It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Sri Lankan cricket, on paper, is in a pickle. Their captain Dinesh Chandimal, coach Chandika Hathurusingha and manager Asanka Gurusinha are out of the Test series against South Africa after pleading guilty to a Level Three ‘spirit of cricket offence’ for refusing to take the field in the St Lucia Test in the West Indies over a ball-tampering charge.
To make matters worse, the Sri Lankan Cricket board being is run by the government with the ICC insisting on fresh elections at the earliest to preserve the country’s ICC membership. Also, in the absence of relevant decision makers, the proposed Sri Lankan Premier League was suspended once again.
Let’s come back to the cricket field. South Africa are one of the strongest outfits in world cricket and along with a stellar batting and pace bowling line-up, have not one but two quality spinners in Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi. Plus veteran quick Dale Steyn was back to prove a point, which can never be good news for batsmen.
In the first innings of the first Test, things were going according to ‘script’, with a spirited Proteas attack reducing the hosts to 176-8. Then, opener Dimuth Karunaratne decided to take matters int his own hands as he hit a superlative 158 not out in the company of No10 and captain Suranga Lakmal (10) and No11 Lakshan Sandakan (25).
A total of 287 was decent and Sri Lanka’s bowlers turned into a decisive one as they shot South Africa out for 126. Off-spinner Dilruwan Perera took four and captain Lakmal three. Game, set and match right there?
Sri Lanka are now so far ahead on a pitch giving enough help to spinners that only rain can seem to deny them. While this effort on its own might come as a surprise, Sri Lanka’s performances in Test cricket since September show this is just part of a trend.
Following a 3-0 defeat to India at home in July, the Sri Lankans scripted remarkable turnaround. They defeated Pakistan – albeit one without the legendary Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan – 2-0 in the UAE and put a good fight in India as lost the three-match series 1-0. A 1-0 Test win in Bangladesh – which is no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination – followed before the Sri Lankans were challenged in the West Indies on greentops. They lost the first Test, saw their captain Dinesh Chandimal suspended for the third after being charged with ball tampering in the second, and then against all odds on a green minefield in the Bridgetown day-night Test and under the untested leadership of seamer Suranga Lakmal, won and squared the series.
The unwavering left-arm spin of veteran Rangana Herath is beginning to lose its edge. Batting mainstay Angelo Mathews still misses a number of matches due to a dodgy hamstring. But on the field and in the toughest possible arena in the game called Test cricket, Sri Lanka are not only surviving but excelling.
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