Hope in defeat, but Sri Lanka must act
When Bob Dylan penned the lyrics of Blowin' in the Wind, the west was approaching a season of social change. The "wind", it has been said since, represents that which is both ubiquitous and intangible, granting those qualities to the "answer" it carries. The solutions to social ills seemed plain, yet they appeared unattainable. There may not be so much riding on Sri Lanka's cricket, though the game has long united the island's people, and is proving an avenue for reconciliation after a 26-year civil war. But after the Sydney Test, the path to a brighter Test future seems clear. Only, in Sri Lanka, even the surest route to cricketing success is often waylaid by mismanagement and politics. Progress never comes easy. Sometimes not at all.
Sri Lanka have lost 3-0, yes, but in Sydney, at least there was spirit in patches, and moreover, three batting performances have created a buzz at home. Lahiru Thirimanne's 91 on the first day was crisp, measured and muscular. Russel Arnold has been barracking for Thirimanne for some time now, and Aravinda de Silva could hardly think more highly of him. He is still a limited batsman, but he did not settle for moving in Mahela Jayawardene's slipstream, and took the leadership of the innings upon himself instead. He batted to a plan, chose his moments with care, and was not outwitted until his demise, when nerves, perhaps, frayed his judgement.
Dimuth Karunaratne's 85 on day three was more about self expression than responsibility. Carefree, yet clinical, he missed few opportunities for scoring on the leg side, and punished width and poor length with abandon as well. Sri Lanka have seen enough in his game to grant him a sustained run in Tests, and his two half-centuries so far have suggested he can be the opener who wrests substantial momentum for his side in a single knock. Perhaps alone among Sri Lanka's younger group as well, he is as confident in his thoughts and demeanour as he is on the field.
Dinesh Chandimal's unbeaten 62 on the fourth morning was as selfless an innings as any he has played, and after a poor spell in 2012, he once again affirmed his class and showcased a robust technique against quality fast bowling. He has improved his stroke range too, and he now imparts more power into his strokes through timing, rather than the fierce bat speed with which he first emerged. Fans have been calling for his inclusion in the side for months now, and he has vindicated them.
But as bright as their promise is, their futures are cloudy. They will all likely play for Angelo Mathews now, whose own career is no longer embryonic, but whose batting still has a way to go. There has been no softness in Mathews' cricket to suggest captaincy will greatly detriment his performance, but there is no doubt that leadership will come with considerable strain, particularly as he attempts to navigate the murky waters of Sri Lanka's cricket administration. Men as experienced and intelligent as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara grew weary of locking horns with Sri Lanka Cricket all too quickly, and if Mathews is dodging as many obstacles as his predecessors did, he will find it difficult to foster an environment in which both he and his young charges can prosper.
And they have plenty of flaws to iron out between them. Mathews' struggle with concentration is writ upon his poor conversion rate and the umpteen wasteful dismissals that have followed promising starts. His inability to rotate the strike early in his innings has got his teammates in unnecessary binds too, as well as piled pressure on himself. Chandimal has been poor in Asian conditions, strangely, and could also do with a greater zest for ones and twos when boundaries are not forthcoming. Karunaratne was targeted with the full ball outside off stump in Australia, and edged to the keeper thrice in six innings. Thirimanne meanwhile, did not handle the moving ball well in England, and though he is an opener by reputation, he has been moved into the middle order, perhaps for that reason.
"Talent alone will not carry them forward," Jayawardene said of the young batsmen after the match. "They have to have much tougher thinking processes. You need to identify your weaknesses, know your game better and go out and see what the opposition is doing and build the innings and bat for longer. Guys like Thiri, Dimuth, Angelo and Chandi all have talent. That's why they are here. As long as they are willing to learn and work hard, they will make those big scores and they will be future of Sri lanka cricket. They themselves have to realize what they need to do and how they can become a complete player."
Frustratingly, is difficult to see all four batsmen playing in the Test side when the injured seniors return for the next series. SLC has already postponed a home series against South Africa, which would have presented a thorny, but worthwhile challenge for the fledgling group, and even if South Africa had been touring, the tough calls that give an eye to the future are unlikely to be made. It is fine for young players to show talent, but in Sri Lanka they do not arrive in Test quality, and if they are only drip-fed opportunities, their growth will be slow and stunted.
When Sam Cooke heard Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind, he was inspired to write a song of his own on the Civil Rights Movement, only with a more hopeful tone.
Oh there been times that I thought I couldn't last for long, But now I think I'm able to carry on. It's been a long time coming, But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.
There is reason for Sri Lanka to be hopeful despite the drubbing, but only if they let the lessons of Sydney wash over them. Young blood boiled at the SCG, and the men under 25 nipped at Australia with the spunk the old hands could not muster in Melbourne. It is time for change in Sri Lanka, but the powers that be must help ensure it is for the better.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here