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“The bowling performance in the Durban will surely lift the spirits of this maligned Sri Lankan side and the onus is now on their batsmen to ensure that their bowlers’ efforts are well-rewarded”

The two teams playing battling out in the first Test in Kingsmead, Durban are easily the teams which occupy the opposite ends of the bowling performance spectrum since 2017. Since the start of 2017, South African Pace attack has taken 349 wickets at a frugal average of 21.40 but look where the Lankans stand in the queue – right at the back just ahead of Bangladesh with only 163 wickets (less than half of what South Africans have managed) at an extravagant average of 38.55. Amidst such a mismatch in the fighters, it was always on cards that Lankan attack is up for another severe beating, the kind of which they had experienced in their recent tour to Australia.

Inexperience, regular injuries to budding fast bowlers, deficiencies at the first-class level and poor man-management at the hands of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) have led to 11 pace bowlers being tried in the national XI in a space of just over two years (since 2017). Barring Suranga Lakmal (59 wickets) and Lahiru Kumara (46 wickets), no other pace bowler from the island nation has taken more than 15 wickets in the lead up to the Durban Test. Though Lakmal has shouldered his responsibilities well, the other bowlers have simply failed to back up his good discipline up front.

Also read: Sri Lankan Cricket: A seemingly perpetual ‘Sorry’

It was against such heavy odds that the trio of Lakmal, Vishwa Fernando and Kasun Rajitha had to stand up for themselves, their team and for their nation. And boy! they surely did stand tall. All the three bowlers were commendable in their efforts but the inexperienced duo of Fernando and Rajitha made the difference with their combined figures of 7 wickets for 130 runs which led South Africa to succumb to a score of 235 runs. Quinton de Kock, who top-scored for South Africa with his defiant knock of 80, was all-praise for the Sri Lankan newbies.

“I think they caught us off guard. Going forward we’ll plan better, and I’m sure we’ll get off to better starts. The two new guys- we hadn’t seen much. They bowled really well – they didn’t miss their lengths often. We had (to) work hard to get what we did,” was the assessment of Fernando and Rajitha’s performance by De Kock. Surely, a commendable bowling act like this warrants respect from all quarters whether it’s the home camp or the opposition one.

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The two bowlers bowled in complete harmony with each other and also complimented each other very well. While Fernando’s left-handers mostly seamed into the right-hand batsmen, Rajitha took them away on most occasions. Both were equally well supported by Lakmal’s discipline in that channel outside the off-stump. The result was that the South African batsmen found it really hard to get away from the duo’s skiddiness and bounce. A good example for this will be the dismissal of de Kock himself, who was going berserk at the fag-end of the South African inning, but the bounce of Fernando made it difficult for him to control the attempted heave and as a result the ball took the edge and Fernando, though not completely comfortable, caught the skier.

Everybody blames the Sri Lankan players (and more specifically bowlers) for their poor returns at the International Stage but hardly anyone cares to address the issues which are responsible for such poor performances. There is hardly an initiative to revamp the domestic structure to bring it at par with the international best practices. By Fernando’s own admission, the first-class structure simply doesn’t condition the players (especially fast bowlers) for the rigours of international cricket.

“There is a big gap between the quality of our club cricket and Test cricket. Clubs are trying to win matches so they bowl spinners a lot. They don’t play fast bowlers much at all. The most I’d bowled this first-class season was 12 overs in an innings. But I had to play two Tests in Australia before this one, and I’ve been working with the bowling coach as well,” said Fernando.

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At most 12 overs in an inning at the first-class level and you are thinking why isn’t the next Chaminda Vaas coming. Are you really serious? The structure simply conceives the spinners and that too mostly finger spinner because the pitches are designed only to serve that purpose and there’s hardly any room for a pace bowler in the clubs’ plans of winning at all costs. Clearly, the Sri Lankan cricket is paying too heavy a cost for such abominable management of players at the domestic level and it is no wonder that they haven’t won any match across the formats since October 2018.

The bowling performance in the Durban will surely lift the spirits of this maligned Sri Lankan side and the onus is now on their batsmen to ensure that their bowlers’ efforts are well-rewarded. As for the new pace duo, they need to focus on consistency and discipline which would be quintessential for their long-haul in the international arena. Hope we can see more of their brilliance and the injuries stay away from the two exciting youngsters.

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