New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Hamilton, 3rd day December 20, 2015

Reckless Sri Lanka speed their way to doom

Sri Lanka seemed to want to collect every possible dismissal to the short ball, blowing a rare opportunity set up by the bowlers for an overseas win
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Sri Lanka collapsed dramatically, losing all 10 batsmen to bouncers for 62 runs, within 14 overs © AFP

Imagine you are driving someplace. You are a little late. You know you probably shouldn't speed, but it's too tempting. As you press down on the accelerator, though, you pass a car that has just hit a tree. The bonnet is dented in. Brake fluid squirts in a comical parabola into some bushes. You speed on.

You soon come across another car wreck. This one has also hit a tree. The damage is even worse. There is detritus all over the tarmac. There is a seat near the middle divider. A blinking indicator light is somehow lodged in the tree's canopy. Heedlessly, you speed on.

Then another crash site, at yet another tree. This is the worst of the lot. A door has flown clean across the road. A tyre that was thrown upwards on impact is still high in the air, blotting out the sun. And the driver is doing laps around his ruined vehicle, screaming, because his pants are on fire. And you - you absolute idiot - you speed on.

The next tree, of course, has your car's name all over it. You drive into it. It is spectacular. The comical parabola of your brake fluid stretches all the way across the road, forming a sort of rainbow arch. Your tyre has basically gone into orbit. And you find yourself doing laps around the remains of your car, arms waving high in the air, pants, obviously, way on fire.

That is what Sri Lanka's innings was like today. It is one thing to collapse as dramatically as they did, losing all 10 batsmen for 62 runs, inside 14 overs. What makes this collapse special is that they all fell as a result of the short-ball plan. How rare is that? It is like a cricketing Halley's comet. It may not happen again for many decades. In a way, we should count ourselves fortunate to be alive at the point of history in which this occurred.

The slide began with Dimuth Karunaratne and Udara Jayasundera, and to be fair, both got genuinely good deliveries. Jayasundera may in fact have been the victim of a poor DRS decision. Importantly, neither of these batsmen played aggressive shots to get out. This kind of self-restraint basically makes them hermits in comparison to the rest of their team, and what was to come.

Dinesh Chandimal picked out leg gully with a glance off the hips soon after. Kusal Mendis found fine leg with an over-the-head hook after lunch. Angelo Mathews was caught behind off the glove, also hooking. But the warning sirens went unheeded by the middle order. Basic sense seemed to elude them. At one point, it seemed like New Zealand could have started bowling underarm, and Sri Lanka would have still found ways to get out hooking.

The dismissals became more and more bizarre. Milinda Siriwardana had been peppered with bouncers, but it was a waist-high ball outside off stump that he managed to send down the throat of deep midwicket. This is like willfully seeking out a tree to crash your car into.

Not long after, Kithuruwan Vithanage hooked a Neil Wagner bouncer into the bleachers, then next ball, when he got another short delivery outside off stump, carved it straight to third man, who was the only fielder on the off-side boundary. This is like swerving around the tree, and then driving clean off a cliff.

Sri Lanka seemed to want to collect every possible dismissal to the short ball. Gloved to the keeper? Check. Sent sailing to the slips? Check. Caught at each of the deep leg-side positions? Check. Out at leg gully? Check. There was even a run-out after a short ball to complete the set. It seemed like manic self-destruction at the time, but when you go over it now, it is meticulously thorough. No stone had been left unturned.

"We wanted to bat three sessions - for someone to hang around and leave the bouncers a little bit," bowling coach Champaka Ramanayake later said. "Throughout, the short ball was the key to get wickets. The message from the head coach was to knuckle down I think. When they went to the middle, they didn't do the right thing. Sure, we've lost great batsmen, but these batsmen have played a reasonable amount of cricket. Some of them have played over 20 Test matches. There are no excuses."

It seems such a shame, because Sri Lanka's bowlers had delivered them a rare opportunity for an overseas win. They had had a first-innings lead of 55. The openers put on Sri Lanka's best first-wicket stand of the year, making 71. Only 150 more runs from there, and New Zealand would have been under pressure in the fourth innings. Instead, Sri Lanka are left hanging delicately in the closing stages of the Test, with the opposition's best batsman still at the crease.

If there is room for one more analogy (and why not on a day like this?), Sri Lanka were like the politician leading comfortably in the polls, until in the week before elections, he gets on stage at a rally and moons everybody.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • chethana on December 21, 2015, 3:21 GMT

    I don't know how can we beat NZ in odi & T20 series without our main shorter format player Kusal Perera. Also Malinga & Dammika are not 100% fit.

  • ejaz on December 21, 2015, 2:21 GMT

    what happened to basics of cricket.how did all the older batsmen hook and pull effectively without body armor and helmets ?the older bowlers were more lethal and there were no regulations on bowlers like now.YOU DONT HAVE TO STOP EVERY BALL WITH THE BAT,LEARN TO DUCK AND MOVE AWAY.NEED TO LEARN WHICH BALL TO LEAVE.THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHICH BALL TO PLAY.ALSO GET BEHIND EACH BALL YOU PLAY.EVEN TO PULL OR HOOK EFFECTIVELY YOU SHOULD GET BEHIND THE BALL AND INSIDE THE LINE.THESES ARE BASIC NATURAL SHOTS OF LEFT HANDERS MATHEWS IS NOT AN AGGRESSIVE CAPTAIN.ALL SRI LANKAN PLAYERS NEED COMMANDO TRAINING WITH THE SL ARMY.THEY NEED TO BE AGGRESSIVE !

  • Scott on December 21, 2015, 1:14 GMT

    I feel for SL fans, and their bowlers, Mathews basically threw away a great chance to win this test due to not bowling that young impressive quick. I don't understand why he was is holding him back for so long, surely he wasn't injured??

    As much as the batsman is to blame, poor captaincy is to blame as well and should take equal share imo. (on that note I think McCullum had a poor series captaincy wise as well.)

  • Andrew on December 21, 2015, 0:40 GMT

    Pretty poor SL team which sums up their chances over the next five / ten years, at least they're not quite as poor as West Indies. As a NZ supporter, glad to crush them 2-0 even though we played so poorly. Not one of the SL bowlers would make the NZ team

  • roshan4432430 on December 20, 2015, 23:54 GMT

    Its like deja vu. When SL were last in NZ, after Sanga's magnificent double the SL fielders put on a pathetic display to drop eventual double hundred maker, Williamson no less than four times. The first was an absolute dolly which was dropped by Herath when Williamson was a mere 35 or so. It was SLs game for the taking otherwise. Now the batsmen allow the team to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory , as exclaimed by someone ages ago. Still, at last Chameera is developing into a threatening pace bowler. Hopefully, he will be managed well.

  • safry on December 20, 2015, 22:28 GMT

    haahaa really sums up that inning from sl

  • Chatty on December 20, 2015, 18:37 GMT

    Well, when Mathews said the SL batsmen were over cautious in the first test, and that that was the reason for the loss in the first test, I said that he was wrong. In the second innings, SL batsmen just played as if they had nothing to lose. They have everything to lose - a test series! Angie should stop talking in general terms about being cautious, over cautious, etc. One has to play depending on the pitch, the match situation, one's own strengths and weaknesses. Everything is contextual. How disappointing. I still hope SL can do a miracle and take the 5 remaining NZ wickets. But, it is going to be very tough.

  • suabhdeep on December 20, 2015, 15:54 GMT

    Whether SL win or loose this test match is a watershed moment for them for a decade at least to come. For the first time SL got a genuine fast bowler who can hit the deck and hit the batsmen at rib cage. This is not like Chaminda Vass or Malinga. Nor even like Dilhara Farnado. First one basically slow medium pacer later two bowled only fuller length. This boy will carry SL cricket on Australia, South Africa and bouncy pitches of NZ & UK. And with this now India represents the worst pace attack of all test playing nations. In this same ground in 2013 Ishanth, Zaheer, Umesh were absolutely worthless. Since 2013 SL had taken stern steps to build pace attack thereby completely ignored and scrapped Mendis, Kaushal and prepared at least one green tops per series. There key batsmen like Chandimal, Angelo, Jayasurendra, too are mainly pace comfortable stroke players. Not dust bowl bully like Jayawardene, Samaraveera.

  • Pinidiya on December 20, 2015, 15:54 GMT

    Poor Chameera's golden effort seems to be in vain.! SL selectors & skipper Mathews to be blamed for this. They have renounced the VALUE of EXPERIENCE & compromised the proven productivity & consistency over, constant failures like Kithruwan & too many rookies/ debutants to fill the top order. who would gamble vital no3 spot with such players? I don't blame the 2 rookies, but selectors should have had merit based policy to pick right players with experience to cover the base left open by Sanga & MJ.

    Upul Tharanga's total elimination unrelated to cricket logic is the biggest crime they have done. Otherwise, who would overlook such experienced hands with more than 10 yrs behind & credentials in International & domestic scene? Especially, after proving his worth with regular runs on the board with 2 near Tons & 4 near fities including a test winnig performance & 47 Average, batting at No3, in the limited opporunities given to him since comeback after 7 years? Kithruwan's NZ series Av 15.

  • Anura on December 20, 2015, 15:46 GMT

    Andrew is perfect in his statement. SL found a way to loose this one. Part of it is not being matured. By the way, could someone explain the TV umpire's reasoning for giving out Jayasundara. It was not out from on field umpire and there was nothing on sniko or hot spots. The ball deviation happened before it reach the glove? So, what was the reason. I think as a matter of principle, conversations between umpires should be made public. It might help umpires make more rationale decisions and help cricketers learn to play better.

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