“The returns were phenomenal. Since Hathurusinga took over, the bowling average, which was 39.20 in the one and a half years prior to his appointment, dropped to 25.29 which is the best in the world for any ODI team that has played 10 matches in this time frame. The strike rate of 28.1 for quicker men is also the best for any team in this time frame”
As Sri Lanka’s new ball bowlers had England hobbling around at Colombo in the final ODI of the series, a dead rubber, the overwhelming feeling around cricketing circles was somewhere around ‘what the hell is happening?’
Considering England’s breathtaking ODI form and Sri Lanka’s nine consecutive ODI series losses, it was a reaction pretty much along expected lines. However, we might have to hold our horses before entirely writing off Sri Lanka in ODI cricket for the man holding their reins is a taskmaster known for his cricketing brains. Chandika Hathurusinga.
As Kasun Rajitha and Dushmantha Chameera made the English batsmen appear silly on a surface their own batsmen had racked up 366, one couldn’t help but see the invisible hand of Hathurusinga. Sri Lanka were completely reliant on their spinners in conditions that are sub-continental-ish but Hathurusinga was perhaps the first to put more onus on the faster bowlers.
There is a marked difference in the way he has been handling the quicker bowlers and it shows in the promising returns he has earned in the past one year as head coach.
Also read: The magic of Chandika Hathurusingha
From the beginning of 2016 till Hathurusinga took over (in December 2017), Sri Lanka’s pace bowlers averaged 39.20 and had a shoddy strike rate of 41.0. This was the second worst bowling average among pacers of all International teams that played ODIs in the said time period and the worst strike rate among them all. Note that this includes teams like UAE, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and Ireland.
As soon as Hathurusinga stepped in there was a renewed focus on bringing back fast bowling glory for the Lankans and this resulted in bringing in promising youngsters or recalling the ones that were unceremoniously dumped before being given a whole bunch of games. Dushmantha Chameera, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara and an improved role for Thisara Perera, who is a more than handy ODI bowler, were all beneficiaries of Hathurusinga’s forward thinking.
The returns were phenomenal. Since Hathurusinga took over, the bowling average, which was 39.20 in the one and a half years prior to his appointment, dropped to 25.29 which is the best in the world for any ODI team that has played 10 matches in this time frame. The strike rate of 28.1 for quicker men is also the best for any team in this time frame.
From hanging by a thread at the bottom rung of the ladder to rising to the top of it, Hathurusinga has inspired a lot of young quickies in the country. The onus on extra zip and pace at home where conditions are aligned in favour of the spinner has helped the faster bowlers transform themselves into all-condition bowlers.
The return of Lasith Malinga was viewed with suspect eyes but the veteran seamer has found his mojo back under Hathurusinga’s watchful eyes. With Rajitha, Pradeep, Lakmal, Chameera and Kumara around, the fast bowling pack is growing like never before. That the World Cup is in England could have been one driving force behind this fast bowling revolution but undoubtedly the results are showing and rapidly.
The extra attention on quicker bowlers wasn’t really format-specific. Even in Tests, there was an evident move towards a more hostile pace attack. In the West Indies, Sri Lanka controversially sat out Rangana Herath to add in an extra seamer and Kumara, Rajitha and Suranga Lakmal gave the Windies batsmen a dose of their own medicine. They matched the likes of Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder and Kemar Roach ball-for-ball and returned to the Island Nation with all the confidence in the world.
While they were hammered again in the ODI series against England and the Asia Cup prior to that, it would be foolish to write off this Sri Lankan unit that is slowly pulling themselves out of the abyss under a terrific coach.
The fast bowling unit aside, Sri Lanka have also replenished the all-round resources in their repertoire by giving a fair few games to Dasun Shanaka, who was again prematurely dumped before the Hathurusinga reign. Mathews should ideally return to the fold before the World Cup and most likely would for his batting skills. The hard taskmaster Hathurusinga is, giving veterans a tough time to get the best out of them is a common theme in his coaching tenure with several teams.
The top-order and middle-order appear most settled despite recent fallacies and though all of them haven’t clicked in sync yet, the dead rubber wins against South Africa and now England show that Sri Lanka have it in them to challenge the mighty sides. They just aren’t sure themselves but with a fair few months to go before the World Cup, expect their sharp head coach to polish these rough rocks into diamonds and put out a more than a decent show at the marquee event.