|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
The performance of Sri Lanka in Faisalabad was unusual, not just because it was a rare overseas win (there have only been 11 in two decades), but also because this was a drawn out four-innings dogfight
October 25, 2004
The performance of Sri Lanka in Faisalabad was unusual, not just because it was a rare overseas win (there have only been 11 in two decades), but also because this was a drawn out four-innings dogfight. Despite being in disarray just four overs into the match, with half the top order cursing their luck back or poor judgement in the dressing room, Sri Lanka clawed their way back and then overwhelmed a full-strength Pakistan team.
This is not usually Sri Lanka's way; their preferred style of winning is to pile up mountains of runs in their first innings and then slowly chip away at their enemy for the rest of the game, eventually winning with plenty to spare. But when they emerged for the second innings on day three they were 21 runs behind and feeling the heat. But they have become a stronger and more resilient team under Atapattu.
Had Shoaib Akhtar not strained millimetres over the crease early on, when Sanath Jayasuriya feathered a straightforward catch behind off a no ball, perhaps Sri Lanka might still have lost? But, in the end, Jayasuriya rode his good fortune to play a crucial match-winning knock - a powerful two-fingered salute to those who continue to grumble about his inconsistency and whisper about his growing years.
Indeed, Jayasuriya is clearly far from a spent force. While he may always be considered vulnerable on sporting seamer-friendly pitches, he is, to do this day, extremely dangerous on slowish, subcontinental strips. Comfortable against the fiery pace of Akhtar and the young trickery of Danish Kaneria, Jayasuriya looked anything but a tired old man on the verge of retirement.
Ashantha de Mel might feel that the time for fresh blood - he is rumoured to believe that the time has come for Jayasuriya to slip down into the middle order in the one-day team - but it is difficult to cast aside such an obvious match-winning potential. Look back over the past year and you'll see that, far from being a doddery liability, he has played some gems - against Australia in Kandy, back-to-back Asia Cuo hundreds, and now this 253 in Faisalabad.
Harsh observers may well disregard his 157 against Zimbabwe, but while statistics at times can be misleading, hiding the conditions and the strength of the opposition, it's difficult to argue he's not worth his place in the team when he averages 55.38 in the 10 Tests this year. Indeed, it has been a golden year, his best since that post-World Cup honeymoon way back in 2007.
But if the selectors are anxious to blood youngsters - and they appear desperate after their axing of Tillakaratne Dilshan, which was followed by de Mel's astonishing broadside at the team management's selfishness - they should perhaps take more time discussing the wicket-keeper's slot. Romesh Kaluwitharana's meek second innings dismissal was, I'm afraid, typical of a player that has consistently underachieved at the highest level.
Since becoming a star in the 1996 World Cup, more for his audaciousness than productivity, Kalu has struggled to justify his place with a career Test average of 26 after 48 matches. In the one-dayers his place has been taken by Kumar Sangakkara but in Tests, largely because the selectors are wary of unburdening Sangakkara and uncertain of the batting pedigree of some young contenders, he has been fortunate to remain their first choice.
But, like his counterpart Moin Khan, who Inzamam-ul-Haq has indicated will face the chop before Karachi, Kaluwitharana, now approaching his 35th birthday, must surely go after this tour. In an ideal world Sangakkara would take the gloves as his inclusion gives the team balance, but if not - an the statistics support the selects on this - then let's look elsewhere to the next generation of wicket-keepers.
Prasanna Jayawardene is a leading contender. But while he may scrape together the odd contribution, it seems highly improbable that he will be able to score consistently at the international. Instead, the selectors will have to look at Rashan Peiris, a 22-year-old with a decent first-class record, Upul Tharanga from NCC. Primal Kularatne from Galle has turned heads with his keeping, but his batting needs improvement. It's a difficult choice.
The choice between Rangana Herath and Upul Chandana for the Faisalabad game was also tricky. But the team management choose wisely. It would have perhaps been easier to play Chandana, the more established player who is considered a better batsman, but they plumped instead for Herath who bowled quite beautifully, flighting the ball invitingly and mixing up his deliveries cunningly.
The next Test, down in the hotbed of Karachi, will be another great Test. But, although Pakistan are impossible to predict, you sense that Sri Lanka might now have their number. To win 2-0 would be a tremendous result - a victory that will allow Atapattu to rest easy after de Mel's untimely outburst.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.