ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Numbers Game

SL's seam attack, and NZ's wicketkeeper

Sri Lanka's seamers took 17 wickets at Headingley, their best haul in a Test outside Asia, while BJ Watling is proving to be a huge asset with the bat for New Zealand

S Rajesh

June 27, 2014

Comments: 9 | Text size: A | A

Dhammika Prasad became only the second Sri Lankan seamer, after Rumesh Ratnayake, to take a five-for in a Test in England © PA Photos

Sri Lanka's Headingley Test win was a historic one for several reasons: it gave them their first Test series win in England, and two of the batsmen who played key roles - Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene - have both been legendary figures and might never play another Test in England. However, along with the solid batting recovery in the second innings, a key aspect of their win was the role played by the pace attack. Nuwan Pradeep, Shaminda Eranga, Dhammika Prasad and Angelo Mathews together had a match haul of 17 for 474, compared to a match haul of 17 for 585 for England's more famed pace attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Jordan and Liam Plunkett. The difference in their figures was 111 runs; the margin of victory for Sri Lanka: 100 runs.

After the match, Alastair Cook, the England captain, said that the inability to get a bigger first-innings lead cost them. "We can't look past the fact that, in this game, we were 300 for 3, with a lead of 60, and we haven't been able to nail Sri Lanka down. We should have got more than 360. We needed 450, 500 on that wicket. That's what's cost us."

That England didn't score so many was because of Sri Lanka's seam attack: Eranga and Mathews took four wickets each in the first innings, including key middle-order ones, to restrict the deficit to 108. In this aspect alone, this Sri Lankan team was different from others that toured England in the past, or even from other Sri Lankan teams that toured outside the subcontinent. In years gone by, teams would have invariably piled up more than 450 in their first innings, and the onus would have been on Sri Lanka's batsmen to bat long enough to salvage a draw.

Seam bowling outside the subcontinent has always been a challenge for Sri Lanka. In ten previous Tests in England, they'd taken 57 wickets at an average of 61.78, and a strike rate of 103 balls per wicket; in just two Tests in this series, they took 29 wickets, at 36.34, and a strike rate which almost equalled the averaged in the previous ten. Prasad, who took 5 for 50 in England's second innings, became only the second Sri Lankan seamer, after Rumesh Ratnayake in 1991, to take a five-for in England. In ten Tests there between 1998 and 2011, there'd been only one four-wicket haul by a seamer - Chanaka Welegedara's 4 for 122; at Headingley alone, there were three Sri Lankan seamers who took four or more, which is also a first for them in a Test. The last time two Sri Lankan seam bowlers took four or more in an away Test was almost a decade ago, in Darwin in 2004, when Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga took five and four.

The seamers' match haul of 17 wickets is the highest for Sri Lanka in a Test outside Asia; the previous-best was 15 in Napier in 1995. The series haul of 29 is the third-best for them outside Asia, which is again a significant achievement given that this was only a two-Test series.

The series victory in England is in itself a momentous achievement, but the fact that their faster bowlers played such a significant role makes it even more important. More such performances will make them more competitive consistently when they tour, which can only be a good thing for them and for international cricket.

Sri Lankan seamers in England
Period Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI
1998-2011 10 57 61.78 103.1 0
2014 2 29 36.34 63.0 1
Most wickets taken by Sri Lankan seamers in a series outside Asia
Series Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI Result
in NZ, 1990-91 3 41 35.53 75.5 1 0-0
in Zimbabwe, 1999-2000 3 32 25.53 69.0 2 1-0
in England, 2014 2 29 36.34 63.0 1 1-0
in Aus, 1989-90 2 25 44.32 73.2 2 0-1
in England, 2002 3 23 58.43 97.1 0 0-2
in NZ, 1994-95 2 21 18.80 51.3 3 1-0
in Zimbabwe, 2004 2 21 22.09 43.9 1 2-0
in WI, 2007-08 2 21 28.19 49.7 1 1-1
in Zim, 1994-95 2 21 32.80 78.3 1 0-0
in Eng, 2011 3 21 57.19 85.3 0 0-1
Most wickets for Sri Lankan seamers in a Test outside Asia
Opposition Figures Result
v England, Headingley, 2014 17 for 474 Won by 100 runs
v NZ, Hapier, 1994-95 15 for 207 Won by 241 runs
v Australia, Darwin, 2004 14 for 255 Lost by 149 runs
v Zimbabwe, Harare, 1999-2000 14 for 282 Drawn
v NZ, Hamilton, 1990-91 14 for 504 Drawn
v Australia, Adelaide, 1995-96 14 for 513 Lost by 148 runs
v NZ, Wellington, 1990-91 14 for 539 Drawn

Watling's batting prowess

Since the beginning of 2012, New Zealand's most successful batsman has been Ross Taylor, with 1865 runs at 58.28. That isn't a surprise, but the batsman with the second-best average (with a 400-run cut-off) isn't Kane Williamson, or Brendon McCullum; it's BJ Watling, their wicketkeeper, with 1024 runs at an average of 44.52. In 27 innings during this period, he has scored three centuries and seven fifties, and has often shown the ability to bat long periods and make opposition bowlers toil for his wicket.

Most recently that facet was on display during his unbeaten 66 against West Indies in the second Test of the ongoing series in Port of Spain. New Zealand lost the Test, but Watling battled for 387 minutes, and faced 216 balls, striking just four fours. Earlier this year, against India in Wellington, he spent 510 minutes at the crease to make 124, in the process adding 352 with McCullum - who made a triple-hundred - to stave off what seemed like certain defeat. Last year, Watling defied South Africa's fast bowlers for 151 balls, scoring 42 on a spicy pitch in Cape Town. All of those displays, and a couple more, find a place among the slowest innings of 150 or more balls by a New Zealand wicketkeeper. Among the top 12 such innings, Watling's name comes up five times.

More importantly, Watling's recent performances have given more spine to New Zealand's lower order. When he first came into the New Zealand team, Watling played as a specialist batsman, but didn't achieve as much success, averaging only 21.50 from 14 innings despite making an unbeaten 60 on debut. However, in his first innings as wicketkeeper, Watling made an unbeaten 102, against Zimbabwe, and since then he has consistently been among the runs. In 25 innings as wicketkeeper, he averages an impressive 48.14, with three hundreds and seven fifties. Among wicketkeepers who've scored at least 1000 runs, only two - AB de Villiers and Andy Flower - have averaged more, though admittedly there are others who've averaged more than 40 over considerably longer periods.

Apart from the number of runs he has scored, though, there's a solidity to Watling's batting that's impressive. His strike rate is 42.46 in all Tests, which means he bats long periods, and has a technique that allows him to spend a long time at the crease. Among New Zealand's wicketkeepers, he is already the fourth-highest run-getter, and has the best average among those with 1000 or more runs. Add his superb wicketkeeping skills, and it's hardly a surprise that even McCullum has been impressed enough to call him his favourite cricketer.

BJ Watling's Test career
  Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Not as wicketkeeper 7 258 21.50 38.27 0/ 1
As wicketkeeper 17 1011 48.14 43.69 3/ 7
Career 24 1269 38.45 42.46 3/ 8
Since Jan 2012 18 1024 44.52 42.95 3/ 7
Best batting averages for wicketkeepers in Tests (Min 1000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
AB de Villiers 21 1823 56.96 6/ 7
Andy Flower 55 4404 53.70 12/ 23
BJ Watling 17 1011 48.14 3/ 7
Adam Gilchrist 96 5570 47.60 17/ 26
Les Ames 44 2387 43.40 8/ 7
Matt Prior 77 4059 41.00 7/ 28
New Zealand wicketkeepers with 1000-plus runs in Tests
Player Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
BJ Watling 17 1011 48.14 3/ 7
Brendon McCullum 52 2803 34.18 5/ 15
Adam Parore 67 2479 26.94 2/ 11
Ian Smith 63 1815 25.56 2/ 6
Ken Wadsworth 33 1010 21.48 0/ 5

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Comments: 9 
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Posted by Dummy4 on (June 29, 2014, 2:26 GMT)

Our fast bowlers were awesome, and keep in mind, Sri Lanka have never played a Test in Headingley before and most of them have NEVER played in England before. Eranga and Prasad's aggressive bowling was impressive!

We all know Root has a very big mouth and the people around the bat gave him plenty back but the best part was when Eranga (who never spoke back when Root opened his big mouth at him) came running in and kept launching bouncers onto Root's body!!! Root must be pretty bruised right now LOL

All in all, a terrific team effort with some stand-out individual performances. Sanga - fabulous as always! Mathews - seems to be coming of age. Eranga - best bowler throughout the Test series and fittingly got the last wicket to win the series for Sri Lanka. Mahela - good knocks at crucial times. Silva - rock solid. Chandimal - still gets out to stupid shots but wicket-keeping was outstanding. Except for Thirimanne (!) everyone chipped in. Thiri was MoS in the Asia Cup -- he WILL be back!

Posted by Jordan on (June 29, 2014, 1:21 GMT)

The development of Watling has been a big part of NZ's success. Winning test matches is important for growing up the rankings, but an underated and equally important skillset required is to have an ability to dig in and fight for your runs. Which in turn prevents losses (and gaining draws) to prevent sliding back down said rankings.

Watling (and to some extent Taylor removing his slog sweep) has shown a lot of other batsman in the NZ team that fighting for your wicket and grinding out runs is as inspiring as hitting a fast 100. (Namely McCullum) who for the first time (that i've seen) has shown a maturity that he hasn't had in the past.

Watlings growth has therefor not only helped his average, but has taught the NZ batsman how to dig in when required.

As well as Shane Bonds coaching towards Southee and Boult. Watlings success has been a massive reason for NZ's batting solidarity.

Live long and prosper, Mr Watling. We love you!

Posted by Ramzi on (June 28, 2014, 3:57 GMT)

@WPDDESILVA sumwhat i agree wit u and sumwhat i dnt bcz what SL Fast bowlers done better then english bowlers is ball better lenth bcz all da english bowlers quicker then SRI LANKA bowlers bt i agree wit that 5 mph extra pace done wonders wit that lenth bt again i cn argue dat mattews got 4 wickets wit 75 mph nother point ppl missin is batting of mattews past even v had good start fold away with middle order nd tail.

Posted by Ranil on (June 27, 2014, 22:28 GMT)

A very good article which shows Sri Lanka is emerging as a major force in all aspects of the game now. What impressed me most was not only the number of wickets our fast bowlers got but the way they plucked out them by their hostile & aggressive bowling giving the England their own medicine back. What a sight Eranga bouncing out Anderson a major protagonist of such.

Posted by Dummy4 on (June 27, 2014, 13:25 GMT)

For the sake of completeness, let's add Kumar Sangakkara as designated wicketkeeper:

41 matches, 81 inns, 4 no, 3117 runs, Hs 230, Avge 40.48, 100s - 7, 50s - 11

Posted by Deleepa on (June 27, 2014, 11:46 GMT)

I think the main difference now and then is "SPEED" - look at SL's past fast bowling attack Vaas, Kulasekara etc are medium paced and bowls consistently aound 78-80mph. If you take the attack at Leeds this summer you had Prasad /Eranga / Pradeep who bowls more than 85mph where you could surprise or beat the batsman on pace. I think the teams wo are succesful around the world have genuine fast bowlers who can bowl 85 -90mph consistently to trouble the batsman. I really don't see a future for Kulasekara in Tests - he is so gentle it's boring watching him bowl. What's the moto for fast bowling anyway - Bowl Fast, Bowl Staright, Bowl at the top of off stump - rem Mcgrath once said he just tries to bowl fast at the top of offstump and look what he did to batsman. Gentle pace never should lead an attack unless it's a guy like Angelo who bowls in the middle for variation.

Posted by Malcom on (June 27, 2014, 10:54 GMT)

A very good analysis! I think it's a typo on the second table - last column, rows 4 & 5: The Result for each is 0-1 and 0-2 instead of 1-0 and 2-0?
Ed. comment: Thanks for pointing that out. The error has been corrected.

Posted by Philip on (June 27, 2014, 9:09 GMT)

The introduction of Chaminda Vaas to the coaching staff has done wonders. There has been a search far and wide in the country over the past years for pace bowlers. It is only over the past few years that SL have been able to "harvest" quality bowlers. Having Suranga Lakmal in the background on adds competition for places and that is a very good thing. Imaging having Malinga fit for the tests?? Of course he cannot bowl long spells. The Indian pace attack is bound to do very well in England and it is going to be tough one for the hosts. SL have themselves to blame for compromising their tests for ODI/T20. Short sightedness and finance being a major factor, in addition to political intervention. A breath of fresh air for Sri Lanka to see their pacemen who were written off as sub standard county bowlers out gun the host in their own backyard. Enjoy your articles Mr Rajesh along with your analysis. Sorry not comment on Watling. Philip Gnana, Surrey

Posted by udendra on (June 27, 2014, 4:11 GMT)

It's a pity that SL doesn't get enough test matches abroad. If not we'll see some really good improved stats of their overseas performances.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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