Consistency in Test Cricket is still a problem

Sri Lankan Cricket team just had a productive year in Test Cricket, mixed resulted year in ODIs and a fabulous year in T20Is in 2014 to go with a mixed bag in 2015 so far. They just seemed to be playing a new brand of Cricket which I thought would inject something positive for Sri Lanka Cricket in the future.

Yet I feel something is missing in them at the moment. They just lost to Pakistan by 10 wickets at Galle, one of their fortresses. This is their second defeat in three matches in the grounds beginning from their last defeat against South Africa in July 2014. Sri Lankans are still number 1 in T20I rankings and doing pretty good in ODIs although they need to learn and practice some of the tactics to be used in modern day Cricket and fine tune their play. But they have not become an International force in Test Cricket except for a handful of individual greats in the history of the game. That’s why I would like to pick Sri Lankan team’s performances in Test Cricket in to account on this article during the recent past.

As I said earlier they hinted something that Sri Lankan Cricket lacked during the years of evolving as a Test nation, an aggressive team effort, especially in England.

As a team they did not perform well to convert possible wins or draws, instead they achieved draws and losses. In January 2014 they let a Test slip away allowing Pakistan chasing a target of 302 inside 59 overs in Sharjah. In July 2014 they allowed a batting collapse to Dale Steyn on the 5th day to be bowled out against South Africa in Galle and in the next match they came within two wickets away of a famous win in Colombo SSC. Again in January 2015 couple of misfields and a batting collapse led to a heavy defeat against New Zealand in Wellington. Not to mention the today’s match against Pakistan at Galle, theoretically in a four day match as the first day wash out due to the rain. These five instances would have been positive outcomes, two possible draws and three possible wins, unless they made mistakes of their own.

Regarding the fact that these five instances came within last one and half years, they seem to frequently slip away matches, being in the box seat without dictating match situations. It showcases their inconsistency and lack of Test quality. Test Cricket is all about creating opportunities and grasping them. Better Test teams like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa regularly do that.

Three of them include batting collapses. It was to be seen in both innings in today’s concluded match also, from 226/5 to 300 all out in the first innings and 132/4 to 206 all out. Apart from openers in both innings our young batsmen didn’t try to stay in the wicket and bat well but threw away their wickets playing loose shots. This is not acceptable. Even if they stayed they did not show any intent to score. They should play solid and stay in the wicket for longer periods and score runs. They need to change their attitudes as soon as possible; otherwise Sri Lanka Cricket will run out of options. The other thing in the batting order is the lack of runs accumulated by the lower middle order and the lower order comparing to some of the best Test teams. These days some contribution is expected of the tail, even by staying there supporting a specialized batsman and make a partnership. Sri Lankan tail is loose, even is the lower middle order. Judging by their behavior, one thing is certain that what they lack is application, not technical flows.   

Bowling attack is very good as there is variety and quality in there, but sometimes lacks penetration. In today’s match and in Sharjah they bowled defensively. It is amazing how Rangana Herath could not exploit the fourth day Galle pitch and wrap up Pakistan’s tail. After Sarfaraz Ahmed’s early blitz on day four, things went from attacking to defensive to negative. From 96/5, Pakistan went on to score 417 all out, 321 runs has been scored for the last five wickets. Sri Lanka lacks attacking aggression in bowling. It is up to the Captain too, on providing attacking fields and making the bowler confident.

During the Pakistan’s match at Galle Sri Lankan team seemed off for some reason, even the great Kumar Sangakkara, Rangana Herath and Angelo Mathews. They were not at their best and that was obvious. Kumar Sangakkara seemed troubled by the pace and the turn and the bounce of the Pakistani spin bowlers or the sudden climatic changes from England to Sri Lanka. Rangana Herath did not put his body in to bowling as much as he had used to pivot in. Angelo Mathews seemed too lazy in batting and out of ideas in the field. The so called young batsmen were throwing their wickets away.

These are not good signs. For me it is not unavailability of resources, but lack of individual application, assessment, temperament and commitment. I miss a gritty innings from a batsman on a difficult pitch and scoring intent, a bowler bowling concentrating on bowling tight and troubling an opposition batsman with his full repertoire and anticipating a wicket by creating opportunities and simply attacking and aggressive Cricket by the Sri Lankan team to push for a win, rather than trying to play for a draw from the very beginning of the match. Every ball to be bowled, every shot to be played, every run to be scored, every catch to be taken and every run to be saved, they should not let opposition have an easy time out in the middle. It will take years to come down to that level, but till then Sri Lankan team should follow the signs they were indicating through the last year and half at least, a new brand of Test Cricket.

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