Praiseworthy performance from Sri Lanka……
Despite the controversies leading up to the third and final Test at Barbados, Sri Lanka managed to pull off a crucial victory, in the absence of their regular captain Dinesh Chandimal. Suranga Lakmal – making his debut as captain – led from the front with the ball, bowling a couple of long spells to give his side the advantage. Lakmal is also among those players, who has been out of the game due to injury, but his performance in Barbados would have certainly lifted the spirits of the entire team. Sri Lanka – playing their first ever Test at Bridgetown, Barbados – became the first Asian side to win a Test at this venue.
The word ‘transition’ is something Sri Lanka cricket will be familiar with. They might not have reached the heights of their glorious past, but they have certainly made a start in the right direction.
After they were whitewashed by India at home last year, Sri Lanka have certainly lifted their performance in Tests. They’re limited-overs exploits still remain under the scanner, but when it comes to Test cricket, they have shown signs of improvement. This coming at a time when they do not have a settled XI and have dealt with injuries to some of their important players.
The Indian side had to bat just four times to beat Sri Lanka in the three-Test series in July/August 2017. Before the series got underway, Sri Lanka just about manage to edge past lowly-ranked Zimbabwe in the one-off Test. They had lost the 5-match ODI series 2-3 before that to the same team. In 2017, Sri Lanka had as many as nine captains across format, which shows they were an unsettled unit, who did not have any real direction. After the Test series whitewash, they were also clean swept in the ODI and the T20I series by India and one felt that Sri Lanka could not sink any lower than that.
But things rapidly changed when they went to UAE to take on Pakistan. Pakistan had never lost a Test series in UAE before that. Sri Lanka once again did not have their star player Angelo Mathews for that series, but this time the veteran Rangana Herath and captain Chandimal led from the front. Also, Dimuth Karunaratne too was in top form. His 196 in the day-night Test in Dubai was perhaps one of his best knocks.
When your best players perform, it eases the pressure on the others to a certain extent and that’s what happened. Chandimal and Herath did exceptionally well in the first Test, while Karunaratne and a team effort with the ball in the second Test handed them a 2-0 series win. Sri Lanka, however, went on to lose five ODIs and a one-off T20I after that against Pakistan. They put up a sorry show with the bat and did not give the bowlers anything to bowl at.
Sri Lanka, however, looked to carry on their Test form in the series against India next. Playing in India is never easy for any team, but Sri Lanka were determined to put the horrific loss at home behind them with an improved effort. The had the edge in the rain-curtailed first Test at Eden Gardens, but a Virat Kohli century eventually gave India enough runs on the board and their batsmen were under pressure once again. Despite Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s efforts, Sri Lanka etched out a draw.
However, in the next Test at Nagpur, Sri Lanka’s bowlers let them down and thanks to big scores from Murali Vijay (128), Cheteshwar Pujara (143), Kohli (213) and Rohit Sharma (102*), India had 610 runs on the board and had to bat just once. Sri Lanka crushed to an innings and 239-run defeat. All the good works Sri Lanka had done till then were undone. They had hit rock bottom once again. In the final Test at Delhi, experienced campaigners Mathews and Chandimal hit centuries to rescue Sri Lanka and played out a draw. Another positive was Dhananjaya de Silva scoring a century in the fourth innings, which is not easy for any player in the subcontinent.
The year 2018 has thus far been kind on Sri Lanka. They first won the ODI tri-series featuring Zimbabwe and hosts Bangladesh. After a high-scoring draw in Chittagong, Sri Lanka held on to a 1-0 series win by beating Bangladesh at Dhaka by 215 runs – A complete team effort. Things were finally looking up for Sri Lanka, who less than a year ago, were being battered by India at home. They have thankfully performed to their potential in Tests on their travels. Barring that loss against India at Nagpur, Sri Lanka have shown that they can compete and also win. After a poor show in the first Test at Port of Spain and a controversy-filled St Lucia Test, Sri Lanka seem to have regrouped well and known what was at stake at Barbados. They did not let their fans down and gave West Indies a good fight and ended up on the winning side to level the series 1-1. What will make this sweeter is that they did it without Chandimal, Mathews, Karunaratne or even Rangana Herath.
Depending on one or two players is never good. Sri Lanka with this win have shown that they can do well without their star players and also win. The icing on the cake is that they have found a captain who can lead from the front and have also unearthed an excellent fast bowler in Kasun Ranjitha.
With Sri Lanka set to welcome South Africa for a Test series in July, they will hope to welcome Chandimal, Mathews, Karynaratne and Herath back into the side. Not to forget, the trio of Lahiru Kumara, Lakmal and Ranjitha too can do a lot of damage. The question is, will all of them be fit and available? Regardless, Sri Lanka have shown continuous improvement for the last few months and this time will look to gain their lost pride at home. Sri Lanka in the recent past have had to perform despite losing key players to injuries. But the results they have produced despite that deserves an applause.