After becoming the first Indian skipper to lead an Indian side to a Test series victory in Australia, Virat Kohli appreciated his pace attack for several minutes in the post-match press conference and went on to say this, “important to take care of these guys (Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar)…..even more so finding three more guys who can bowl as fast and as relentless as these guys, which we already are in the process of identifying and make them ready, make them understand the importance of Test cricket…”.
Sri Lanka have travelled to the land Down Under for a 2-Test..
Sri Lanka always justified their defeats overseas, particularly in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia (SENA), by saying that other Asians too have a miserable record in SENA, so why can’t we? This will no longer be an excuse in future.
It is sometimes a torture for the eyes when Sri Lanka plays Test cricket in SENA. When the lions tour, there is always the excitement and hope at the beginning of the series, excitement of seeing our countrymen trying to conquer those conditions and the hope of Sri Lanka winning one, just one game. But when the tour progresses, more often than not, the lions become cubs, excitement dies, so do our hopes. The only thing that remains is the temptation to gouge our eyes out, so that we may not witness those horrible events again.
Sri Lanka have played 63 test matches in SENA so far, yet you might be able to recall all the victories in those conditions: Vaas the All-Rounder: 1995, Flying Jayasuriya Cuts for Six: 1998, That tour to England: 2006, Chamara Silva after a pair: 2006, Thank You Kepler Wessels: 2011 and Mathews and the tail: 2014. As much as we do love to reminisce those flashbacks, it is a sad record after all. Sri Lanka have only 6 wins at a 0.14 win/loss ratio compared to SENA countries’ 20/61 wins at 0.81 W/L in Sri Lanka. Most of the time, Sri Lanka have been thrashed by huge margins.
Sri Lanka’s best products in test history have visited to SENA and have returned empty-handed too. From time to time, Sri Lanka have possessed a batting unit blessed with the combinations of Aravinda de Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Thilan Samaraweera and co, but we are yet to conquer Australia, yet to win a series in South Africa. We had spin wizards in the form of Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath to assist those batting geniuses, but Sri Lanka have the worst record in SENA, compared to their Asian counterparts.
You have to take 20 wickets in a test match to win it, there’s no other way around it. In SENA conditions, it is not a secret that quality fast bowling is the key weapon. Sri Lanka’s seamers’ bowling average & strike rates are the worst out of the top eight ranked teams in these conditions after the dawn of this millennium and it reflects in the results. They top the column of ‘runs per over’ too. Has Sri Lanka had the luxury of a successful fully-fledged pace attack in those conditions even after becoming an established test team?
Sri Lanka’s fast bowlers are a cursed breed. They have to bowl all the summer on flat/ spin-assisted wickets in domestic games and to battle with the hot burning sun. Sometimes they get to pluck a wicket or two if the spinners are not opening the bowling. When the home test season starts, they sit on the bench with water bottles and when they tour overseas, they lack experience and confidence (and their hamstrings become brittle). Even after an exceptional display of fast bowling in West Indies, Sri Lanka’s seamers (except Suranga Lakaml) had to wait six months to play another test match while five home test matches have been played.
Sri Lankan batsmen have performed a tad better than the bowlers in these conditions. The top seven batsmen have outperformed Pakistan & West Indies batsmen in terms of batting average in SENA conditions after 2000. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka don’t get to play in these conditions more often. Sri Lanka is the country to visit SENA for the least number of matches (42) compared to other top ranked countries [India (62), West Indies (55), Pakistan (50)]. To bridge this gap and to provide more experience to players in unknown conditions, the best way is to arrange more ‘A’ team & under 19 tours. An exceptional man of the tournament performance in Sri Lanka by Ben Foakes in his debut series is a great example as he had played here in Sri Lanka three times before 2018 (in 2011 Youth tests, 2014 and 2017 England Lions tours)
Now Sri Lanka are up against another difficult season of SENA tours. The New Zealand tour has already finished in disappointment. Half of the Aussie tour too is done, in three days too! High-flying South Africa await us. One good performance from a batsman combined with an exceptional display from fast bowling quartet could be the game changer Sri Lanka are desperately searching for.