Russel Arnold
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Former Sri Lanka batsman; commentator

Murali and Mendis need to attack

The defining aspect of Sri Lanka's performance in the series has been the defensive mindset of their lead spinners, both of whom seem to have a confidence problem

Russel Arnold

November 29, 2009

Comments: 49 | Text size: A | A

Rangana Herath bowled MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh, India v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Kanpur, 2nd day, November 25, 2009
Rangana Herath outdid his more feted colleagues in the Sri Lankan attack © AFP
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From Sri Lanka's perspective, the second Test could hardly have been more disappointing. They travelled to India with a great deal of expectation and hope, with a team of undoubted quality. In Kanpur, though, they were comprehensively outplayed. It was their poorest Test performance for a long time.

Losing is one thing, but the manner in which the team wilted was alarming. The lack of fight was deeply worrying. After failing to force a win in Ahmedabad in the first Test, it was crucial to get the energy levels high and hit India hard, but when things did not go Sri Lanka's way on the first morning, they went flat fast.

The toss was undoubtedly important. The players all knew that day one was going to be the best day for batting before it started to turn. The loss of the toss was made worse by a spilled catch off Sehwag in the first over and then a very good lbw shout that was turned down. The team's disappointment was understandable, but their reaction was not: heads went down and the negative body language betrayed the evaporating self-belief.

Full credit to India's batsmen; I thought they were superb. They carried the attack to the Sri Lankan spinners, using their feet expertly and seizing on any scoring opportunity. They were aggressive and positive and the slow bowlers were put under a huge amount of pressure. The failure of the spinners to control the game pushed Sri Lanka out of their comfort zone.

After India had got off to a flying start, I was surprised Sri Lanka did not try to clamp down on the run rate with some old-fashioned boring cricket. India were allowed to score too quickly. With more restrictive tactics and field placements, especially against new batsmen, the run rate could have been kept down on the opening day, and that would at least have left Sri Lanka breathing. As it was, the runs were plundered so quickly that the Sri Lanka batting was placed under enormous pressure.

While there seems little doubt that Murali is past his peak, he is still the kingpin of Sri Lanka's attack. For me, the main issue is that he seems low on confidence. There are signs of self-doubt, and the end result is that he has lost a bit of zip. However, I still believe that if he is able to gather himself together mentally and trust and believe in himself, he will bounce back.

Ajantha Mendis was pretty flat and it is fair to say a lot more was expected from him. He needs to shift gears now because players are reading him. He was different and special at the beginning of his career, but batsmen are countering him now. He needs to rise to the challenge, keep his belief and be smarter. He needs more variations while still doing the basics well.

Credit to Rangana Herath. I thought he showed a lot of mental strength. The Indian batsmen understood the threat he posed and they went after him to try and prevent him settling. However, he kept tossing the ball up and sticking to his strengths. When the ball did start to grip on day two, as the pitch started wearing, batting became a different ball game against him.

The three-spinner strategy was not the success that Sri Lanka would have hoped for, but I don't believe it was the wrong tactic. If fewer runs had been conceded on the first day, and if Sri Lanka had pushed India into a second innings then they could really have had an impact.

The main issue for me has been that the spinners, particularly Murali and Ajantha, are not playing with the same confidence that we are used to seeing from them. They are both on the back foot and thinking defensively at a time when Sri Lanka needs them to have a spring in their step. They both need to trust their talent and go out there with a far more positive mindset.

The management are left with a difficult decision as they select the attack for the Mumbai Test. With Dammika Prasad fit again, they might be inclined to revert to two spinners, and that means making a choice between Murali and Ajantha. Murali is obviously the favourite but the final call has to be made after assessing his state of mind.

 
 
Like Sachin Tendulkar frustrated the Sri Lankans on the final day in Ahmedabad, visibly upsetting some of them, Sri Lanka might at least have frustrated India in Kanpur, and thereby clawed back some of the momentum in a mental battle they started losing in the first Test
 

The batting was also a disappointment for Sri Lanka, although the top order was always under pressure after India was allowed to amass such a mountainous score. In such circumstances you need to just bat without worrying about the scoreboard or time. That, of course, is easier said than done, and in this game the top order did not handle the situation well. Mistakes were made under stress and some of the main batsmen were made to look very ordinary.

In the second innings Sri Lanka should have put up a stronger fight. While batting was harder than on the first day, there were no great terrors in the track even on the fourth day, and I thought India could have been made to work far harder for their victory. Like Sachin Tendulkar frustrated the Sri Lankans on the final day in Ahmedabad, visibly upsetting some of them, Sri Lanka might at least have frustrated India and thereby clawed back some of the momentum in a mental battle they started losing when they failed to trample on India on the evening of the third day and on the fourth morning in the first Test.

The management will also now need to assess whether a change needs to be made to the opening combination. Tharanga Paranavitana has now played nine Test matches but needs to begin making the big hundreds he scores in domestic cricket. In all of his last four innings he has been dismissed between 20 and 38, failing to capitalise on good starts.

Thilina Kandamby is an excellent player, but I think he is better suited to the middle order, where his strength against the spinners will be very useful. Kamdamby could be included by pushing Prasanna Jayawardene up to the opener's slot, but that is a tough ask, considering Prasanna has his wicketkeeping duties as well, so I would seriously consider a debut for Kaushal Silva, who although a wicketkeeper is also a top-class bat.

Whatever the selection, the key to levelling the series in Mumbai will be the way the team reacts to this defeat. A first series win is now impossible, but Sri Lanka cannot let that deflate them. The ability to bounce back in such circumstances is a hallmark of great teams, and squaring the series would be a major achievement. Sri Lanka definitely has the potential, but they need to be far more combative and mentally strong. They need to play with pride, purpose and unshakeable self-belief.

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

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Posted by Alexk400 on (December 2, 2009, 6:38 GMT)

ok so far everything clicking for srilanka with 117/1. Dilshan curbed his instincts and also i found sreesanth was all over everywhere. May be he is back to his old ways?.

Anyway i think sngakkara is the key here. He should keep rotating the strike with dilshan striking the ball well.

I think srilanka may bundle out anytime the way wicket is spinng. Bhajji is spinning a lot. So it will be tough for srilanka.

Murali can do well in this spinning wicket. Srilanka can win if they post 500 runs. Do they have patience and play until end of day with 300/4 or something close to it?. Srilanka should reduce risky shots and give back what they got from india. Run singles as many possible. Hit the ball towards oldies sachin , vvs and bad fielders like sreesanth & co.

Hit towards weak fielders and take a relax singles. it will wear out indian bowlers sooner or later irrespective of spin.

lets wait and see.

Posted by ITJOBSUCKS on (December 1, 2009, 11:18 GMT)

Bingo Arnold. I agree completely with Arnold that SL's spinners are not attacking Indian batsmen enough. Also I feel most of the srilankan's are looking for excuses like toss, pitch & so & so factor.... Then it becomes extremely difficult to win if you are depeneding on all these factors. I think that's the reason SL has got pathetic record outside SL especially AUS & SA. Indian's were also same but in this decade, India has changed that stat. INDIA is the only team to compete in AUS both times (2004, 2008) & also in SA(2006) where series was decided infinal hour of the play. Critic may say INDIA didn't win series AUS(1-1 in 2004, 2-1 in 2008) & SA(2-1), but fact of the matter is that INDIA is the only team to compete AUS very hard in the last 10-12yrs. SA might have won series in AUS in 2008, but their record is pathetic in SA against AUS. They have lost all the 4 seires in SA to AUS. SL is good only competing against Bangladesh,Zimbabwe,WI.

Posted by ITJOBSUCKS on (December 1, 2009, 11:08 GMT)

Bingo Arnold. I agree completely with Arnold that SL's spinners are not attacking Indian batsmen. Also I feel most of the srilankan's are looking for excuses like toss, pitch & so & so factor.... Then it becomes extremely difficult to win if you are depeneding on all these factors. I think that's the reason SL has got pathetic record outside SL especially AUS & SA. Indian's were also same but in this decade, India has changed that stat. INDIA is the only team to compete in AUS both times (2004, 2008) & also in SA(2006) where series was decided infinal hour of the play. Critic may say INDIA didn't win series AUS(1-1 in 2004, 2-1 in 2008) & SA(2-1), but fact of the matter is that INDIA is the only team to compete AUS very hard in the last 10-12yrs. SA might have won series in AUS in 2008, but their record is pathetic in SA against AUS. They have lost all the 4 seires in SA to AUS. SL is good only competing against Bangladesh,Zimbabwe,WI.

Posted by Philip_Gnana on (December 1, 2009, 10:30 GMT)

Murali bashing seems to be on the agenda. He may have not delivered to his full potential, but the some key factors were against him. No doubt if conditions are ideal for spin - Murali is King. Wiining the toss in CERTAIN conditions is vital. Take Premadasa stadium for instant.. play a da-nighter and you know how importance it is to win the toss. You might as well decide on the toss of a coin. SL had a double whammy in the 2nd test. Having to bowl when the pitch was not condusive to bowling and bat when bowlers had more help. No excuse though for failing so miserably in the first innings. Indian have got an impressive record at home...and so have the SriLankans on home soil. We need to put things in perspective here. I have my doubts if Kulasekera will deliver. He has no pace. Dilhara is so unpredictable. Indians have no worries on this front neither with their openers. Mumbai...winning the toss hmmmm. Not sure here. you have the opening session to do the damange. Tough call here.

Posted by randikaayya on (December 1, 2009, 5:23 GMT)

@ankurindia: You honestly make me laugh! your analogy can be summed up using portions of Gavaskar's insipid commentary, the blind-Indian-cricket-fan mentality not worthy of a rebuttal. Not degrading or offending the ordinary die-hard Indian fan, but only those who seem abundantly blessed with 'India Only' doctrine. Last time India toured SL Mark Nicholas said on air that the Sri Lankan fans come to the stadium to enjoy cricket and themselves with their ever-cheerful, music-laden, never-resentful moods. In reply Gavaskar dismissed it saying 'oh thats their island mentality' rather disdainfully. Sums up your argument here as well in my opinion!

Posted by Desisport on (December 1, 2009, 0:15 GMT)

As always ppl take the scape goat and bash it to death. Its not like Indian spinners have turned good performances. Its just that Indians got better conditions and ran away with the game. Murali is still the best spin bowler in the world. There is only so much he can do..also have to consider that he is bowling to the best players of spin in benign conditions just as we get everywhere be it lanka/India/Pakistan. Mendis was new last time and everybody besides Sachin & Sehwag had no clue to read him. Once they read it from his fingers it is very difficult to think he can be be anything else but average in test cricket. I thought Herath bowled beautifully but Dravid /Laxman and played him perfectly too. Rather blaming Murali I would put it on the batting who couldn't do their job on a friendly surface. Kudos to Ojha too for keeping it tight and not giving anything away besides Sreesanth's exceptional performance.

Posted by Alexk400 on (November 30, 2009, 22:35 GMT)

I may advice sangakara to drop murali for next test and go with herath and mendis. I am thinking that Indians are playing murali well. So it will tend to repeat. Mendis can still be good if srilanka can put up some runs. BAT BAT BAT for 3 days srilanka. No cheap wicket. Let indians earn it. Fight like no tomorrow in fielding. Do not go down tamely then the tag of srilanka is no good outside home will be there for ever

Losing is fine but still you can earn the opposition respect by fighting tooth and nail.

Srilanka should forget 2nd test and start afresh and plan everything again from scratch. I want to see extra step in Srilankan fielding. You always has to think one wicket away from collapse even indian batsman go berserk.

Like the Ganga captained T&T in champions league. He was always keep changing and moving things and try to find everyway to cut down everything.

I do think sanga can do it but i wonder he may be like Rahul dravid in captaincy. Lack of imagination!.

Posted by jamesie007 on (November 30, 2009, 20:53 GMT)

Srilankans need to grow up. As long as that chucker Murali plays, Srilanka will never ever be among champions. Come on..everybody knows any match against Srilanka is unfair coz of that chucker. Throw him out!

Posted by hollandindian on (November 30, 2009, 17:12 GMT)

@ paramthegreat Mate look at what you are saying. It is just absolutly rubbish. First off all about Dilshan. First you say that he scores runs against a few countries. Im oke with that. But then you say that in a differnt form!!!! Reed again what you just said!! You are comparing T20 with TEST-CRICKET!!!! Then you suggest that there is no talent in SL who can take up captaincy!! A liitle bit strange in the context. Again you are talking against yourself! I would end with the fact that you ve got a lot of "if" and "if" and "if". These are not facts. If has not meaning in cricket!! Just look at there stats and that will say enough!! (I have nothing against SL but some people need to see the facts!! :D)

Posted by Philip_Gnana on (November 30, 2009, 13:31 GMT)

Some excellent stuff here Russel. Murali never recovered from the aftermath of the Tsunami. His vision has changed. He mind is set on more human things. You see that he enjoys helping out the needy more than he enjoys his cricket. Enjoy - is the key factor. I wonder if the selectors will make the bold step in getting Kaushal in. It will be a great idea too. Prasanna has been good with the bat average wise as compared to some of the other batsmen. So he can be in the team on batting merit. Winning the toss. This is an area where MS Dhoni excels in. I think his correct call rate is around 80% or so. Sanga has been a disapointment this series. I think he needs to take responsibility for the current situation. Talk is good. Walking the talk is what counts. Mahela was a cool character as a captain. He had that "Arjuna" factor in him. Sanga seem not to know what to do. When things get tough the tough get going. Cannot be said about his captaincy here. Philip Gnana, New malden Surrey

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