Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne, Day 2

Herath rages against inept display

Perhaps the perfect role model for Sri Lanka, Rangana Herath suffered a grave injustice by going wicketless on day two despite a performance that could have brought his side back into the match

Andrew Fernando in Melbourne

December 27, 2012

Comments: 13 | Text size: A | A

As the torment of day one morphed into day two's toil for Sri Lanka, the indiscipline that laid their batting low invaded their efforts in the field and worsened distress to despair.

Perhaps it was never fair to expect Sri Lanka to outplay Australia at home, and even less likely they would effect a series win given the paucity of their pace attack. But the most disheartening aspect of their MCG performance has not been their lack of muscle. They have instead been clobbered by their own dearth of resolve and an inability to mount a riposte at Australia's challenge.

Sri Lanka may have been significantly hampered by a probable series-ending injury to their leading fast bowler, Chanaka Welegedara, but the chances they missed in the field were a greater cause of grief, as defining as they have been to the scoreline, and as such, to Sri Lanka's hopeless plight. When they had Australia at 117 for 3, Sri Lanka could dream of beginning the second innings with a deficit on the sunnier side of 100, but instead they shelled chance after chance of surging back into the game.

Michael Clarke was the first to be reprieved by Tillakaratne Dilshan at short mid-on, before Kumar Sangakkara gave Shane Watson the first of his lives by spilling an edge. They were tough chances, and Sangakkara would not have expected to don the gloves at the MCG, but when your side has made such a paltry first innings total, failing to take such opportunities is to accept an invitation of pain.

Clarke danced down the track to Rangana Herath all morning, and when a stumping chance finally came, he was again let off. Luck may have spat on Sangakkara, as the ball deflected off Clarke's back leg to evade his grasp, but Sri Lanka can hardly be dismayed when fortune spurns them when they have so consistently spurned her. Clarke is so drenched in form he could exhale runs at present and given Sri Lanka allowed him a third life on a good pitch, perhaps they should be grateful he only made a century.

 
 
If Herath's much-praised colleagues had displayed even a fraction of his desire in this match, Sri Lanka might well be alive in it.
 

The Clarke chances, the dropped slip catch off Watson and another difficult chance off Michael Hussy, were all off Herath's bowling, and perhaps for the first time in his international career, the determination in his perpetual grimace gave way not to disappointment, but to anger. "I served up the wicket of the best batsman in the world this year and one of the world's best players of spin, twice," his expression screamed in the first session. "This is a first innings pitch. What more do you want me to do?"

That Herath ended the day without a scalp to his name is not only a severe injustice, it is an indictment on his teammates who have ill-supported their matchwinner. Herath is new to the praise that his misfiring colleagues have been adorned in for years, but if they had displayed even a fraction of his desire in this match, Sri Lanka might well be alive in it.

In many ways Herath is also the perfect role model for Sri Lanka. They may never have a domestic competition so burdened with treasure that they can dip into it at will and unearth a cricketer of immediate Test quality, as Australia have done with Jackson Bird, but there are means to maximising limited talent and Herath has achieved that through force of will. If he was playing at club level, Herath might take bagfuls of wickets but few will suspect he is capable of being one of the best bowlers in the world. If his refusal to be cowed by the opposition at the bowling crease does not make plain the avenue he has trod to acclaim, his tenacity in the field certainly outlines it.

Among Test cricketers, he is perhaps the most unlikely athlete, yet he drives himself to be safe in the field, and has, three times, pulled off the kind of unforgettable catches most cricketers might only achieve once in their career. His stellar one-handed grab to dismiss Hussey at long on bore strong parallels to an almost identical, but perhaps even more thrilling, effort against the same opposition in an ODI at the Gabba early this year, though his catch diving forward at the Premadasa in a Test against West Indies was of a completely different vein altogether. In all three catches, perhaps a quicker man would have covered the ground with more ease and pocketed their chances more comfortably. But faced with a daunting task, Herath exploited every ounce of ability available to him to achieve the desired result.

Sri Lanka may not have a Test side capable of dominating Australia from start to finish, but in Melbourne they have been as meek and as inept as they have been in any Test in recent years. They are hurtling towards an innings defeat, with any hope of a 2011 Durban repeat obliterated long ago. Unless they can dig up the nerve and the courage that have at times been at the core of Sri Lanka's cricket, their first Boxing Day Test in 17 years could end in three days.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (December 27, 2012, 23:03 GMT)

Herath was the shining light on a day of gloom but in Eranga SL has unearthed a treasure. His bowling towards the latter part of the day was fiery and controlled. He should be properly nurtured and guided. A stint with a county??

Posted by ChandraPrince on (December 27, 2012, 22:33 GMT)

Hay, watch out for Herat in the 2nd innings!

Posted by CricketChat on (December 27, 2012, 22:07 GMT)

Herath is at best a steady bowler without threatening. Mahela's bowling tactics were also puzzling. With such a low score to defend he should have tried something novel, like bowling with spinners both ends or on similar lines. SL's pace bowlers were really awful. None of the SL's bowlers looked like taking wkts. When Sangakkara, Dilshan and Mahel retire in the near future, SL's fortunes will nosedive in all formats. They are in the same boat as Ind who are also battling poor form and retirements simultaneously.

Posted by Chris_P on (December 27, 2012, 21:29 GMT)

Herath was never going to get a lot of wickets but give the guy credit. He bowled without any luck & was easily the best bowler on display on day 2.

Posted by maddy20 on (December 27, 2012, 20:16 GMT)

Well done winner of ICC's test player of the year, Cricketer of they year and people's schice award winner! This Sanga guy cracks me up really!

Posted by AndyZaltzmannsHair on (December 27, 2012, 20:01 GMT)

@iNaren: 1-1 Pak vs Aus in Eng 2010. With a team full of inexperienced kids. Oh and for the record, yes, they were seaming, swinging conditions.

Posted by iNaren on (December 27, 2012, 15:22 GMT)

@sohaibahmad do you think the ridiculous pak team will beat'em..????

Posted by SLMaster on (December 27, 2012, 14:59 GMT)

Like I said many years ago Hearath should have bowled along side Murali. SL could have better success along the years. I do not think Welegedera would help SL in Australia. He doesn't bowl bouncers or Yokers like Eranga did. Eranga with experience will be a better bowler. In these pitches bowlers have to bowl fast, and bouncers and yorkers. Apart from one Spinner and a medium pacer all others should bowl at 140k. Preparation should have been how SA played just a month ago.

Posted by NAD_SriLankanBoy on (December 27, 2012, 13:03 GMT)

I'll tell the SL team the best thing, throw away all the wickets tomorrow and end this test match in 3 days never mind the 2-0 series defeat. Have 8 days of fielding practice and come out on Sydney with Chandimal as the wicket keeper if P. Jayawardane is not fit and give atleast a better show there...Can have a shot at winning a test for the first time in AUS..

Posted by sohaibahmad on (December 27, 2012, 12:36 GMT)

The current India and SL even there best cannot beat a Australian state side.. so forget this series and think of NZ/Zimbabwe at home......

Posted by Webba84 on (December 27, 2012, 12:01 GMT)

Had Sri Lanka fielded as Australia fielded Herath would have 4 wickets, not none. Bowlers are often unfairly blamed for the failure of fielders. A good fielding side gives bowlers the confidence and figures that they deserve.

Posted by   on (December 27, 2012, 10:35 GMT)

It has indeed been illuminating to see Herath develop since Murali retired. He is a hardy warrier and a consistent and subtle artist. On the other hand he went wicketless in the first innings and his five wicket haul in Tasmania only occurred when Australia was going for quick runs in the second innings as he cleaned up the tail. Today he was good but still went for none for and his bowling average in the series would be 40 to 50 per wicket. Dilshan spun the ball more. It seems the commentators and Andrew Fernando have been intoxicated that he was leading Test wicket taker this year. Herath is the flavour of the month.

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