 2nd innings.

Dimuth Karunaratne with the amount of ability he possesses is destined for greatness.
But so were Vinod Kambli, Mark Ramprakash and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Will this be his big break?

And then they were asked to follow on. Dimuth played magnificently off his pads and off the hips, cut anything too wide, and left anything along the corridor, and ran well between wickets. Kaushal, as per usual, left the ball on length and pounced on anything that was too full. Gaps started to show, and the runs started to flow. Sri Lanka were 84/0 after batting out 35 overs, only 7 short of what took them to be bowled out on the first innings. The track looked placid and the New Zealand bowlers looked dull. Sri Lanka were putting up a fight and everything was right with the world again.

Although Kaushal is by far the superior of the two in terms of temperament, Dimuth holds the edge when it comes to stroke play. He is in the mold of the Mahelas and the Marvans; not the most consistent, yet pleasing on the eyes. As he has done so throughout his career, he has earned him self a start and looks good for a big one, which although he always throws away. A big hundred away from Sri Lanka, in seaming conditions might just what he needs to kick start his career, just as Marvan did in Mohali 1997, and Mahela in a rank turner at Galle in 1998, both being the knocks that defined their respective careers and had never looked back since then. Kaushal is more of a Sanga. Patient and technical. Dependable and consistent. If they can hold off the pace barrage for the morning hour of tomorrow's play, Sri Lanka just might leave Christchurch with a loss, but a little bit of pride. A loss here would indeed spoil a splendid year for them, but posting a fighting 3rd innings score after being forced to follow on, specially if they could make New Zealand bat again for a significant amount of runs and make them earn their win, might not be too bad of a final entry for an year of wonder. Just as the 138 eases down and becomes a very relaxed ride to Maharagama after the hours of 6pm, Sri Lanka have settled in to a groove, and need to keep being patient. The ride gets uncomfortable every now and then, but if they are willing to hold on tight, it will ultimately get them to their destination unharmed.

Sri Lanka may not get out of this alive. But they should die a proud, fighting death; a Shakespearean ending to what was an amazing year of cricket for them. 

All to play for tomorrow then,

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