November 22, 2009

Sri Lanka took their foot off the gas

There was a noticeable lack of intent from the visitors, especially on the third evening and fourth morning

The first Test started with three good days of hard-fought cricket before sadly fizzling out. This was primarily because the pitch was so docile, but I also think Sri Lanka could have shown greater positive intent. They showed they could compete, took the fight to India and displayed a lot of character, but they will travel to Kanpur ruing a missed opportunity.

The lack of intent was most pronounced on the third evening and fourth morning. Sri Lanka were in the driving seat after Mahela Jayawardene's magnificent hundred, but hesitated at a time when they should have been turning the screws. By the end of day three they should have been 200 runs ahead, and on the fourth morning they could have pushed on faster.

It was not easy to score quickly once India decided to bowl negatively - Amit Mishra bowling around the wicket into the rough outside leg stump - but Sri Lanka could have picked up more runs. Mahela was understandably tired and needed to stay there to hold together the innings, but Prasanna Jayawardene could have taken some risks and been more positive. Instead, they went into their shells and lost momentum.

I thought both captains were a little too defensive and reactive through much of the Test match. Batsmen dictated terms and were allowed to pick up singles too easily. It felt like the fielding side were not sticking to specific plans and were being dictated to by the batsmen. Of course, on such a easy batting surface, that can often be the case.

Sri Lanka were better on the fifth day, though, bowling better lines and employing well-though-out fields. Angelo Mathews bowled a terrific spell in the morning, keeping a tight line on one side of the wicket, and Rangana Herath was encouraging the batsmen to drive, and therefore looking much more likely to take wickets, albeit at the cost of a few boundaries.

There was no doubt that Murali lacked his normal energy and had a poor game by his own exceptional standards. He looked like he was trying too hard, experimenting with lots of variations and therefore bowling an unusual number of loose deliveries. At his best, Murali is more patient, suffocating batsmen and using his variations sparingly. Knowing him, he won't look back very happily on his 63 overs in Ahmedabad, but Sri Lanka shouldn't be panicking that he had an average game. Sure, he looks a little low in confidence right now and he might be past his peak as a great bowler, but he remains Sri Lanka's main go-to bowler and still has a huge amount to offer.

The Kanpur Test-match pitch offered plenty of spin in last year's India v South Africa Test, so it might be the perfect chance for Murali to regain his best form after his recent injuries. He just needs a few things to go his way, a bit of good fortune, and he will be a big threat again. Sri Lanka certainly needs his vast experience in the next two games.

The big decision will be who should be Murali's spin partner in Kanpur. At the start of the first Test I agreed with the decision to go with Rangana Herath on the basis of form. But with the benefit of hindsight, I think Sri Lanka did miss Ajantha Mendis. History tells us that the most successful spinners in India have been the quickish ones - the likes of Anil Kumble, Derek Underwood and Richie Benaud. Mendis is similar in style and may be the better bet for the conditions.

Sri Lanka will also need to choose a replacement for Dammika Prasad. He bowled with a lot of heart and showed great attitude right through the match, even if he was a little inconsistent with his direction. Unfortunately, though, he has a grade-one hamstring tear - sustained while trying to stop a ball football-style in the deep, a dangerous technique used by a few of the Sri Lanka outfielders - which means he is very doubtful for Kanpur.

I think Sri Lanka did miss Ajantha Mendis. History tells us that the most successful spinners in India have been the quickish ones - the likes of Anil Kumble, Derek Underwood and Richie Benaud

My gut feeling is that the team management will opt for Dilhara Fernando, who was rushed to India this week as a replacement for Thilan Thushara, ahead of Nuwan Kulasekara. Nuwan bowled really well in Sri Lanka recently but on these Indian pitches I think Sanga will want the extra pace of Fernando, who I understand has been bowling with great rhythm recently. Angelo will have to perform the Kulasekara role as a steady stock bowler.

There were a couple of key moments in the game that Sri Lanka might look back with regret at now. Their bowlers lost focus after the fall of early wickets. The pace bowlers bowled a really good length early on to make inroads, but then bowled a little too full as they went for the kill, allowing Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh to consolidate.

In addition, Dilshan and Sanga will have been very disappointed to have thrown their wickets away like they did. In the end, they were lucky that Mahela and Thilan Samaraweera were able to keep them on track.

Finally, after Prasanna's long innings he was clearly drained, and perhaps with hindsight Sanga should have taken the gloves for the start of the innings. He may have grabbed the early chance off Sehwag.

Sri Lanka will be delighted with the batting of Prasanna. He looked slightly nervous at the start of his innings but Mahela calmed him down and helped him along. Prasanna sometimes needs a person like Mahela at the other end because while he is a good bat he does have a tendency to panic, which is betrayed by the fact that he tries to hit loose balls too hard. However, this century will give him confidence.

On balance, neither team will carry forward a psychological advantage. The positive for Sri Lanka is that they know they can compete and do have a chance of winning their first series in India. However, they have to start from scratch, having missed a chance in Ahmedabad. Getting their minds right and energy levels up will not be easy. It will be a real test for Sanga's motivational skills.

Russel Arnold played 44 Tests and 180 ODIs for Sri Lanka between 1997 and 2007

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Alexk400 on November 24, 2009, 2:53 GMT

    If i am dhoni , i will go with sreesanth , sharma , zaheer and bhajji and drop misra and go on attack.

    if i am sangakarra , i will go with three spinners and weledegara and mathews or dilhara if srilanaka think they can bat with 5. you need to pick two out of those 3.

    Srilanka chances are if they take out sehwag early , it will drop confidence of following indian batsman. Sehwag fast 40 will jumpstart indian inning. sehwag 100 score will put india above 500.

    I am sehwag fan so i can't tell you on that. Hahaha.

    Srilanka can beat india , sangakkara has to get Mahela advice everytime. Kinda proxy captaincy until he got all knacks about captaincy.

    With 3 spinners and getting sehwag early can put srilanka on top. If sehwag scores big india will win.

  • H-Selwan on November 23, 2009, 14:50 GMT

    the only way sri lanka are going to win is by picking 5 specialist bowlers ,there is no way that murali will be dropped even though hes in worst form of hes life to bring mendis,, so mathews will have to be dropped and mendis will fill in that spot , dlhara will take dammika prasads place ,, that is also a gamble but sri lanka need to take 20 wickets to win so they need 5 specialist and not 4 and a half in mathews , , , angelo mathews failed to score on that pitch and looks very anxious and nervous when he bats , hes still very young and is better suited for the shorter format for the moment, sri lanka need to bowl first and get them out for less than 450 runs,, then bat as long as possible for abt 2 days, with a lead of about 200 ,,and then 0n 3rd day if the pitch will take turn the spinners will play big part , i hope they will take 5 specialist bowlers and not 4 and a half,, that is the only way sri lanka will win a test match overseas barring bangla and zim were murali

  • LalTM on November 23, 2009, 12:34 GMT

    Russel , you have been very honest with what you have to say and at last I am delighted to listen to a sensible commentator from Sri Lanka. I have to say that Sangakkara has still not shown his captaincy skills. I do not know whether he will ever be a good captain. It was true that the track at Ahemedabad was flat and lifeless but that is not the only reason why Sri Lanka could not win the match. I think Sanga should take major part of the blame for his ultra defensive approach. His bowling changes were hard to understand. I felt that he did change bowlers without any strategy or a plan but expecting things to happen in his favour. I hope Sanga will learn from his mistakes and put up a better show at Kanpur.

  • beindian on November 23, 2009, 10:55 GMT

    the dead pitch really kills the test match and match viewers...

  • shameerpvt on November 23, 2009, 10:40 GMT

    I am wondering what is happening to the all rounders of the Lankan team. Thilan came as bowler to the team, Paravithana can bowl & should give more overs to Dilshan who have showed partnership breaking skills through out his career. Why Sangakkara is ignoring these. For me Thilan should be used as a full-time bowler for test matches & open a another opportunity for a specialist to come in to the team & when you see the records of Thilan, anyone would agree to me on that. Also would clearly say that, English knowledge of Sri lankans are far better & no one should call them weak. If you compare between average Sri Lankans & average Indians, you could easily understand the English of Sri Lankans as the accent is more open & not ultra-unique.

  • Philip_Gnana on November 23, 2009, 10:09 GMT

    It is shame that we do not have Spin Bowling all rounders anymore. Sanath was a class act. Dilshan cannot fall in to that group. Looks like we have two fast bowling allrounders in Angelo Mathews & Maharoof. Playing three spinners may not be a bad idea. They we will need to drop a fast bowler or PJ with Sanga taking on the gloves. Ajantha Mendis has to partner Murali. Mendis has this bunny effect on Rahul & Yuvraj. Malinga is ofcourse still not fit to play the extended form of the game. It is right that the selectors have not gambled on him. The last tour to India had two walking wounded in Murali & Sanath - this was a tragedy and made a mockery of selection process. India will have to look at their bowling department. Should the SL batsmen not take the bouncers and ignore them without being drawn in then it is going to be a serious situation for India. India have got good spinning options in Sewag/Satchin and Yuvraj - batting all rounders. SL dont have this spinning options.

  • crickstats on November 23, 2009, 9:56 GMT

    I think it was Dhoni who switched to negative mode too soon, He gave ample singles to to Mahela, I think knowing how Mahela normally bats, he will take them , I think by giving Mahela a lot of time in the middle, it will work against India in the series, I wouldn't be surprised if he makes the most and bat India out of the series, then Dhoni will rue this Ahamedabad test decision. Sri Lanka's most reliable test batters are Mahela , Samaraweera and Sangakkara. The problem for India is only one has fired. Watch out INDIA!!!

  • chandau on November 23, 2009, 9:55 GMT

    Russ ur good, do try to relax it will start flowing. try to say less always helps on TV :) Our problem is with Sanga. He talks too much and puts pressure on the team. When it comes to walk the talk he fails. Explain to me this: Dilly was playing a blinder at 85%, Sanga was batting at 35%. The slow rate affected Dilly and he got out. Is this the same guy ranked #1 or 2 in batters list? Then we batted too slow. shud have scored at 4 per over easily. but the worst case was when we had 2 deep fielders on either side in the short session after lunch. We SHUD have had 5 round the bat for 15 overs! It was pathetic field setting. one would have thought india were chasing 325 to win, so appalling the fields set. Oh i miss marvan. If we continue in this vein there will be more misery and defeats. I think sanga is like Liverpool coach benitez. too stubborn to learn from mistakes and too vengeful to use all the players available. look what has happened to liverFooL. I fear same for us. Chandana

  • unspiritual on November 23, 2009, 9:07 GMT

    Jeremy Coney is from New Zealand. Epic fail ashabir.

  • ashabir on November 23, 2009, 7:59 GMT

    Arnold is a recent addition to the commentators' ranks, and has aquitted himself quite creditably. Considering he has left the ranks of SL players only recently, he may be guilty, slightly mind you, of being biased towards them, and this will, I'm sure, get less and less as times pass. BUT, there is one wretched Aussie commentator, jeremy coney i think is his name, who made some comments about India being "bad sports" when they did not accept Sangakara's offer of quitting when the mandatory overs started with no hope of a result. Is this coney's way of telling tv watchers that Sachin should not go for his 43rd. century when within strikingdistance, so that ponting can catch up sooner??

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