” Look for the positives” : you know something has gone really badly when a commentator , or someone in authority says that you must focus on the positives. Sometimes there just aren’t any.
For quite a long time it seemed that Sri Lanka’ s apparently endless Southern Hemisphere excursion might be one of those situations. And then , with the T20 element of the package – first in South Africa and then in Australia – things turned around. A new hero emerged, an old one returned and, suddenly, there was something to write home about.
The tour to South Africa, involving three Tests and five ODIs as well as the three T20s, was always going to be a challenge.. The Tests started poorly and got worse. To be fair, the first day and a bit of the first Test, at Port Elizabeth, went reasonably well. Suranga Lakmal – the only Sri Lankan whose reputation was enhanced on the tour – bowled superbly on the first day . It was – as was to happen repeatedly – the batsmen who let the side down. . South Africa dominated in the second innings, building up a big lead thanks to a century from Stephen Cook and contributions all down the order. The hosts won by 206 runs and Sri Lanka never really recovered. The defeats got progressively heavier.
The batsmen simply found the potent South African pace attack too much to cope with. Only three batsmen – Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews in the first Test and Dinuth Karunaratne in the Third – passed fifty. There were simply not enough runs for Rangana Herath – SrinLanka’s most likely matchwinner – to play with.
Then came the T20 series. South Africa took the first game but Sri Lanka won the series with two outstanding run chases. Niroshan Dickwella made significant contributions in both , and in the last , the decider, there were vital contributions from Seekhuge Prasanna and Asela Gunaratne . It was Sri Lanka’s first silverware in South Africa.
But it was down to earth with a bump in the ODI s . Mathews had gone home, injured. Five-nil was the tally. When SrinLanka batted first they couldn’t score enough runs. When they bowled first, they couldn’t take enough wickets. It really was as simple as that.
Then came the T20 series in Australia. Still no Mathews – the infuriatingly inconsistent but highly experienced Upul Tharanga was in charge. In the first game at the MCG Sri Lanka chased down a challenging target of 169 despite the captain being dismissed in the first over. The principal architect of that victory was Gunaeratne , with a vibrant and intelligent half century , demonstrating that success in the shortest format need not be all about big hitting.
The best game was the second, at Kardinia Park in Geelong. This time Australia managed 173. This was the first international match to have been played at the ground , so no one was sure whether it was a good score or not. It looked adequate when Sri Lanka were forty for five after five overs , and still seemed so when Prasanna was out in the sixteenth over , making the score 119 for seven. But Gunaratne was still there. He finished with eighty four off forty six balls with six fours and five sixes , as Sri Lanka won off the last ball by two wickets.
It was a fantastic performance by Gunaratne but credit must also go to the best death bowlers in the business , Lasith Malinga – barely seen since the 2016 T20 World Cup – and Nuwan Kulasekara. The last few overs – balls even – of a T 20 contest are so crucial. The five wickets lost in the last two overs of Australia’s innings turned out to be more important than the five wickets lost in the first five overs of Sri Lanka’s.
Australia won the last game at the Adelaide Oval – bizarrely their first victory over Sri Lanka in a T20 in Australia – but that did not alter the fact of the series victory.
In the longer forms , though, there remains a lot of work to be done. The next major event is the Champions Trophy in England and Wales in June 2017. It would be good to think that, with their record in one – day cricket , Sri Lanka were contenders. But just at the moment, particularly bearing Mathews’ fitness in mind , that does not seem very likely.
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