Sri Lanka completed a historic victory when they chased down 388 against Zimbabwe in the final innings at Colombo. It was the highest score ever chased down in Asian soil and the fourth highest in the history of Test cricket. Although Lanka completed the chase with four wickets remaining, the third umpire’s decision that favoured them at a crucial moment in the game was a definite factor in the victory.
Over the last few years, Sri Lanka have struggled to maintain the standards they had during the Sangakkara-Jayawardena era. There are quite a few younger hands and the older ones are starting to show signs of weakness. The 3-2 ODI series loss to Zimbabwe also earned them much criticism post which Angelo Matthews stepped down as skipper across formats. Upul Tharanga was made in charge of the limited-overs teams while Dinesh Chandimal took on the Test mantle.
The only joy Lanka have encountered in a few months of below par performances were their win over India in the Champion Trophy, chasing down 321, and this victory against Zimbabwe. However, both of them do not hide the many weaknesses in this Sri Lankan line-up. All hope isn’t lost though and despite their last gasp victory in the one-off Test against Zimbabwe and their loss in the ODIs, there are some positives for the Lankans to take away.
The batting talent coming through
Although they have lost some senior members since the 2015 World Cup, Sri Lankan have constantly found new talents seeping through the system. The likes of Kusal Mendis, Asela Gunaratne, Danushka Gunathilaka and Niroshan Dickwella offer hope and promise. These youngsters have established themselves in the side with eye-catching performances.
Mendis and Gunaratne are possibly the most promising given their temperament and composure in difficult situations. These two were also the architects of their victory over India in the Champions Trophy. Dickwella and Gunathilaka have been impressive in ODIs and the former has carried that form into Test cricket as well, another pleasant sign for the Lankans. Dhananjaya de Silva, another talented batsman, was ignored for the Test against Zimbabwe but is someone who could add value to the Lankan middle-order.
Herath has been a huge presence in Sri Lanka’s wins on home turf. The legendary left-arm spinner is approaching 40 and Sri Lanka know that they have little time in the hands to find able replacements. Thankfully, Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan have already shown signs of taking over the Herath role.
This augurs well for Sri Lankan cricket, especially with Herath still available to groom the younger spinners before he departs from the game. Some others like Wanidu Hasaranga and Akila Dananjaya have also been in and around limited-overs teams with the former picking up a hat-trick on debut against Zimbabwe in the ODIs.
Mathews assumes bigger role
Angelo Mathews has a bigger responsibility up his sleeve after stepping down from captaincy. The talented Lankan all-rounder would need to don a mentor role for the young batting line-up. Over the years, Mathews has developed a temperament and aura befitting a fighter and it is these instincts that he needs to pass down to the newbies.
Someone like Asela Gunaratne, who has modelled his game much similar to Mathews, is growing up to be a fear factor in the lower middle-order. He has quite often played a lone hand Sri Lanka’s batting line-up and the onus will be on Mathews to groom Gunaratne into a better version of himself. Quite a few others like Kusal Perera, Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis have not assessed match situations as well as they should have and the veteran Mathews could help them in this regard.
The fast bowlers offer hope
Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep seemed like the only two Sri Lankan Test bowlers till a while back. Now, Lahiru Kumara, Dasun Madushanka, Vishwa Fernando and Dushmantha Chameera have made their presence felt. ICC clearing the action of Shaminda Eranga is also a positive sign for Sri Lankan cricket.
While they may not require more than 2 of them in sub-continental conditions, it is worth grooming quite a few more for the tougher overseas assignments. Sri Lanka have never competed well on grassy, green surfaces and the addition of quicker bowlers who can regularly clock speeds in the range of 140ks offers hope.
“Since he came to the crease, what Dickwella told me was: ‘Talk to me all the time, and make me score runs.’ I think what he meant was that he hasn’t scored a big Test innings, where I have. He just wanted me to tell him how to handle situations. Sometimes when the game was going a certain way, he wanted me to keep advising him.” – Gunaratne told after his partnership with Dickwella set up Sri Lanka’s four wicket win and record chase. That kind of mutually helping attitude from the youngsters is beneficial for Sri Lankan cricket. After all, most International teams struggle to cope with the loss of giants. Sri Lanka have lost pillars that served them for years and given time, these young guns could become their new foundation.