Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Abu Dhabi, 2nd day January 1, 2014

SL need more Tests to nurture pace-bowling talents

Although Sri Lanka ended up conceding a big lead to Pakistan on the second day, there were a few signs of a potentially good attack. For their young bowlers to develop, however, Sri Lanka must play more Tests

In the Abu Dhabi desert,
though the pitch was still green,
so keenly Sri Lanka toiled,
but this fate was foreseen.

Sri Lanka have not played many Tests recently (as the batsmen had made abundantly clear on day one), but in their most recent away series in Australia, they had endured many days like the second day against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. Days when the opposition lead expands almost as if it was a birthright. Days when even the rare good balls miss the edge, and the few chances that do come are squandered in the field or by the injudicious use of DRS. Days, in short, that should be expected of an attack featuring a spinner on debut, two fast bowlers with less than 15 Tests, a third seam-bowler whose average is in the mid-70s, all marshalled by a captain still in training.

In Australia, Rangana Herath had created opportunities, but although a long personal break from cricket did not alter his accuracy in Abu Dhabi, his wicket-taking plots were not at their insidious best. Pakistan were led by two good players of spin-bowling as well, and the surface remained as resistant to turn as its colour implied.

It would be glib to suggest Sri Lanka could have done so much better, but could they have, really? The fast men managed good lines through the day, and even moved the ball a little. There were no meltdowns, no maulings, no huge dips in intensity until late in the day. Angelo Mathews attacked and kept at least one slip throughout, even tricking Ahmed Shehzad into a rash stroke. Sachithra Senanayake had a few poor overs, but which rookie doesn't have a few of those on an unresponsive track? The truth that Sri Lanka must absorb and own completely if they are to avoid such days in future is: on pitches that aren't in Galle, they are just not very good.

The biggest feasible gains are to be made by the fast bowlers. Shaminda Eranga was miserly in the morning, conceding only eight runs from his six overs, but three more inches of movement and a better head for working batsmen out would take him from parsimonious to penetrative. Once Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan joined forces, neither batsman struggled to account for Eranga's seam and swing.

Eranga lacks creativity, and is not yet capable of devising focused plans to test good batsmen, though perhaps for a man who did not play serious cricket until he was discovered at the age of 20, bowling smart can only come with experience. For now, as he can bowl in excess of 140kph, has a grip on the basics of movement, and can increasingly deliver steady spells like he bowled today, there is enough to indicate Sri Lanka could build an attack around him.

Suranga Lakmal still averages over 65 in his 14th Test, but given the dearth of competition, Sri Lanka will not want to discard him easily either. Like Eranga, he moved the ball modestly today, but not nearly enough to trouble high-quality batsmen on a regular basis. At his slightly slower pace, he will never take bagfuls of wickets by waiting for batsmen to make mistakes. A fuller length teasing batsmen into the drive might have been more fruitful for him, and when nothing was happening, a change in angle or a burst of short bowling could at least have been tried.

For the moment, there is no escaping the fact that Sri Lanka's attack is among the worst in the world, and that more Tests for the bright bowling prospects is vital to changing that

"Test match bowling is about bowling in partnerships and identifying your role," coach Graham Ford said at the close of play. "Some days, the pitch will play in your favour and all you have to do is put it in the right areas, but other days you have to make it happen. They've got wise advice and support from Chaminda Vaas who has done it for years and years, and knows Test-match bowling inside out. Hopefully they will gradually develop into bowlers that will win Test matches."

As an exemplar, Vaas is about as good as it gets for any fast bowler in Sri Lanka. His unwavering accuracy may be difficult to replicate, but the manner in which he constructed spells, manoeuvred batsmen, and embellished his seam and swing through his career need not be beyond the emerging pair. As Ford says, Vaas is a mountain of fast-bowling knowledge, but that is a resource which has not yet produced visible returns. Part of that, of course, is because there have only been two Tests since Vaas was appointed almost a year ago.

"If Eranga and Lakmal had the opportunity to play more Test cricket, we'd be able to develop a unit that's capable of making more of an impact against high-quality batsmen," Ford said. "To make that progress you need to be playing Test-match cricket. These guys had made some progress previously, but we are almost back starting from square one again with them."

For the moment, there is no escaping the fact that Sri Lanka's attack is among the worst in the world, and that more Tests for the bright bowling prospects is vital to changing that. Herath wins matches when he can manage it, but until Sri Lanka's quicks embark on that long, hard road that Vaas once trod, there will be many more sapping days in the desert.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Black_Rider on January 2, 2014, 14:05 GMT

    @Fast_Track_Bully ::

    The lion in the flag represents the Sinhala race. The sword of the lion represents the sovereignty of the country. The noble eight fold path of Buddhism is signified by the lion's tail. Curly hair on the lion's head indicates religious observance, wisdom and meditation. The beard denotes purity of words. The handle of the sword highlights the elements of water, fire, air and earth. The nose indicates intelligence. The two front paws purport to purity in handling wealth.

    We don't call ourselves Lions because of Cricket. It's because we have 2500 years proud history. If you need to know more please google. Thanks. (@Cricinfo: Please publish. Thanks )

  • dummy4fb on January 2, 2014, 13:47 GMT

    what can you expect when selectors keep on ignoring real bowlers with potential like kanishka alvitagala

  • buncers on January 2, 2014, 11:07 GMT

    It is easy to blame the bowlers, but if your batsman don't give you a decent total to defend it makes it impossible for the bowlers to attack. The SL batting in the 1st innings was disgraceful (apart from Angelo and Shaminda). The 2 big guns should never ever give it away like they did - they can never be called "great" when they get out so cheaply in succession (and they have done it before).

    The bowlers will get better, but need overseas tests to hone their skills. Eranga looks a great prospect. Sena looks totally ineffective, SL should try other spinners (there is no end of spin talent in SL).

  • rajuramki on January 2, 2014, 9:23 GMT

    It is a pity that Malinga is not playing test cricket any more . His presence would have added teeth to the Srilankan attack . Further, is there any tangible reason for not grooming Kulasekara as a test bowler . Although he predominantly bowls only inswingers, he can be very canny and effective on pitches that does not offer much bounce . Pakistan batted too slowly and it appears that Misbah is playing for personal records than for the team's win . Even if Sanaga or Mahela decides to stay put at the crease, SL total will swell to such an extent that Pakistan will find it difficult to chase even 175 runs.

  • on January 2, 2014, 5:38 GMT

    SL bowlers are not better than club level cricketers. Still the SL fans call them as lions! A team with full of lions folded like a house with cards. Wake up SL fans you cannot fool the world like this.

  • priceless1 on January 2, 2014, 5:25 GMT

    Attitude is the key when it comes to Test match fast bowling , u can see with the likes of Styan , Junaid is that from each delivery they are trying to take wickets rather than rolling the arm over and hoping a wicket might fall some how , fast bowlers needs to be on top of the batsmen all the time ...

  • dummy4fb on January 2, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    I would tend to disagree with Mr. Fernando. It is not about grooming pace bowlers new but getting them to understand the discipline as regards bowling each delivery.Anybody watching the match could have seen the difference, Pakistan bowlers bowled right line close the the off stump or on the off stump by getting closer to the stumps at the point of delivery. But Lankan bowlers could be seen at all times at least foot or two away from the stumps at delivery point, and the result was bowling wide of stumps allowing batsmen to leave at will with no risk. You first must get the right run up to be closer to stump at delivery point so that you can focus on the batsman and not spray the wide of the batters stumps. basic things are going wrong and one wonders what the coach has been doing all these days.

  • ARad on January 2, 2014, 3:29 GMT

    How is the SL team going to develop fast bowling talents? It is easier said than done unless there are particular plans/regiments in place. How much time can Vaas spent with each fast bowler? Are these fast bowlers receiving guidance, encouragement and training during off season or in between the infrequent Test series? How about their fitness and diet in general?

    There is nothing in the works that suggests SLC will try to schedule more Tests so the captain or the head coach must come up with their own initiatives. Mathews is young and still learning so the impetus may not come from him. The coaches don't seem to stick around for long which means every new coach will start from scratch. That is hardly an ideal situation.

    Bowlers win Tests. Herath is SL's only Test quality bowler but he is not getting younger. Sri Lanka must hope to unearth some special talent such as Murali or Vaas. Otherwise, at least in near future, their prospects look very bleak.

  • cricketsubh on January 2, 2014, 3:25 GMT

    They also need batting talent also I donot think they got that in test cricket they havely depending on sanga and mahela to score runs .

  • dummy4fb on January 2, 2014, 2:48 GMT

    Not behind other good teams, careful not to be behind the minors. Beware Afghanistan is going to be a difficult team to cope up with.

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