“While Sri Lanka’s batsmen also have to take the blame for this embarrassing loss, their spinners will have to get back to First-Class cricket and further hone their skills”
As England completed a historic whitewash in Sri Lanka, the hosts were left to ponder as to what exactly went wrong in the course of the 3-Test series. With their biggest match-winner Rangana Herath bidding goodbye at the end of the first Test, it was an opportunity for the other spinners in the squad to step up and show that the team can cope without the legendary spinner. However, that was not the case. While Dilruwan Perera might have gone about his business quite well, the support he got from the other spinners was disappointing. The likes of Lakshan Sandakan, Akila Dananjaya and Malinda Pushpakumara just weren’t good enough to get the job done and as a result, England, who were well-prepared for this tour, walked away with the honours.
It was by no stretch of imagination a walk in the park for England. They came into the series with a gameplan and executed them well – be it their batsmen or their bowlers. When the chips were down there were one or two individuals, who rescued the team and in the end, they did just about enough to squeeze through. Sri Lanka were in the hunt in the last two Tests, but that is when the England spinners showed their class and took their team over the line.
If you look at the overall figures, the Sri Lankan spinners have picked up more wickets (51), than the England spinners in the series (49). While the difference may not be much, England ensured that the pressure of picking up wickets does not fall on just one bowler. It was a collective effort from the spinners which saw them through. Jack Leach and Moeen Ali picked up 18 wickets apiece, while Adil Rashid and Joe Root chipped in with 12 and one wickets respectively. If you look at their counterparts, the burden of picking up wickets fell on Perera, who collected 22 scalps and the second best was Dananjaya with 10, followed by Pushpakumara with 9, Sandakan with 7 and Herath with 3.
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Given that Perera was the most senior among the lot, one might argue that it was his responsibility to pick up as many wickets if not more. But, you need some support from the other end, if you are to strangle an opponent, especially a quality batting side like England, who have issues of their own. But the way they swept the ball so well and played aggressively, yet not so over aggressive was remarkable. Root’s century in the second Test was indeed one of the best innings of the year. He looked extremely busy and did not get lured to play any false shot throughout the innings, yet scored at a brisk pace. It is this type of positive batting that helped England post, 300-plus at least once in all the Tests, while Sri Lanka managed to do so just once.
It was well known ahead of the tour that the spinners are going to take centre stage. Whichever teams’ spinners do well was going to walk away with the series. Simple! While there is no denying the quality in the Sri Lankan ranks, they did not execute their skills in the way they would have liked and should have. The Sri Lankan spinners were much flatter and bowled short of a length compared to the English spinners, who were willing to give the ball more air and were not afraid to pitch it up.
In the past, Rashid has been used to a bare minimum in Tests as he has the tendency to leak runs. He bowled 99 overs in this series and had an economy rate of 3.41, which is slightly lower than that of Moeen. Rashid’s red-ball cricket career seemed to have come to a close when he refused to sign the contract with Yorkshire, but his excellent performance in this series might have reignited his Test career and he could be encouraged to play First-Class cricket for Yorkshire. Most of the times it was Leach and Moeen from either end, with Rashid coming into the wicket looking for a breakthrough. Rashid got Virat Kohli out on a couple of occasions in the Test series back home against India, which further increased his reputation of being the man with the golden arm. He was that and much more in Sri Lanka.
While Sri Lanka’s batsmen also have to take the blame for this embarrassing loss, their spinners will have to get back to First-Class cricket and further hone their skills. Pushpakumara might have picked up more than 500 wickets in First-Class cricket before making his debut against India last year, he would have by now found that it Test cricket is going to be a different ball game altogether.
Sri Lanka will now tour New Zealand, Australia and South Africa next. While the spinners might not hog the limelight as much in those conditions, there is no denying that they will look to improve from their performances in the last few home series. Against England, while there were a few brilliant individual sparks, collectively, they failed as a unit. They will have many more such losses if they do not pull their socks up soon.