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An attack that hunts in a pack has always alluded Sri Lanka, and on the evidence of their first innings performance at the P Sara, they will not produce one in the immediate future either
Andrew Fernando at the P Sara
November 26, 2012
In 2002, Wisden named Muttiah Muralitharan the greatest bowler of all time - ahead of Shane Warne, Sydney Barnes, Wasim Akram and even Malcolm Marshall. The second name on that list helped explain why Murali was valued so highly. Like Murali, Richard Hadlee felt his team's burden more heavily than most other great bowlers. Both men, and Murali in particular, some would say have their records demeaned by the notion that they would not have taken so many wickets had they played in a better attack. Wisden, instead, asserted that it was in spite of their team-mates' failures, not because of them, that they are champions.
It is an argument that few who saw Sri Lanka toil against New Zealand can effectively rebut. For so long on day two, Rangana Herath seemed the only bowler capable of taking a wicket - even those of batsmen as undaunting as Jeetan Patel or Tim Southee. His team-mates veered from innocuous to wayward in comparison, and at times, their indiscipline actively made Herath's task more difficult.
Shaminda Eranga appears to be in possession of swing, seam and pace - the raw materials that might see him become a successful international bowler - but if he is to rise above the mediocre achievements of so many Sri Lankan quicks before him, he cannot be as wild as he was in the first innings. He was lucky to be awarded his only wicket when Brendon McCullum inside edged a ball that was deemed to have trapped him lbw. Perhaps it is only fair to mention that he was equally unfortunate not to dismiss Ross Taylor on the first morning, but that should not sweep away the cold truth that he might have gone wicketless for almost 100 runs if not for an umpire's howler.
On the first day, he achieved good lift and occasional seam movement with some deliveries, but could not sustain his intensity, often even through one over. In addition to straying down the leg-side and bowling poor lengths, his pace would vary wildly from ball to ball - some in the mid-140s, others barely faster than 130kph. The New Zealand fast bowlers' inability to generate appreciable movement with their new ball confirmed there was not much to be had in the conditions, but they continued to threaten the batsmen regardless, bowling with the fire and accuracy of which Eranga's spells were bereft.
Suraj Randiv may have been relieved mid-week when he was named as the only other spinner in the squad to Australia after Sri Lanka's chief selector had insinuated his place was under threat, but three innings in a row now, his spin has been utterly outshone by Herath's. The extra bounce in the P Sara pitch should supplement his high delivery point and topspin, yet the batsmen were rarely troubled by him. His figures were spared by an uncharacteristically reticent New Zealand approach, but his spells were awash with deliveries that released the pressure Herath was forced to mount anew every over, at the other end. That he bowled only three maidens in 39 overs betray his indiscipline. In comparison 10 of Herath's 49 overs yielded nothing to the opposition; unsurprisingly, Herath was also Sri Lanka's most economical bowler in addition to being their most penetrative.
Nuwan Kulasekara, cannot hope to take many Test wickets when the conditions do not grant him swing. It is hard to find fault with his effort, or his lines and lengths, but being barrel-straight at just over 120kph, he would not have daunted good club sides at the P Sara on day two. That is not to say he is unfit for Tests because he is a decided asset when there is movement to be found, but perhaps the selectors can be more discerning when choosing him in the XI on tracks as flat as this one. He seemed content to stay with his Plan A too, when perhaps a few leg cutters and the like would not have gone amiss. Sri Lanka need better than a holding bowler from their new ball paceman, and for large periods in the first innings, the most Kulasekara could hope to achieve were a few cheap overs.
History, ancient and modern, teaches us that the most successful sides have attacks that hunt as a pack and flourish in the pressure their partners create. Sri Lanka have never possessed such an attack, and on present evidence, will not produce one in the immediate future. In the 15 years before his retirement Sri Lanka may have relied heavily on Murali for breakthroughs, but in addition to his inimitable class, they also had Chaminda Vaas' toiling cannily in support. Herath has done his best to take on Murali's mantle, but in this Test, so far, he has been poorly assisted and that is a failure a friendly Sri Lanka attack cannot long afford.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondentFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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