In the harsh rigors of Test cricket, Sri Lanka’s campaign, with two overseas Test series triumphs in the hat having won a 1-off series in 1998 and 1-nil in 2014, did hit a wall. That is considering the bad timing of the 3-test itinerary by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in favour of the home team. That the lords of the game scheduled the first two tests in the bitter cold climes of Northern England at Leeds and Durham was a bitter pill to swallow for the Sri Lankans who had thrashed England the last time on tour in 2014.
The scheduling this time around in the two initial exchanges was clearly an ill consequence of the English authorities’ intentions of reversing fortunes; a factor perhaps best exemplified by one of their own faithful in former England fast bowler and BBC cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew who fawned on the do alls that such timing meant leaving subcontinent teams at the mercy of the host team in the English summer. Agnew saw it as an exercise that gave the hosts ‘their best chance of winning.’ Thus, 2016 turned out to being thrown at the deep end for a young Sri Lankan side that had lost some of its key 2014 stalwarts through retirement and injury.
For a side on the rebuilding curve in the wake of the retirements of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, not having in the starting line its trump card of 2014 Dhammika Prasad who had to limp off from a recurred leg injury without figuring in a single game was as dampening as the bitter cold at Leeds and Durham. The 88-run first test triumph at Leeds was a predictable outcome as a highly professional England spearheaded by the guile of James Anderson’s 10-wicket match haul romped home.
Skipper Angelo Mathews top scored with 34 in a first innings Sri Lankan total of 91 while newcomer Kusal Mendis atoned for a first innings duck with a brave 53 in a second innings score of 119. England’s 286 batting first proved to be good enough with Johnny Bairstow clubbing a ton to pull his side out of the woods of 5 for 53 slotted at No.7. The second Test at Lee Street, Durham did see Sri Lanka make a bold fight back from a hopeless position of 101 all out in the first essay by making 475 second time around in the face of a tall England first innings total of 498 for 9 declared. Sri Lanka put on the smiles on the back of a 207-ball 126 inclusive of 13 fours and a six by Vice Captain Dinesh Chandimal at No. 6. Englandy polished off the 80 led by an unbeaten 47 by Alastair Cook.
A better show was expected from the Sri Lankans in the Lords third test, but England again run feasted on the luck of the coin for a massive 416 recovering from 4 for 84 with middle order batsman Johnny Bairstow once again taking the honours with a savage unbeaten 167 after Cook had made 85 at the top. Sri Lanka replied with 288 with the openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva scoring half centuries. A pleasing factor was the return to the arena of Kusal Janith Perera with a 73-ball 42. The match rained off after England declaring on 233 for 7 leaving Sri Lanka batting just 24.2 overs for 78 for 1 with Karunaratne on 37 in a 362-run chase spanning just over a day.
Speedster Nuwan Pradeep was Sri Lanka’s most successful bowler in the series with 10 wickets at 31.60 followed by Rangana Herath’s 7 wickets at 43.28, 109 runs at 21.80. For a side on the border line of getting the right mix in a scenario of the post-Jayawardene, Sangakkara era, Sri Lanka can take heart of certain individual positives in looking to the future. While the duo of Karunaratne and Silva once again reasserted themselves as worthy openers given the home odds stacked heavily against the touring team, young Kusal Mendis certainly proved to be the batting find with a classy half ton at Leeds pitted against professionals of the caliber of the Ashes hardened Anderson which the 21-year old followed up with 26 and 35 at Durham. The Sri Lankan bowling attack, hampered by the injury sidelined Prasad and Chameera, , could take heart from the fact that Sri Lanka twice reduced the strong England batting line up to the bone that went on to prosper from late order rallies.
By Srian Obeyesekere
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-