“What I have to do now is to get another five here. I’m feeling good. In the first Test, Vishwa did well. I think this is my Test”
For a layman, it may seem that only an astrologer can foresee such a memorable outing for a player but, let me remind you that Cricket is not a game for astrologers and the only other way these words can come, is from the mouth of a player himself who takes pride in his skill-set and is brimming with confidence. These are the words of Suranga Lakmal, the senior-most member of Sri Lanka’s fast bowling armoury on this South African tour.
If you look at the scorecard for the series, you will find that prior to South Africa’s second innings in Port Elizabeth, Lakmal had only a solitary wicket to show for against his name from three innings on the tour. One is justified in thinking what must have prompted such a confident statement from a veteran of 57 Tests. But here lies the catch, Lakmal’s deficient wicket-tally as compared to Vishwa Fernando and Kasun Rajitha was the result of his adopted role in the team which, according to him, was of a container focussing on right lines and lengths while the newbies made in-roads into the Proteas batting line-up.
“In this series, more than me the two young guys took wickets. They were superb. When they were taking wickets I had to keep things tight from the other end. We are lacking three of our premier bowlers and Vishwa (Fernando) came along and did a great job. So did Kasun Rajitha. They didn’t look like newcomers. They even gave me some pointers.”
A look at the economy rates of the bowlers in this series and his role gets vindicated as Lakmal has the best economy rate of 2.43 runs per over in the series. His miserly bowling has allowed the likes of Fernando and Rajitha to focus on the wicket-taking approach which reflects in their economies of 3.66 and 4.27 runs per over. Being a senior member of the bowling arsenal, he may have been easily swayed by the ego that comes along with the tag of the senior bowler but he chose otherwise because he simply can’t portray a man he isn’t.
He will run in all day long, will produce plays and misses at remarkable consistency and if he doesn’t get his rewards, he is not frustrated instead you will see a beaming smile on his face and a more positive bowler returning back to his bowling mark. Such a subdued but unrelenting attitude pays off eventually and it did pay off finally and that too in Port Elizabeth – a ground Lakmal has some very fond memories of. It is the same Port Elizabeth where Lakmal took his first five-wicket haul in the boxing day Test in 2016.
He is a guy who lives and thrives on the margins. He works away with the ball to create just those faint movements or little nibbling which more often than not bamboozles the batsmen into a folly as if they have been bewitched by a very strong confundus charm which has taken sense out of their minds. Then there is also his trademark big in-cutting ripper; to which many reputed names in the world cricket have succumbed. Port Elizabeth once again stood witness to the magical mixture of these faint movers and incoming jaffas which skittled out the hosts for a paltry 128 runs in their second essay as Lakmal registered figures of 4 wickets for 39 runs.
The charmer from the feisty south coast of Sri Lanka started his show by befuddling Quinton de Kock, the top run-getter for South Africa this series, by a gripper into the pitch which took the leading edge of his bat and flew safely into the hands of the bowler. Keshav Maharaj and Duanne Olivier found the booming in-cutters too hot to handle while Kagiso Rabada is too good a tailender to handle the moving ball which he fell prey to.
He may not strike as a bowler of the category of the speedsters like Brett Lee or Shoaib Akhtar or of the equation of uncanny bowlers like Glenn McGrath or James Anderson but he definitely is a mighty fine bowler than what his Test bowling average of close to 40 suggests of him. His recent fifers in Christchurch (5 for 54 against New Zealand) and Gabba (5 for 75 against Australia) serve as a perfect testament to his calibre, especially in overseas sojourns.
This is arguably the best of the Lakmal that we are witnessing and probably this is because of the conditions that Sri Lanka is playing in as tracks in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are known to support the faster bowlers while it is the spinners ruling the rooster in dusty soils of Sri Lanka where a fast bowler isn’t summoned much into the duty which is why his bowling average in Tests is in the close proximity to the 40 mark. Lakmal has had a fantastic start to his year and will serve as a key pivot in the Sri Lankan World Cup Campaign later this year. Hopefully, he remains fit as going by the current form, he is raring to go for more and that hunger (and of other players too) only will satiate the resurgence of the Sri Lankan Cricket.