Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, MCG, 3rd day December 28, 2012

Sri Lanka flee from credibility

Third-heaviest defeat born out of a performance that resembled a collapsing circus tent

If there is a moment that captures Sri Lanka's first Boxing Day Test in 17 years, it is Dhammika Prasad fleeing from the ball as it approached him at fine leg on day two.

Michael Hussey had hooked a Shaminda Eranga bouncer and, having failed to pick up the ball, Prasad picked a direction to sprint in and chose poorly. That is perhaps unfair to Prasad, whose drive and desperation did him credit on day two, but Sri Lanka have done the opposite of what would have constituted a healthy showing at the MCG, and in doing so, they have hurtled beyond the merely disappointing and run aground on the farcical.

The sense of humour that Sri Lanka's fans have developed over the last two years of Test cricket may be the only quality that will see the team retain their support for the third Test.

Sri Lanka's experienced batsmen were called on by their captain to go big in Melbourne and the game plan on a good pitch was to bat first and spend enough time at the crease to bring Rangana Herath into the game on a wearing pitch. Instead, the batting in both innings bore all the stability of a slowly collapsing circus tent.

At the end of the first day's play, coach Graham Ford suggested the excitement of a Boxing Day Test and Sri Lanka's desperation to do well may have drawn the batting errors that comprised their capitulation. If that is the case, Sri Lanka's top order, who have close to 400 Tests between them, were not far different from an excited child who springs from bed on his Christmas morning, runs straight into a wall and spends the day in a coma. It is not an image a team perpetually struggling to achieve global recognition needs to portray in one of the most widely followed cricket matches of the year.

That a man of Kumar Sangakkara's quality had never played a Test in one of cricket's most iconic venues until he was 35 was considered a minor travesty by some, but after this loss - the third heaviest in the team's history - Sri Lanka's next generation will be fortunate to play a Boxing Day Test at all.

Day three's collapse was even more risible than the first innings effort. Inside two overs, Sri Lanka were 3 for 3 needing to bat for nearly three days to save the Test. They might have had little to gain at that stage but there was not even a hint of courage in their demise and at times batsmen seemed to be looking for the ball to which they could succumb. Sri Lanka's cricketers can be glad that even their most impassioned followers do not descend to the ugliness that sportsmen sometimes have to contend with elsewhere in the subcontinent.

On a pitch Mitchell Johnson made appear a road as he beat out an unruffled 92 not out, he then made appear a lake of fire, as he took 2 for 16 and ended the tour of Sri Lanka's best batsman, Sangakkara - whose innings was the only whimper of protest - striking Prasad painfully in the hand as well.

"We can't be happy at all with the way that we played today," Mahela Jayawardene said after the match. "We haven't played well from day one and we need to all take responsibility for that. Despite having talked about what needed to happen, we haven't put those things into action. Especially the batsmen need to take a lot of responsibility. We needed to fight and we didn't do that. Only Sanga was playing well and even he has now been injured."

The bumbling in the field may have been outshone by Sri Lanka's blinding ineptitude with the bat but an attack whose lack of penetration even Sri Lanka are aware of can hardly be blamed if the chances they do produce are fluffed. Herath created no less than four chances in 39 overs that went at 2.43, three of them clear-cut. Chanaka Welegedara had Shane Watson dropped off his bowling as well, and Watson and Michael Clarke shared four reprieves between them during their 194-run stand - five if you include a shy at the stumps that might have caught Watson short if it had been a direct hit.

Sri Lanka now face the task of mounting a face-saving performance in Sydney, with their morale devastated and their dressing room decimated by injury. They have fled from tenacity, resolve and credibility at the MCG. They cannot afford to flee from the hard truths that are their only avenue to a competitive final Test. A maiden win in Australia seems distant indeed.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • HNL on December 31, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    SL punched out and flattened in 3 days in the Boxing day test !! Certainly, they have no clue about how to play on pitches that have a bit of bounce, carry and lateral movement. Boycott's comment about India playing like Bangladesh in disguise certainly fits SL very well too. All subcontinental teams have this big drawback and isn't it time they do something to address this glaring weakness ?

  • gnanavelu on December 29, 2012, 9:41 GMT

    I can never control my laughter when sl fans claim that a team without sanga can win a test match at aus, with the contributions from 'youngsters'. Hahaha.

  • gnanavelu on December 29, 2012, 9:38 GMT

    @all those who blame mahela's captaincy,can you give me one another name(other than sanga) in your team who really has cricketing skills and talent to lead a team? All those who tell the names of so called angelo and herath must be joking in all possible means

  • Roger on December 29, 2012, 5:44 GMT

    Its about time Sri Lankan management and selectors take the blame for a shameful cricket team sent here to australia for 2012/2013 season, Pull your head out of the sand and forget about how much money you stand to make. There are so many players that make the grade only to be left out because the other senior players are allowed to play in the IPL. Shame on you. Roger.

  • Prashan on December 29, 2012, 3:56 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster, when touring places like England and Australia, injuries are likely for visitors. I am happy we lost really. For a cricket board which gives no value to test cricket never deserves to see the team winning in Australia. Also, for senior players who are desperate to play IPL, this is a very good lesson. Three teams Eng, SA and Australia who put high value on tests simply are on top and brilliant stuff. MJ is a way too negative captain as shown by him opting to abort the chase against Pakistan in July this year.

  • Nick on December 29, 2012, 3:07 GMT

    Sri Lankan cricket is a shambles right now - Angelo Matthews aside, all of their major contributors are over 30. There are lots of potential youngsters who could play a solid role - Angelo Matthews, Karunaratne, Chandimal, Randiv and Ajantha Mendis. If there are others, I have not seen them play or heard of them as yet. I cannot see how Mendis and Chandimal are not selected. Mendis in particular had a pretty amazing start to his test career and then got written off very quickly. Given the lack of quality pacemen, I think they should play him alongside Herath every time.

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2012, 3:02 GMT

    Sanga and Mahela cry at the fact that SL does not get enough chances to play test cricket. When they do they make a total mockery of the game. Very disappointing effort from SL. Its will be another 17 years before sl get a boxing day test in aus. SL does not deserve to tour AUS. They come here and make a joke out of SL cricket. Better stay in SL and play in spin friendly dry crumbling pitches and gloat over meaningless accomplishments. SL is a the laughing stock of all Western Cricket nations.

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2012, 1:11 GMT

    sri lanka was never a good test laying nation outside subcontinent..Their players struggle and this is why players like kumar sangakaara and mahela who averages near or over 50 can neer be compared anywhere close to the batting greats..And theirplaying too many matches in the subcontinent is not going to help them..This heavy defeat was expected...

  • Peter on December 29, 2012, 0:28 GMT

    @Slysta. Agree with you. This was a performance the Lankans would want to forget, but the real test for them & us as cricket followers is to see if they can bounce back & gain some fighting spirit. We all lose, all of us, it is how we bounce back is the true measure of character. The Lankans displayed fighting qualities in Hobart, you don't lose that overnight, so I am looking forward to a much improved performance in Sydney. MJ, the planets were aligned for him, he still produces world class displays, but it's the displays between these performances that create much worries. With such a closet of well credentialed pacemen in the wings, we look good in this area at least.

  • Don on December 28, 2012, 23:48 GMT

    Australians and Englishman might find it astonishing, but if Sri Lanka wins the one-day series that follows the Test matches, the tour will probably be hailed as success back in Sri Lanka. Most cricket fans there are limited-overs cricket fans, and the team's success is measured by performances in those formats. What they don't want to do is repeat this level of performance in the one-dayers and T20s.

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