Sri Lanka prepared a bare, dry, slow turner and packed the team with six spin options. Get a score on the board and strangle the opponent with a heavy dose of spin was the script that Sri Lanka had plotted. They were so set in their one-dimensional plan that they did not even see the value in picking a single front-line fast bowler. Even their part-time spinners were going to be so effective that they played only three front line bowlers.
Australia on the other hand went into this match as if they were playing an England team with no spinners on a gloomy day at Durham. They dropped their number one spinner and opted for three front line fast bowlers. When they won the toss and GIFTED Sri Lanka the first use of a wicket that was only going to deteriorate even more, one couldn’t be faulted for wondering if the mental trauma of the Test-series whitewash had caused brain damage to Steve Smith. By the end of the day, not only had Australia prevailed, but they also put on a great example of fast bowling in subcontinent conditions.
Strac was at his lethal self. During the Test series he had proven that he is in a league of his own. Yet again he showed what great pace and control can do on any surface. James Faulkner showed why he is one of the best ODI fast bowlers around. He has achieved great success in the shorter formats by mastering the art of slower balls and cutters. He is a great exponent of both the cutter and the back of the hand (rolling of wrist) slower ball, with impeccable accuracy. Hazelwood too bowled a lot of off-cutters that grip the surface and took the pace off the ball, making it difficult for Sri Lanka’s natural stroke makers to flourish.
Sri Lankan management will argue that their approach was a forced strategy as opposed to a preferred option, due to injuries to Malinga, Chameera and Prasad. They will also argue that there is little value in playing fast bowlers on slow wickets. However, considering the number of experienced fast bowlers who are still available, the real truth in the absence of a front line fast bowler might have to do with the skill and talent, or the lack of it, that Sri Lanka produces. 29 year olds Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep have played enough cricket in these conditions. Nuwan Kulesekera at 34 is one of the most experienced fast bowlers in international cricket. 31 year old Mahroof is a veteran of over 100 ODI’s. Vishwa Fernando who recently made his Test debut is almost 25 and had been around long enough. There are at least couple of other fit fast bowlers who’ve recently played international and A team cricket.
Yet, Sri Lankan management not selecting a single front-line fast bowler for this match, justifiably so, is a clear indication of the lack of faith in their skill and ability to use subtle variations required to adopt to bowling in these conditions. Most of Sri Lanka’s current day fast bowlers seem to be one dimensional, in that they focus mainly on running in and bowling in the right areas and letting the wicket do the rest for them. Even fast bowling all-rounder Thisara Perera, one of the most experienced with over 100 ODI’s, struggles to use variations such as cutters and slower balls effectively and often compromises on line and length when attempting to bowl them. Such was the inability of Sri Lankan fast bowlers to bowl in these conditions that they only bowled 47 overs during the entire three Test series and took just four wickets.
Sri Lanka’s inability to produce fast bowlers with ability to bowl in these conditions have meant that their batsman almost always have to play on poor-quality wickets not conducive to their style of batting. This has been a major reason for Sri Lanka’s inability to post competitive totals in ODI cricket, especially at home, contributing to their decline in the format. Playing on such below-standard wickets not only deprives spectators of entertaining cricket, but also holds back the development of Sri Lanka’s future stars, especially fast bowlers.
Sri Lankan administrators should have a closer look at how Australian fast bowlers used these conditions to perfection. Sri Lanka might not produce a bowler as fast and furious as Starc, but there is no reason to not be able to produce medium fast bowlers as clever and skillful as Faulkner is.
Sri Lanka Cricket must take every possible action to ensure that domestic cricket is played on wickets that provide some assistance to fast bowlers and enhances their role and value in domestic cricket. At present, most first class teams only use their fast bowlers to get the ball old enough for the spinners. Most first class teams don't even require their fast bowlers to open the bowling in the second innings. Our fast bowlers can and will learn only if they are playing!
Perhaps the re-hiring of Chaminda Vass, arguably one of the greatest exponents of using variations in these conditions, is a step in the right direction!