The Sri Lankan bowling attack looks an attacking unit…….

When the Sri Lankan team for the Port of Spain Test was announced there was a major surprise in store for those watching. Rangana Herath, their most experienced campaigner and the lynchpin of their bowling attack, was omitted from the starting XI. In the post-Muralitharan age, Herath was Lanka’s saviour in Tests. He was someone who would bowl all day long if Lanka needed and still come out to give it his best the next day.

Dropping Herath seemed suicidal, but Chandika Hathurusinga, known for his tactical nous, had clear plans for the Test. If not Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope’s resistance, Sri Lanka might indeed have come back victorious, despite a supposedly gaping hole in their bowling attack.

Truth be told, Sri Lankan cricket needed a boost; a bold, strong step towards the future and this was Hathurusinga’s way of showing they meant business. It worked wonders. Lahiru Kumara bowled with fire, Kasun Rajitha created a storm and Suranga Lakmal led the young bowling attack with panache and flair.

For once, the fight was coming from their bowlers. And without Herath or Perera. No, not any spinner. Sri Lanka were being led by their pace bowlers. They came into the third Test with momentum on their side. Herath was still out. Sandakan wasn’t giving the control the pace bowlers needed and this paved the way back for Dilruwan Perera in the ongoing pink ball Test.

This time Lakmal took the pink cherry and gave the visitors a major dose of adrenaline early on, dismissing Devon Smith and Kraigg Brathwaite. Kumara followed, picking up Kieron Powell and Kasun Rajitha picked up Hope and Chase. At 53/5, Sri Lanka’s quick bowlers were all over the Windies.

They might have recovered through Dowrich and Holder, but West Indies knew Sri Lanka weren’t backing out easy. For once, Sri Lanka and it’s vehement supporters knew they were pumped up to do this.

This Lankan seam attack had pace and direction. They posed genuine questions and left batsmen on haunches with steep bounce and pace. They knew when, how and where to attack. Lakmal sorely needed his batsmen to aid their desperate fight. It never materialized. They folded for 154, conceding a decisive lead in the first innings.

The Lanka of the recent past would have succumbed right there. Not this unit. They had the hunger to fight and resist. To counter-strike with the passion Lankan cricket was once known for. They might still lose but they weren’t leaving the Caribbean Islands by giving up. They would fight and fight they did.

Once again their pace bowlers did the bulk of the hard work with the pink ball. If they had West Indies at 8/3 in the first innings, they had them at 9/3 and 14/5 in this innings. True, the bulk of West Indies’ runs have come from the last five wickets but Sri Lanka weren’t letting any of Chase, Dowrich or Holder get away this time.

The pink ball danced away and Lanka hit the right line and length. They kept plugging away, not letting the intensity subsided.  Shane Dowrich was undone by Rajitha’s bounce and pace. He went for a valiant pull but was so late on the ball that the train had left the platform. The top edge ballooned to mid-on as West Indies lost their sixth.

Lakmal nearly had Holder trapped in front with a peach next over but umpire’s call on review meant Lanka had to work for their wicket. Rajitha wasn’t letting down his skipper, though, and kept probing Holder’s off-stump. Eventually, the skipper nicked one through to the slips as West Indies’ familiar lower order fight went missing.

Perera had Cummins and a run-out ended Kemar Roach’s stay. West Indies were bowled out for 93 with Sri Lanka in with a realistic chance to level the series. Jason Holder’s mesmerising fight back with the ball under lights means Lanka are still 63 away with five (possibly just four given Kusal Perera’s injury) wickets remaining.

With Kusal Mendis in there and daylight presenting better conditions to bat, Sri Lanka are favourites to win. They might still lose, though. But the outcome is irrelevant in that Lanka showed they could still be a formidable bowling attack without Herath in charge.

Hathurusinga’s work is less than half done. But he will go back home from this series knowing he has given this side the appetite to win. They were mere pushovers a season ago, but with a revamped bowling attack, Lanka are slowly getting back to where they belong, the elite list of Test nations.

 

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