Two remarkable features have separated Sri Lanka and England in the current Test series. England have been a far superior side when it comes to fielding while their lower order has bailed team out on more than one occasion.
Sri Lanka squandered an opportunity to square the series by winning the second Test at Pallekele, which was contested closely and stretched to the final day. The margin of victory was 57 runs at Pallekele and in the second Test England’s last wicket in both innings put together produced more than 100 runs. In the first innings it was Sam Curran who partnered James Anderson to add 61 runs while in the second essay it was Ben Foakes, who added 41 runs with Anderson.
It happened in Galle too. England were 103 for five in the first innings and yet ended up with a total of 342 with the last five wickets producing 239 runs.
To start with, England bat deep. For the current Test match at SSC, Anderson has been replaced by Stuart Broad and the SSC scoreboard suggests that he will be England’s number 11. The Sri Lankans will not be too keen to know that Broad’s career best score in Test cricket is 169. Add to that, he has also scored 12 half-centuries in Tests.
Leading up to the third Test, both Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha and stand-in captain Suranga Lakmal admitted that the England tail has hurt them and came up with measures that could help them address the issue.
“If you look at the second Test, I think we lost it in the first innings. When we took nine wickets – the last pair put on 60 and the way they made runs was disappointing,” Hathurusingha told the press.
“In the second innings there were times where we were in the game and we let them off the hook. We didn’t put enough pressure on the tail. In both Tests, we got the first five wickets for something around 150, but from thereon the game slipped away from us,” he added.
Sri Lanka’s options when the tail was wagging were poor. They should have learned from the mistakes by the time the second Test came around but didn’t. Leading up to the third Test, Suranga Lakmal gave some insight into what could have been done differently when the tail became a thorn in Sri Lanka’s flesh.
“We can’t be making spinning pitches and let their tail get runs. We have a plan to stop them. We gave the spinners a lot of overs at the tail in the previous games because the pitch suited them. But as a seam bowler, maybe I will come into the equation this time around,” opinioned Lakmal.
Since Richie Benaud, the Aussies have been reluctant to hand the Test captaincy to a bowler. Benaud captained the side some 60 years ago. The reason being that the Aussies seem to think that when bowlers captain the side, they either over bowl themselves or bring themselves on rarely. The latter happened to Lakmal at Pallekele.
The Sri Lankan skipper tried all within his means without bringing himself on. Some may argue that a bowler with more pace than Lakmal could have been handy. That is why it is a dangerous ploy to play a lone seamer in Test match cricket.
It’s time that the Sri Lankans start to treat the lower order with respect without taking the foot off the gas once they run through the top order.
The advent of T20 cricket has changed the game so much that you no longer find one dimensional players. Teams are all the time looking for two dimensional players. In Pallekele particularly, the bowlers were too relaxed once the lower order came into bat and as a result gave away too many loose balls. That let England off the hook.
The thinking seems to be that the tail will perish sooner or later trying to hit out, but this England series has proved that it doesn’t happen that way anymore.
Sri Lanka could learn a lesson or two from England as well at the conclusion of the series. Contributions from the tail count but after Niroshan Dickwella Sri Lanka’s players can contribute little with the bat.
Tom Moody during his tenure as Sri Lanka Head Coach was keen on the tail chipping in. During his training sessions those who got the chance to bat first were not the openers but numbers nine, ten and Jack.
One of the greatest Test matches during the Moody era was the Lord’s Test in 2006. Trailing by more than 350 runs, England enforced the follow on and were confident in claiming a big innings win. The first five wickets fell with 303 runs on the board but the tail was involved in a fine rescue act. The fifth wicket fell before tea on day four. The lower order saw through the next four sessions to earn a famous draw as Sri Lanka posted 537 for nine.