Honours even in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka by Bill Ricquier

No country exemplifies the current tendency towards very different outcomes in home and away Test matches in a more extreme manner than Sri Lanka. This is most graphically demonstrated by their recent series results at home – 3 – 0 to Australia, and away – 0 – 3 to South Africa.

They seem almost invincible at home – almost, but South Africa did beat them in 2014 – while usually struggling overseas – usually , but they did beat England in , er, 2014. Anyway , they must surely have expected to beat Bangladesh when they visited the island nation in March and April 2017 for two Tests, three ODIs and two T20 internationals.

Well , that is certainly what Sri Lanka’s team manager , Asanka Gurusinha , said after the deciding T20I in Colombo, which Bangladesh won by 45 runs after the hosts slumped to 131 all out in eighteen overs. This was a fitting finale for retiring limited- overs skipper Masharafe Mortaza and contained yet another telling contribution from one of the world’s leading all-rounders, Shakib al Hasan, who made 38 in the middle overs and then opened the bowling and took three wickets. Sri Lanka had their moments – the indestructible Lasith Malinga took his first hat-trick in T20 internationals, but batting and fielding deficiencies let them down.

These were Gurushinha’s principal concerns as he told ESPN cricinfo that the expectation had been that Sri Lanka would emerge victorious in all three formats.

The real problem is that Bangladesh are steadily getting better and Sri Lanka – well, aren’t. When Bangladesh faced England in a two-Test series in October 2016 it was the first Test cricket they had played for fourteen months. They seemed to have missed it . Their results are getting better because – this does not require great analytical depth to work out – their best players are producing the goods
more frequently when it matters. Sri Lanka need to learn from that.

This did not happen at Fortress Galle , where the hosts are formidably hard to beat. In the first Test, their great hope, the diminutive but highly capable Kusal Mendis scored 194 after a troubled start ; he put on 196 for the fourth wicket with the assertive Asela Guneratne.

Bangladesh made 312 in response: they never really got going. In Sri Lanka’s second innings the gifted but frustrating opener , Upul Tharanga – given yet another chance because of Kaushal Silva’s failures in South Africa – made a century. With the weather in Galle always unpredictable it looked as though Rangana Herath might have delayed his declaration too long, and the ” target ” of 457 seemed not so much notional as downright illusory. In fact the great man did the job himself , taking six wickets and in the process overtaking Daniel Vettori to become Test cricket’s most prolific slow left arm bowler.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Bangladesh would have responded to a 259 run defeat by meekly subsiding in the rest of the series. Not this time. It was Sri Lanka who did the subsiding at the P Sera Stadium in Colombo.

They started off well enough , with the out of sorts Dinesh Chandimal making a composed hundred, in a total of 313. They were easily outshone by the visitors though : Bangladesh made 467, Shakib leading the way with 116. In Sri Lanka’s second innings , opener
Dinuth Karunaratne made a fine hundred on the fourth afternoon but the match really turned then with five wickets falling at the other end for 62 runs. Left arm seamer Mustafizur Rahman did most of the damage , well supported by Shakib.

A target of 191 still seemed challenging. Herath opened the bowling and Bangladesh were soon 22 for two. But their hugely influential opener , Tamim Iqbal , was positive from the start : his 82 off 125 balls was a genuine match-winning innings. The ever reliable captain, Mushfiqur Rahim , was there to see his team home to a famous four wicket win.

The one day series was a little disappointing. Bangladesh trounced the hosts in the first game at Dambulla. Tamim carried on where he had left off in the Test , making a blistering hundred , with Shakib contributing 72 to a total of 324 for rive. Sri Lanka could muster only 234 in reply.

The second game , also at Dambulla ( rather incredibly, captain Tharanga’s 200th ODI) was a washout though not before Mendis had scored his first ODI century.

Sri Lanka won the third game , at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo,by seventy runs. It was a convincing win in the sense that everybody seemed to contribute to the total of 280. Most of the top order batsmen got runs. Bangladesh struggled though Shakib made 54. Sri Lanka’s bowlers all contributed, Nuwan Kulasekara taking four for 37.

Then came the T20Is. Rather strangely – but perhaps sensibly – Mendis was omitted from the home squad. Sri Lanka stormed to victory in the first , at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. Their bowlers, Malinga to the fore , restricted Bangladesh to 155. Sri Lanka got there in the nineteenth over , with Kusal Perera making 77 off 53 balls. This was Perera’s first appearance for Sri Lanka since his remarkable performance at first wicket down in the opening Test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth. Perhaps Test cricket just isn’t his thing.

Then came the second T20I, and it was all square in all formats.

There can be no doubt as to who is most pleased by this result.

image: www.freeimages.co.uk

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