Sri Lanka in England 2014 June 9, 2014

Sri Lanka out to settle grudges

Accustomed to dealing with disturbances, Sri Lanka's siege mentality and desire to win has grown stronger with each English antagonism

Who is Sri Lanka's greatest cricketing rival? There was once a clear winner but the now the answer lies in shifting sands. Australia had been cast as arch-villain in Sri Lanka's cricket adolescence and there are still many fans who savour wins over Australia most, if only for their enduring scarcity.

In recent years, matches against India have evoked the strongest emotions. Once the island's older brother, India has been re-imagined as a bully by some. But, at this present minute, neither India nor Australia are Sri Lanka's most coveted target. Following months of skirmishing in board rooms, on the field and in the media, the Tests against England have become a quest for justice.

Sri Lanka have the limited-overs series in the bag but, with the ODIs having built to a fever pitch, a victory at Lord's or Headingley would by some distance be the sweetest of the tour. For a side that does not often engage in on-field aggression, and whose tempers run steadier than most, this is about as heated as it gets.

Sri Lanka's quarrels with England are many. There was Sri Lanka's abstention as tensions ran high over the 'Big Three' plan for the ICC in Singapore in February, but of more immediate consequence to the players has been Paul Farbrace's move to England. The players have refused to blame Farbrace, who was a popular and effective coach in his short time in charge, but resentment still lingers at the timing of his departure.

"I understand the choice Farby made," Kumar Sangakkara had said ahead of the ODIs. "Whether it was fair of the ECB to put him in that situation when he was still with us is a different question. It wasn't pleasant."

There were hints of insider knowledge in England's mode of attack in the ODI series, particularly in the manner they targeted Sri Lanka's young batsmen, even if the team came through that scrape okay.

Sri Lanka are less secure in the Test arena and it is here Farbrace has most scope to confer an advantage. Just months ago, he was in meetings about the aspects of Sri Lanka's cricket they must aim to sharpen up. He has seen techniques and temperaments at an intimate distance. He knows which loose strings to tug on to make the whole fabric unravel.

The questions raised over Sachithra Senanayake's bowling action have also irked the side. When they learned of his being reported by the match officials, the team wondered again about the timing. Senanayake has played international cricket without issue for two years. These kinds of things happen in "certain parts of the world", captain Angelo Mathews said on the subject.

More accustomed to staving off homegrown disturbances, the team has long learned to thrive within a siege mentality. They are more desperate for success now than they were a week ago

Whether or not Senanayake's action is legal remains to be seen but there has almost certainly been more scrutiny and suspicion in England than he had previously had on any other tour. Mahela Jayawardene later revealed how the team had closed ranks around Senanayake, setting up a team dinner in his honour. "It was definitely a big motivating factor," he said.

The sides also remain at odds over Senanayake's Mankading of Jos Buttler at Edgbaston. Days later, some England players maintained Sri Lanka had played unsporting cricket, while Sri Lanka's players have shown no sympathy for Buttler, or remorse. More accustomed to staving off homegrown disturbances, the team has long learned to thrive within a siege mentality. They are more desperate for success now than they were a week ago.

But desire alone will not bring success when so much inexperience abounds. The likely openers have fewer than 20 Tests between them and not one pace bowler in the squad has more than 20 matches to his name. Dimuth Karunaratne will face a stern test of his technique, if he gets to play, while Shaminda Eranga has the opportunity to crystallise the promise his sharp seam bowling has so far suggested.

Mathews is also leading the Test side outside Asia for the first time. His handling of the limited-overs sides has been astute, but there have been damaging moments of conservatism in the long format. Mistakes are perhaps inevitable for a captain so young. A heartening scoreline in this series would see Mathews quell doubts and entrench himself fully as Sri Lanka's long-term leader.

He had been in fine rhythm with both bat and ball in the ODIs and his batting, in particular, may prove crucial if England get the green tracks they have reportedly requested, and the top order is laid low early. In Tests against Pakistan this year, Mathews had unveiled both an appetite for circumspect rebuilding and for large scores.

Sangakkara and Jayawardene, though, have been through it all before. They have been in sides that have triumphed in foreign conditions, and others that have been blanked. They know how the team can draw from collective frustration, and they know at which point such feelings become destructive.

The pair arrive now at their final opportunity to redress mediocre Test records in England. A Test series win here has eluded both men as well. They will hope to leave the country with more than just a litany of grievances.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Greatest_Game on June 12, 2014, 1:19 GMT

    @ Nutcutlet. RE your observations, I have had just the same problems as a SL supporter. Initially I thought pitching it up was the problem, but I now have no doubts that whatever the ball, snorter to yorker, its not the delivery. If you follow the cricinfo commentary of the SA vs Pak tests last year, Irfan was seen to overstep again & again without a no-ball called. In the same match, Philander got the call with his foot clearly behind the line. Some bowlers get a lot of leeway, & others don't even have to overstep.

  • RohanMarkJay on June 11, 2014, 19:52 GMT

    Best of Luck Sri Lanka. Hope you win the test series.

  • Rawanaa on June 11, 2014, 18:10 GMT

    England won 2 odis because of Farbrace factor... Thats how England began their new era... It is a gift from Srilanka & share it with Farbrace

  • Urajapakse on June 11, 2014, 17:10 GMT

    Yes, I do not agree with Andrew too. SL is a much better, civilized country than "settling their grudges on the field".

    No, definitely not SL, we have much better values than those who thought us cricket, FORTUNATELY.

  • Greatest_Game on June 11, 2014, 16:57 GMT

    As a Saffa some might think I'd like to see SL softened up before their series with SA. However, for all the reasons Andrew lays out in this well structured & written article, I'm hoping SL take the series.

    Any of the so-called "big 3" conceding a series to the "disenfranchised 7" makes mockery of the 'new order,' but the post Ashes scapegoating of Pietersen & continued public derision of him, Eng's players silence on that issue, Cook's response to Buttler's run-out, & Eng's recruitment of Fabrace mean a SL win will be welcomed by previously neutral fans. Eng's players, highly paid & supported by a massive backroom, have clearly disillusioned & polarized cricket followers, & few now remain neutral when they compete.

    SL cricketers, (like Pak's,) unpaid for periods & with little support, have maintained their dignity, & good sportsmanship, triumphed over adversity, & conquered all in the World T20. They have truly earned all the respect & support they deserve.

  • dummy4fb on June 11, 2014, 16:43 GMT

    @JW76. When?

    Cricket, like most sports has NEVER been about building bridges and healing rifts. The odd game/series here or there sure, but in general;, right since it began - it's been a conflict substitute played to win and "gamed" hard. 1920'and 1950's post war fiction romanticized the game a bit, and during those post war years there were sports of all kinds played to heal wartime wounds, but they were the exception, not the rule.

  • TheKeeper on June 11, 2014, 12:43 GMT

    I think Sri Lanka have a fair chance of winning this series 1-0. I seriously do. Like Nasser Hussain said, Sri Lanka play very "street smart" cricket and have an aptitude to make the right moves at the right time; reading game situations early and playing accordingly. I'm hoping for a Lankan win.

  • LALITHKURUWITA on June 11, 2014, 10:36 GMT

    Win the toss bat first and put on over 450 like Black Caps have done in the current test against WI. Otherwise there is no chance for SL to even make it a draw. The current bowling attack is not good enough to take 20 wickets. Most SL can do is drawn series. y prediction is 2 nil easy win to Poms.

  • cricfan68305417 on June 11, 2014, 9:49 GMT

    It would be simply fantastic if SL can win atleast 1 match. Lords would be a relatively easier pitch than Leeds, but it would still be pretty tough.A series win is probably going to be too much to ask, but let's take 1 test at a time. Kaushal, Dimuth, Sanga, Maiya, Thiri, Anga, Prasanna, Kule, Rangana, Eranga, Wele. Come on lads!

  • Lion_96 on June 11, 2014, 9:42 GMT

    I can remember as a kid, growing up in the 90s, we loved to win against Australia (primarily due to the controversies in the 1995/96 tour). We always enjoyed beating India (and hated losing) since they are our neighbours. Neigbours dont like losing to each other (just ask a Kiwi, who they hate to lose). There have been controversies with England in the past (did not get a full Test Tour untill 2002, 1999 match in Adelaide) and ofcourse we colonized by them for over two centuries. So add the fact(s), that Paul Farbrace switiched camps weeks before this tour, Senanayke called for throwing, Buttler being Buttlered and the lack of hand shakes at the end of the match...and well victories against England are going to taste alot sweeter. But as far as the Test Series is concerned, England are favourites. Sri Lanka have to play really well to win this series, but they will take alot of confidence from the ODIs and the T20.

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