Sri Lanka lost the Test series 2-0 against England, but what was cause for contentment in the visiting team’s camp was the steady progress they made as a team with each game in this long tour.
The Lord’s Test was a sellout and Sri Lanka lived up to expectations showing pluck against the Englishmen who were eyeing a series whitewash. After the draw in the third Test skipper Angelo Mathews had admitted it was a tough challenge for the batsmen. True, the Lord’s pitch offered everything to the batsmen and Sri Lanka did well to make a first innings score of 288. England’s strike bowler Jimmy Anderson was not so effective this time, but he worked on Sri Lanka’s weakness which is putting the bat at balls which are moving away. Anderson bowled most of his deliveries angled at the slips rather than trying to trap the batsmen leg before wicket. For the record, England batted a second time and made 233 for 7 setting Sri Lanka a victory target of 362 to win. The islanders made 78 for 1 before rain washed out play.
England too struggled batting first, but did well to post a healthy score of 416 with Jonny Bairstow getting his maiden century at Lord’s. It is credible to note that Bairstow finished in 18th position in the world batting rankings after starting this tour in 36th position. All this was possible because he had a series aggregate of 387 runs. He was also named Player of the Series.
It was heartening to see Sri Lanka’s openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva putting on a century opening stand. There were other valuable contributions with the bat with Mendis, Kusal Janith Perera and veteran spinner Rangana Herath chipping in with useful knocks. Like India’s former spinner Anil Kumble, Herath has worked on his batting and turned himself to be useful all-rounder, something which spinner Muralitharan failed to do during his long career.
Sri Lanka was pinned with a questionable tag, thanks to a vocal Sanath Jayasuriya, of having the world’s best bowling attack before they embarked on the tour to England. The Sri Lankans might not be quite right up there, but they showed they have the potential to have a challenging bowling attack when pace bowler Nuwan Pradeep proved unplayable in the England second innings. Pradeep is now dragged in to a row where the authorities in Colombo are challenging an umpire’s decision where a fair wicket-taking delivery of the bowler was no-balled. Pradeep took the wicket of Alex Hales, but the umpire signalled he had overstepped the crease. Replays however suggested otherwise thus denying the bowler another wicket. The speedster finished with 3 for 37 and was quite unfortunate not to finish with a five-wicket haul at Lord’s.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic country and the national team, on and off, has been represented by Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers. It was inspiring to see the national flag being hung on the Sri Lankan dressing room balcony in support of the players following this decision by the umpire to deny Pradeep a deserving wicket. In this context this writer thinks it’s apt to suggest that this nation must preserve the present national flag which is accepted by all communities. The present flag sends into oblivion the thoughts by a section of the society to have a separate flag which with the inscription of words which read ‘Sinha le’. Just a reminder of an old saying, ‘together we stand, divided we fall’.
At the time of writing Sri Lanka was preparing for its first one day international against Ireland, scheduled at Malahide in Dublin. Sri Lanka will also play five ODIs and a T20 international against the hosts later on in the tour. The Sri Lankans lick their lips when they hear the words one day cricket akin to their ears picking up the words rice and curry. But these players showed in no uncertain terms that they are aware that the Test version of the sport is the form of cricket that helps turn boys in to men. All signs of where Sri Lanka cricket is heading in this period of transition are good!