England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day June 21, 2014

Eranga leads Sri Lanka's survivors

For much of the second day Sri Lanka toiled without reward and the Test match was slipping away from them, but they refused to yield and their hard-working seamers have ensured they retain hope

The Sri Lankan community in Leeds is small and scattered. Only a smattering turned out at a sold-out Headingley on Saturday. It is partly because the Sri Lanka fans abroad are yet to develop a taste for days out at a Test, much like the hordes at home. Maybe there are more pragmatic reasons as well. This Sri Lanka team, with this bowling attack, will inevitably spend long, tortuous days in the field. Many times, there are modest rewards for the team, and their supporters.

On social media, Sri Lanka fans likened most of the day's play to watching plants grow, but that is exactly what the team is doing too. This is a green pace attack, on their first trip to England. There is a little bit about each bowler that suggests they could be a force in Test cricket in the future. But for now, Sri Lanka is tending shoots, hoping the opposition do not trample on them too heavily. The pitches at home are about as lively for seamers as Colombo morgue. In recent years, good fast bowlers have lined up at the hospital as well, with long-term, career-threatening injuries.

Another day of toil seemed to be firming up at Headingley, until finally, their luck turned. On the whole, Sri Lanka's attack might reflect they did not bowl to their potential, but for Shaminda Eranga, it had been a different kind of day altogether.

In the morning he had swung the ball the most, and had the batsmen missing so emphatically that their photographs should have been printed on milk cartons. Post-delivery stride, Eranga's hands would clutch at his head, almost by reflex.

Later in the day, the ball grew soft, but Eranga's effort remained undiminished. He had bowled 48 overs at Lord's - more than any other quick in the attack. In the first innings here, he has sent down more overs, than any bowler, from either team. He also has the best economy rate, at 2.33. Of the six boundaries he has conceded in the innings, four have come off edges. The other two were drives off the front foot. Swinging it away from the right handers, closing the lefties up, off the seam, Eranga begged for a wicket with his body language. His pitch map screamed out for it.

England had gunned Sri Lanka down with their wicked, varied arsenal on the opening day, but Eranga's method was working class to the core. It is not difficult to see why he endures through long, luckless spells better than most. He has done it that way all his life.

Growing up in a small fishing town on Sri Lanka's west coast, Eranga's father died when he was 10, thinning the family's already slim resources, to say nothing of the trauma. There were no high-flying cricket leagues for his school, no accredited coaches in the area. He had not even placed in the top five in the pace-bowling contest that earned him his big break.

When he won through to under-23 cricket, Eranga would board a bus in Chilaw before dawn, play a full day's cricket in Colombo, then return home at close to 11pm. When he played three-dayers, he sometimes repeated this gruelling routine thrice in a row. No easy way to chase a far-off dream. But then, Eranga barely had a choice.

Earlier this year, in the UAE, Eranga delivered 130.3 overs inside 21 days, went at 2.64, and averaged less than 30. Then, as at Headingley, his wickets did not so much bring him joy, as they gave him relief. Only when Ian Bell glanced a rare bad ball through to the keeper did Eranga allow himself a smile on Saturday. Taken in isolation, that wicket was a lucky dismissal. Maybe Eranga's smile was at how comical cricket can be sometimes.

At times in the day, other bowlers were wayward from the opposite end. There were no shelled catches off Eranga, but Sri Lanka missed three clear-cut chances and a difficult fourth. At least behind the stumps, Eranga had a kindred soul.

Dinesh Chandimal kept faultlessly through the day, with unflagging energy. At the end of almost every over, he would race through to give the bowler a pat on the back, and a few kind words. His attention spread to the fielders as well, as he clapped on at his post, chirping into the evening. In between, he pouched four good catches, including both of Eranga's scalps.

From modest beginnings himself, Chandimal has lost everything in a tsunami, then gone on to cricket acclaim at one of the nation's top schools, in his own, homespun style. As the Sri Lanka team gradually moves beyond its Colombo-centrism, perhaps more deserving men, who have done it tough, will play for their country. They know a day on their feet at Headingley is no great difficulty, in the grand scheme. It is the staying up, and staying hungry that matters.

The few Sri Lankans in the stands will have been lifted toward the close. But the Yorkshire crowd went home happy as well. They watched a local lad hit fifty. Another youngster scored a ton. For Sri Lanka, it was a day of grit. A day of honest work and belated reward. It was a day for their survivors.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ban on June 22, 2014, 9:23 GMT

    If England does not win this match , my prediction is this team under Cook will lose every series to Australia and probably India(Big Three). The umpires were shamelessly exploiting the on field- off field rule to the maximum benefit of the English team. The umpiring was a disgrace and sarcasm could be seen in the faces of the SL players when wrong decisions were given. The English players could recklessly play any shot off the books because they were confidant of the lopsided umpiring The SL players are at the mercy of the ICC unable to complain due to the inefficient and under educated SLC Cricket management bowing down to ECB for the hand outs. The DRS (Donkey Review System) favouring the influential side has been rejected by the Indian Cricket body. If umpires try to favour English in their matches against India that will be the last time they will stand for international games. Funny side is when Robson was given out after a big nick the commentator shouted he is walking away.Ha

  • Dummy4 on June 22, 2014, 8:26 GMT

    Eranga is good . But prasad has only pace, no swing or seam movement for him. he is useless bowler . bad selection by selectors.

  • chandra on June 22, 2014, 6:14 GMT

    It's heartwarming to see the Sri Lanka's tenacious effort. That's what great sports teams are made of─ and those intangibles matter─ overcoming adversity, keeping focus and being thoroughly disciplined will bring about success. I'm particularly happy about Eranga and Pradeep─ I think they are passionate and persisting…

  • Dummy4 on June 22, 2014, 5:59 GMT

    SL bowled their hearts out and they deserve those 5 wickets for the hard work they did. Irrespective of what the result may be of this match, I appreciate the attitude of SL team. Go ahead SL - Future is bright if we can find batting solutions for Sanga and Mahela and that too will also come if we keep working hard and maintaining this indomitable attitude

  • Prashan on June 22, 2014, 5:02 GMT

    Oh Eranga your persistence is awesome and I know your difficulties after you lost your father at the age of 10. You bowled at practice sessions in an empty stomach. Your persistence paid off and that is why you got a wicket off the first over in all 3 formats including a wicket off the first ball in test cricket when you got Shane Watson out at the SSC which is least bowler friendly.

  • Dummy4 on June 22, 2014, 3:57 GMT

    It looks like that SL would start the second innings with a deficit around at least 200. Then what? If what we have seen thus far in the two tests are something to go by, Kaushal Silva, Sanga and Mathews would put some resistance. It is a shame to see how awkward our tail enders are at the crease. It looks as if SL has regressed a decade or two backwards. Even village cricketers would feel ashamed of the way our 8,9 and 10 struggle. Where are our coaches? Give them this " life skill" for their survival. Also why cannot our " accomplished" batsmen sway away from the rising ball instead of jumping up and somehow put the bat to ball? I cannot imagine why we cannot replace Thirimanna, who is a certain wicket to Anderson within his first few overs. We would have gone for someone else at least for the second test, knwoing well what was in store for him. I am also totally disappointed with Mahela. His high reputation is being tarnished by his own way of batting. Sanga is the only hop

  • Nick on June 22, 2014, 1:53 GMT

    Commendable effort from the SL bowlers especially Eranga. When Lakmal is back for the home series v South Africa in July the attack will have an added potency. Good to see Chandimal in fine form with bat and behind the stumps. He has an infectious enthusiasm for the game that the other players respond to.Let's hope he bats higher in the second innings. As Dimuth Karunaratne says, if SL can dismiss England for under 400 we still have a game on our hands, although 150 runs is still a long way behind.

  • Dummy4 on June 22, 2014, 1:52 GMT

    Chandimal looks so solid as a test player. He should be given a long run at test cricket. He looks a far better player in tests than Thiri. He seems to be born for test cricket with those fluent drives through the covers. Throughout his 45 in the first innings, he barely played a false stroke. If Sanga didn't play that rash shot and opened the fluid gates, two of them could have taken SL to relative safety. But Chandi can play like that amidst all that is going around him, he is a seriously good test batsman in the making.

  • Manoj on June 21, 2014, 23:43 GMT

    Eranga is a great bowler, Chandimal is a tryer and Pradeep is a hard working bowler bring it on sri lanka.Time for good knocks from dimuth/silva/mahela/thiri to give england to chase 350

  • David on June 21, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    Andrew - Why no mention of the excellent piece of bowling by Mathews. If at all, your articles are always critical of Mathews . Are following the prevailing trend and life style in your country ??

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