Where does India clearly hold the upper hand against Sri Lanka in Test cricket?
Yes, that was a trick question. The answer is fast-bowling.
You may wonder, you may laugh and you may sneer at me but there is no denying India currently has greater depth in her fast-bowling stocks than us.
India is not a traditional fast-bowling nation unlike her neighbour, Pakistan. In fact India have one of the worst fast bowling attacks in the world. Their fast bowlers, military medium at best, have been the source of ridicule for many experts, both proper and armchair alike.
However, our fast bowling is even worse than India.
Forget Malinga. He is a genuine strike bowler and he would have made our test bowling more potent but he retired and is not available for selection in the longest form of the game anymore. There is no point talking about him.
So who are we left with?
Shaminda Eranga, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Chanaka Welagedara, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dhammika Prasad and Thisara Perera.
Of the above pace bowlers who do you think could pick up 3-4 wickets per test (2 wickets per innings), let alone run through whole sides.
Only Chanaka Welagedara has taken a 5-fer. And that too only twice.
Kulasekara’s average is the best and it is a not-very-impressive 35.
Sri Lanka’s fast bowling severely lags behind other nations and I have stats to prove it. I have decided to leave out results before the 1996 World Cup because we only became a force after winning the world cup.
In terms of bowling average (38.29) we are ranked 9th out of the ten test teams. Considering Bangladesh only started playing tests in 2000 we are, in a way, the worst. Even Zimbabwe is ranked higher than us. In terms of wickets taken we are the 8th out of 10 teams*. Ditto fast bowling strike rate.
*Wickets taken depends on the number of matches played and therefore cannot be used as a reliable indicator.
If we now break down the stats for home and away matches:
A slight improvement in the rankings (7th) which goes to show our fast bowling is a bit more potent at home. However, an average of 33.43 with the top teams barring India enjoying a healthy lead against us is nothing to bleat home about (excuse the pun). India are worse than Zimbabwe but the difference is only marginal.
In terms of wickets taken and strike rate we are the 6th. Wickets taken do not count for much (see above) but our strike rate is better than India and West Indies which is something I am pleased about.
Now comes my (and presumably many Lankan fans’) bugbear – our fast bowling abroad. Prepare yourself to shudder at what’s coming up next.
We are ranked 9th in terms of average (43.58). Even Zimbabwe enjoys a healthy lead against us. India are comfortably in 5th place. So much so for India’s fast bowlers performing poorly abroad. They are actually better than New Zealand and West Indies. Remember, the time period I have chosen includes the playing careers of Ambrose and Walsh. It goes to show how much the Windies are in decline but that’s beside the point.
We are ranked 8th in terms of wickets taken and strike rate. Only Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are below us. Zimbabwe may well have beaten us provided they did not go through a period of self-isolation and their subsequent dearth of test cricket.
So there you are, a brief article on the strength of (or lack of?) our fast-bowling unit both at home and away.
Our fast bowlers are OK at home but still not good enough to win us matches. Our spinners win matches for us at home and our fast men provide a decent supporting role. Our fast-bowlers are a middling lot here and considering the tough conditions it is commendable.
It’s a totally different story abroad. Our fast-bowlers are reduced to nothing more than glorified bowling machines. We still expect our spinners to win us matches in conditions often tailor made for fast men. Our fast bowlers only bowl until the opposition is bundled out by our spinners (less likely) or until the opposition declare after having feasted on us (more likely). Only the fast bowling attack of Bangladesh is ranked lower.
The same story can be said of our fast bowling overall. Stats do not lie and it can be clearly seen only Bangladesh has a fast bowling unit less potent than us.
It is generally thought that bowlers, especially fast bowlers, win you test matches. Without them any team would struggle to hold their own in any form of cricket.
In addition to the wicket taking ability of fast bowlers there is the added effect of their presence on team morale. A team with a battery of good fast bowlers has a positive outcome on its batsmen and raises the team’s energy during fielding.
So what does our cricket team’s future look like? Very bleak I suppose. Our continued over-reliance on spinners looks likely to continue and there are no fast bowling gems waiting to be unearthed.
There is a lack of fast bowling talent coming through schools and the only medium pacers plying their trade in club cricket are past their sell by date or they are batsmen who can simply bowl a bit.
SLC are not helping matters either by encouraging tracks that take spin from day one.
There are no fast bowling academies or a fast bowling coach or a pool of budding fast bowlers waiting eagerly to be unleashed on batsmen.
There is no incentive to be a Sri Lankan fast bowler when conditions are tailor made for spinners. Fast bowlers have to work hard and are at high risk of injury.
It makes sense why no one wants to be the next Chaminda Vaas. You would be all alone without support and its bloody hard work.
Under the circumstances, it looks like our fast bowling, and in turn our overall team results will continue in their downward trajectory. We will never be a strong force in test cricket. A bleak future awaits us unless change is brought about by SLC at grassroot levels soon.