“While spin remains the toast, England could face a pace barrage if they aren’t prepared for the same”
If England are preparing for just the rank turners and Sri Lanka’s plethora of spin options, they might be in for a little surprise. With Suranga Lakmal spearheading the pace attack which has the talented Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Kumara, who could play a part sometime during the series, Sri Lanka aren’t short of firepower in their fast bowling arsenal.
In fact, fast bowling has been a crucial part of Sri Lanka’s plans since Chandika Hathurusinga took over. The revolution is blatantly there to be seen in the limited-overs format although in Tests it is yet to take a discernible form. The Test squad is adorned by five spinners and all the pre-series talk has revolved around Sri Lanka’s spinners against England batsmen who develop cold feet at the first sign of spin.
The visitors are yet to shake off an embarrassing loss against Bangladesh in the sub-continent, where they came off looking ugly against the hosts’ spinners. With Rangana Herath hoping to bow out on a high and Akila Dananjaya, Dilruwan Perera and Malinda Pushpakumara all in a battle to take up the role of the lead spinner, Sri Lanka’s spin attack is the talk of the town.
It would perhaps be the thorn in England’s flesh once the series gets underway at Galle, home to one of the driest pitches in the world. But England would be committing a gross mistake, one that their arch-rivals Australia themselves fell into a month back, if they choose to ignore the talented Lankan seam attack.
“Every bowler you’ve never faced before is a mystery because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Joe Root had said before the series, dismissing suggestions that Sri Lanka’s mystery spinners could prove a handful for England’s batsmen. But truth be told, the trial by spin might have to wait as Sri Lanka could look to threaten England’a top-order with a taste of their own medicine.
While it could be suicidal to give a pitch full of life to James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, Sri Lanka’s seamers wouldn’t totally be out of the picture in such a scenario. The rise of Kasun Rajitha gives ample company to Suranga Lakmal, who has waged a lonely war until recently. Hathurusinga is partly responsible for the bowling revolution and bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake acknowledges his role in the pace bowling transition.
“I think Hathurusingha has changed their mindset by letting the boys do things on their own. Even if you fail, he will say ‘well, that was good enough, let’s try again next time’,” Ratnayake had said a while back citing Hathurusinga’s influence.
Also read: The impressive Kasun Rajitha
Kumara and Rajitha have been silent contributors to Lanka’s rise in pace bowling stocks, and the duo has slowly, yet steadily, backed up Lakmal’s control. In West Indies, the pacers picked up 40 wickets in three Tests at an average of 21.75. Rajitha’s zip and Kumara’s pace were crucial elements in Lanka’s rise but the same hasn’t been needed in home Tests, particularly against teams like South Africa and England who traditionally struggle against spin.
That, though, could change especially if England are intent in focussing on just spin. Their batsmen had struggled on the green surfaces back home against India’s seamers and being the shrewd analyst that the Lankan head coach is, he wouldn’t totally be ignoring the potential his seam bowlers have.
In 2018, Sri Lanka’s seamers have picked up 49 wickets in 6 Tests at an average of 22.91, better than the likes of Australia, New Zealand, India and England. There have been talks of how Sri Lanka managed to turn tables against the Windies courtesy their pace bowling, with the think-tank unhesitantly dropping Rangana Herath to accommodate an extra seamer.
While spin remains the toast, England could face a pace barrage if they aren’t prepared for the same. The Aussies were fooled in a similar manner in UAE as Mohammad Abbas ripped through them. Although Lakmal and co have a long way to go before they can be compared with Abbas and the Pakistan seam attack, the transition is unmistakable. England will only have themselves to blame if they don’t see it.