Sri Lanka equaled their second best winning streak in Tests, which is 5 Tests in a row, winning 2-0 against a spirited Zimbabwe team who were able to drag the both Tests in to the fifth day, having won 3-0 against Australia.
As I had stated in an earlier article, with the absence of a couple of key batsmen and almost all of the frontline pacers, this would have been an opportunity for evaluating the depth of Sri Lankan Cricket and in terms of that aspect I don’t think that was the case considering only two debutants were handed over Test caps and I think both of them had very valuable outings in terms of exposure and performances. Following are five things I would like to focus on from the series.
Herath the Ace
Having captained Sri Lanka, which he himself considered an honor and a privilege in the absence of Angelo Mathews, probably for the first and last time of his career, Rangana Herath was the ace of Sri Lankan bowling attack as many would have presumed, picking up the best Test bowling figures in Zimbabwe, on the way to 350 Test wickets becoming only the third Sri Lankan bowler to achieve the feat as well as becoming the first to 50 Test wickets in 2016.
Captaining the side and performing in his usual best, Herath lead from the front and he should be well commended for the way he handled the pressure and on field proceedings. Of late he has been doing things many would not have thought he would be capable of doing a couple of years ago, like adding assured late order runs and faster reflexes in the field as well as being fitter than we used to see him, having developed his game to a dependable level.
Yet again he unleashed a few spells with immaculate accuracy, wily variations of pace and flight and subtlety which were too much to handle for the Zimbabweans. The undoing of Zimbabwe batsmen was not only the turning delivery but the skidder as it was the case in Australia series. He would find his hands full in the next Text tour, across the border of Zimbabwe, to South Africa as he might come across alien conditions there.
Sri Lanka had questions over the opening partnership over the past year and half where Dimuth Karunarathne and Kaushal Silva, the openers during the period, struggled and failed to put together a substantial partnership. Apart from a partnership, both were seriously out of form and many questioned the move of persisting with them.
Kaushal continued from where he left off in the 3rd Test of the Australia series where he scored a match winning century and Dimuth went onto captain Sri Lanka A against West Indies A and was able to find form and he ended up earning the man of the series award of the Zimbabwe series. Now, both batsmen are in form having put together a century and a half century stand, must carry this form in to the South African series, which will be very challenging having seeing their new ball bowlers performing well in Australia.
There were 4 new faces in the squad and all were either bowling or all-rounder options and only two of them were given opportunities and Asela Gunaratne grabbed it with both hands scoring maiden Test fifty in the 1st Test and maiden Test century in the 2nd Test. He was the all-rounder in the team on paper, but, as I had initially stated and expected that he might get some assistance from Zimbabwe pitches, which did not happen, made him not penetrative enough to cause any threats to the batsmen.
Other debutant in Lahiru Kumara impressed with showcasing his strength and pace. Being a 19 year old with only a couple of first class matches to his name, he constantly clocked 140 kmph which is very impressive and the pace would increase from here as he gets older and stronger and he has a long career ahead of him. He frequently hurried and troubled the batsmen with pace and provided an attacking option, though the figures do not suggest his outing in the middle.
I expect that he would be included in the touring party to South Africa if frontline pacers did not recover intime. Though he bowled with pace, he had only pace as a weapon and swing or seam were not seen other than a handful of times as is the case with Dushmantha Chameera. Sri Lankans have exciting duo of fast bowlers in them but having seeing other fast bowlers around the world operating in Mitchell Starc, Dale Steyn, James Anderson or Kagiso Rabada, these two do not have swing at pace, at least yet, in their armory, which will provide a bigger threat.
Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva
As I have stated in this article, I expected both of them would score heavily during this series after impressive and match winning outing in the Australia series. I think Kusal Mendis failed miserably to his standards he had set during the said series. He lacked temperament and more often than not it was his over confidence that cost his wicket.
On the other hand Dhananjaya de Silva carried on his form and scored a fifty and a century in two matches displaying his potential and elegant stroke play rescuing Sri Lanka from 102-4 scoring his second test century.
Though Kusal Mendis was criticized for his lack of temperament I think both of them would be selected for the South Africa tour and I believe both have more significant roles to play in the next series.
Having seen Upul Tharanga and Asela Gunaratne scoring crucial centuries and half centuries in the two Tests and Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal being expected to return to the South Africa tour, one or both of those two could be sidelined. Though both of them scored runs in the series, they were seen scoring runs far from convincing manner a few times.
Though Kusal Perera coming at number 3 and scored his maiden Test century, I expect that he would have to bat at number 7 in the South Africa tour. In my opinion he does not have the right technique to be a Test number 3 and I think having seen attacking nature of him as an explosive limited overs batsman, he would become a very handy number 7 where he would provide quick runs down the order when needed and he was seen he has that game of defending his lower order partner and adding valuable runs in the 2nd Test.
Slowly but surely Sri Lankans are packing and building a batting unit, but after seeing Rangana Herath single handedly picking up almost 50% of the wickets during the series, I am worried of other wicket taking options in the bowling department. In this scenario Dilruwan Perera and Suranga Lakmal have to put their hands up and become more responsible. Both of them bowled well in patches during the series and I expect that Suranga will have a vital role to play and higher workload in South Africa.
One thing is sure that Sri Lanka is heading to the rainbow nation to meet an in form and rampant South Africa team in their home conditions which will definitely be very tough and they would have to play and fight hard in order to stay in the contention, which I am sure they will try their level best.