Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Dubai, 1st day January 8, 2014

Watershed moment for Sri Lanka quicks

From looking completely out of their depth in Australia to destroying Pakistan's top order in Dubai, Sri Lanka's fast bowlers have come a long way to realising their penetrative potential
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On Sri Lanka's last away tour, in Australia, the touring pace attack had been belittled so extensively by former players and media, the then-captain Mahela Jayawardene was called upon routinely to defend his bowlers. "We probably don't have the pace which you think is required to win Test matches in Australia," he had said. "But we've got guys who can bowl good lines and create pressure in different ways."

Even that modest standard largely proved beyond Sri Lanka's quicks on that tour, where Rangana Herath seemed the only attacking force. His team-mates often failed to even provide him the courtesy of their support. Twelve months later, on the first day in Dubai, Herath was a sideshow. Suddenly made sharper by Nuwan Pradeep's introduction, Sri Lanka's pace attack went from miserly to menacing, as the bowling coach who had been appointed in the aftermath of the Australia tour, watched on.

It is often hard to pinpoint the forces that drive collective success, just as it may be simplistic to blame a single coach or player for a group's failure. But as Sri Lanka's fast bowlers provided the strongest indication of their penetrative potential yet, it was not difficult to see Chaminda Vaas' influence, perhaps for the first time. Like Vaas was for so much of his career, Sri Lanka were persistent without being destructive and pernicious without being devastating.

Six days into the tour, Sri Lanka's most surprising leaps have been made by the pace attack. The young batsmen may have led the team's revival in Abu Dhabi, but their ability had been suspected for some time. Since his appointment, Vaas has spoken often about the simplicity of Test match bowling - of achieving a consistent line and length first, then allowing the other virtues to flow into one's game. There was no banana swing or vicious lift for Sri Lanka's fast bowlers on Wednesday, but by lunch they had conceded only 53 from 24 overs. Even in his prime, Vaas might have been proud of a pitch map that read like Suranga Lakmal's clustered returns. Jayawardene's hope that Sri Lanka's bowlers could attack through pressure was being realised.

"Test cricket is all about basics for fast bowlers," Vaas said. "They were a bit unlucky in the first two hours and when they came for lunch we were talking about how to get the ball into the right areas, and bowl good lines and lengths. They did what we wanted and got the rewards."

The fast bowlers had been accurate in large stretches in Abu Dhabi, but in his first match in a year, Pradeep brought the edge. Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga pitched it on a length and swung it away, but Pradeep hurried the batsmen and moved it both ways off the seam. Having watched so many balls beat the outside edge, the one that jagged in removed Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammed Hafeez, who had begun to habitually step towards off. The switch had been among Vaas' own favourite manoeuvres, and though at the end of the day Pradeep pleaded ignorance on how he managed it, he has never shown such aptitude for swing and seam in international cricket before.

Sri Lanka had also begun speaking with a new confidence about their fast men after the first Test, and the rewards of riding on a cloud of good vibes was evident in Eranga's bowling. Several times he beat the bat with balls that moved late towards the right-hand batsmen in the air, then straightened off the seam. When he eventually drew the edge with that ball, he took the two wickets that sparked Pakistan's post-lunch collapse. Lakmal was perhaps the unluckiest of the three bowlers, having had a batsman dropped off his bowling and several edges fall just out of reach.

As impressive and unexpected a scoreline of 129 for 7 is, it is important to remember Pakistan have hardly been resistant to collapsing in recent years. The last occasion in which Sri Lanka's fast bowlers had claimed the first seven wickets in an innings had been against Pakistan in 2009, for instance. In Australia, batsmen better-drilled in playing the moving ball had been capable of hitting bowlers off their lengths, so the mid-year series against England - whose own batsmen's techniques have been robust against swing at home - looms as a defining challenge for this group of players.

It might be years before Vaas' true effect on this attack is fully known. Lakmal's average is still over 60 and Pradeep only just managed to whittle his down to double figures with his third scalp of the day. But in Sri Lanka's best away bowling effort since the 2011 Test in Durban, hints of progress have begun to emerge.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on January 9, 2014, 21:45 GMT

    Funny kid, didn't India struggle in test matches in SA?

  • mysay on January 9, 2014, 9:53 GMT

    Great show by SL quicks. These bunch of lads had the talent, all they needed was guidance in the right direct which Vaas seems to have imparted. Malinga being axed is a blessing in disguise. Even though he does not partake in Tests his axing shows that no matter the name, SLC is not going to accommodate big named dead weight baggage. So this is also a wake up call to these youngsters who will now on keep getting better

  • MichaelBurton on January 9, 2014, 8:41 GMT

    It was amaizing how Lankan quicks extracted literally non existing face and movement from this flat wicket. Pak's Junaid and Batti failed to grasp this so far. If SLn quicks continue in this manner with Herat around, "best toothless attack" would definitely pass on to us who are second only to Lankans.

  • funnykid on January 9, 2014, 5:52 GMT

    With due apologies, Sri Lankan fast bowling is quite ordinary without Malinga. They could not have been so successful on this very pitch had they been bowling to top teams like India, South Africa or Australia. It is the incompetency of Pakistani batsmen which was on display as usual.I cannot understand as to what has gone wrong with the present crop of Pakistani batsmen, batting collapses have become a normal routine. Just look a Younis Khan's dismissal, paying miles away from the body. He is supposed to be the best batsmen in Pakistan team.

  • MichaelBurton on January 9, 2014, 5:48 GMT

    @samincolumbia: Yes Lankans should show their talent against SA and Aus in their home country fast wickets and Ind against our flat wickets. I don't think any player except Kholi and Pujara will put up a fight against this new trio in fast bouncy wickets.

  • on January 9, 2014, 5:35 GMT

    @udendra....yap iam agree with u...in australlia he touch 150 kmph....but un here he hardky touch 143kmph...but its gd beacause if u ball gd line and lenth peace is only extra benifit for a fast baller

  • on January 9, 2014, 5:24 GMT

    i think vaas doing gd job with his job...specially with lakmal..lakmal ball out swings like vaas...he needs to ball more inswigers also..then sl bowling is ok...to me LAKMAL IS 1 STRIKE BOWLER,PRADEEP 2 ND,ERANGA 3RD...

  • on January 9, 2014, 5:16 GMT

    The success story yesterday had one simple fact. That was bowlers the fast men getting closer to stumps at delivery point and keeping the bowl in play not allowing batsmen to just leave it alone. Keep It Simple Stupid has worked again.

  • Udendra on January 9, 2014, 5:10 GMT

    Earlier Vaas had criticized SL bowlers for not having "the killer instinct". Good to see them improve although Pradeep's speed has dropped a bit.

  • outforhatrick on January 9, 2014, 4:46 GMT

    good effort by SL new breed of fast bowlers.. hope this is not one event and also all subcontinent teams start winning more away from subcontinent, AUS and SA consistently win in subcontinent... which has to change for Test crickets future

  • on January 9, 2014, 21:45 GMT

    Funny kid, didn't India struggle in test matches in SA?

  • mysay on January 9, 2014, 9:53 GMT

    Great show by SL quicks. These bunch of lads had the talent, all they needed was guidance in the right direct which Vaas seems to have imparted. Malinga being axed is a blessing in disguise. Even though he does not partake in Tests his axing shows that no matter the name, SLC is not going to accommodate big named dead weight baggage. So this is also a wake up call to these youngsters who will now on keep getting better

  • MichaelBurton on January 9, 2014, 8:41 GMT

    It was amaizing how Lankan quicks extracted literally non existing face and movement from this flat wicket. Pak's Junaid and Batti failed to grasp this so far. If SLn quicks continue in this manner with Herat around, "best toothless attack" would definitely pass on to us who are second only to Lankans.

  • funnykid on January 9, 2014, 5:52 GMT

    With due apologies, Sri Lankan fast bowling is quite ordinary without Malinga. They could not have been so successful on this very pitch had they been bowling to top teams like India, South Africa or Australia. It is the incompetency of Pakistani batsmen which was on display as usual.I cannot understand as to what has gone wrong with the present crop of Pakistani batsmen, batting collapses have become a normal routine. Just look a Younis Khan's dismissal, paying miles away from the body. He is supposed to be the best batsmen in Pakistan team.

  • MichaelBurton on January 9, 2014, 5:48 GMT

    @samincolumbia: Yes Lankans should show their talent against SA and Aus in their home country fast wickets and Ind against our flat wickets. I don't think any player except Kholi and Pujara will put up a fight against this new trio in fast bouncy wickets.

  • on January 9, 2014, 5:35 GMT

    @udendra....yap iam agree with u...in australlia he touch 150 kmph....but un here he hardky touch 143kmph...but its gd beacause if u ball gd line and lenth peace is only extra benifit for a fast baller

  • on January 9, 2014, 5:24 GMT

    i think vaas doing gd job with his job...specially with lakmal..lakmal ball out swings like vaas...he needs to ball more inswigers also..then sl bowling is ok...to me LAKMAL IS 1 STRIKE BOWLER,PRADEEP 2 ND,ERANGA 3RD...

  • on January 9, 2014, 5:16 GMT

    The success story yesterday had one simple fact. That was bowlers the fast men getting closer to stumps at delivery point and keeping the bowl in play not allowing batsmen to just leave it alone. Keep It Simple Stupid has worked again.

  • Udendra on January 9, 2014, 5:10 GMT

    Earlier Vaas had criticized SL bowlers for not having "the killer instinct". Good to see them improve although Pradeep's speed has dropped a bit.

  • outforhatrick on January 9, 2014, 4:46 GMT

    good effort by SL new breed of fast bowlers.. hope this is not one event and also all subcontinent teams start winning more away from subcontinent, AUS and SA consistently win in subcontinent... which has to change for Test crickets future

  • on January 9, 2014, 4:44 GMT

    Ajmal s d key...he neefs gud rythm.

  • on January 9, 2014, 4:41 GMT

    Pak can still win it if ajmal bowls well s junaid s already posing threat.

  • Resultpredictor on January 9, 2014, 2:33 GMT

    Credit should be given to Eranga, Lakmal, and Pradeep for bowling good line and length swing bowling. As i already told Pakistan batsman cannot play swing bowling. SL are on its way to famous win in Dubai and i think it will be a series winning victory. Pakistan bowlers WILL STRUGGLE TO TAKE 10 WICKETS against SL.

  • PadMarley on January 9, 2014, 2:30 GMT

    Sri Lanka never had a culture of making good fast bowlers, Pakistan is the most gifted country in this sense. Chaminda Vaas is the exception to the general rule who managed to be tagged with 'world-class'. In the past the biggest opportunity SL had to create a very decent trio was with Vaas, Dilhara and Zoysa. But both Dilhara and Zoysa were major disappointments. Now there seem to be another opportunity blooming slowly [though it is too early to judge], hopefully this new trio can work hard together and learn to hunt as a pack. Good luck!

  • Lalindra2012 on January 9, 2014, 0:32 GMT

    Sack that Man Champaka Ramanayake..! We would be grateful for the service he's provided for the National team but, It's high time he moves on with his life.

  • Herath-UK on January 8, 2014, 22:38 GMT

    The team should develop a rotational policy among the fast bowlers to prevent injuries rather than waiting till one bowler get injured to try a new pace bowler. I hope for the third test they will rest one of the three and bring the fourth in the squad to the match. This way not only you increase the shelf life but will uncover a gem.

  • samincolumbia on January 8, 2014, 22:26 GMT

    SL bowlers should show results against teams like SA, Australia and India. Taking wickets against minnow batsmen will bring in complacency and undue pressure to take wickets like this against high quality teams.

  • on January 8, 2014, 22:22 GMT

    I was excited watching the performance today, but I just couldn't get rid of the niggling thought that this was Pakistan, the most mercurial cricket nation of them all. I also couldn't help feeling that they were playing away from their bodies and gifting catches behind. However it was some really disciplined bowling, and Pradeep has added a bit of sting to this attack. I really hope these guys can continue taking wickets like this. Let this not be a false dawn...

  • Chris_P on January 8, 2014, 21:40 GMT

    Good to see the improvement in the SL pace bowling stocks. Good initiative to help with the development, keep it up.

  • on January 8, 2014, 20:35 GMT

    what happened to pakistan quicks is more interesting ,they consistently bowled at 138kph or lower.thats not what they are good at,lets see if they go 142kph and better tommorow,this game aint over yet,good luck pakistan.good job lankans.

  • on January 8, 2014, 20:13 GMT

    The great Glenn Mcgrath hardly bowled over 140...most of his career he was 125-135 ish but he knew his strengths..height and bounce plus moving the ball both ways just a bit with incredible control and accuracy.Above all was his mental game,that ability to know one's game and to impose his will..it might be a simple plan but it's never ever easy...the resolve and battle of wits separates the great from the good...The Sri Lankan fast medium guys did a job Mcgrath would have been proud of...they chose one stock shape,away from the bat with the odd ball jagging in..the length was excellent and the line at the stumps...actually it was a very South African or Aussie type of style and that's rare from any subcontinent team...well done.

  • MENDIS_Forever on January 8, 2014, 18:18 GMT

    guys..do you remember Ravi Ratnayake ? The Sri Lankan fast bowler who took 8/83 in 1985-86 against well-set Pakistan batting lineup? It's still the best figures by a Sri Lankan fast bowler.Our new trio has the ability like Ravi had.But they are prone to injuries same as poor Ravi was...

  • on January 8, 2014, 17:56 GMT

    Let's live in the moment and just say well done. The test is not over. Sri Lanka has to bowl Pakistan out again. Vaas was always a thinking Cricketer and hopefully some of these will rub off on the current fast bowling crop.

  • stormy16 on January 8, 2014, 17:18 GMT

    Interesting point about the influence of Vaas. For years SL have claimed to have a fast bowling coach who has produced floppy pie throwers time and again and everyone seemed to think the coach was fine. Its early days but as Mahela said in Oz, everyone needs to start somewhere. A good players doesnt neccessirily make a good coach, but if there is ever a guy who can give SL pace attack alot is Vaas. He typifies what a SL pace bowler should look for. Slightly built, military medium, you will only get wickets with total control and skill to swing or move the ball. Ok it was a good wicket to bowl on but SL have bowled on such wickets before with hardly any effect. OK it was Paksitan who didnt bat well but it's promising signs.

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  • stormy16 on January 8, 2014, 17:18 GMT

    Interesting point about the influence of Vaas. For years SL have claimed to have a fast bowling coach who has produced floppy pie throwers time and again and everyone seemed to think the coach was fine. Its early days but as Mahela said in Oz, everyone needs to start somewhere. A good players doesnt neccessirily make a good coach, but if there is ever a guy who can give SL pace attack alot is Vaas. He typifies what a SL pace bowler should look for. Slightly built, military medium, you will only get wickets with total control and skill to swing or move the ball. Ok it was a good wicket to bowl on but SL have bowled on such wickets before with hardly any effect. OK it was Paksitan who didnt bat well but it's promising signs.

  • on January 8, 2014, 17:56 GMT

    Let's live in the moment and just say well done. The test is not over. Sri Lanka has to bowl Pakistan out again. Vaas was always a thinking Cricketer and hopefully some of these will rub off on the current fast bowling crop.

  • MENDIS_Forever on January 8, 2014, 18:18 GMT

    guys..do you remember Ravi Ratnayake ? The Sri Lankan fast bowler who took 8/83 in 1985-86 against well-set Pakistan batting lineup? It's still the best figures by a Sri Lankan fast bowler.Our new trio has the ability like Ravi had.But they are prone to injuries same as poor Ravi was...

  • on January 8, 2014, 20:13 GMT

    The great Glenn Mcgrath hardly bowled over 140...most of his career he was 125-135 ish but he knew his strengths..height and bounce plus moving the ball both ways just a bit with incredible control and accuracy.Above all was his mental game,that ability to know one's game and to impose his will..it might be a simple plan but it's never ever easy...the resolve and battle of wits separates the great from the good...The Sri Lankan fast medium guys did a job Mcgrath would have been proud of...they chose one stock shape,away from the bat with the odd ball jagging in..the length was excellent and the line at the stumps...actually it was a very South African or Aussie type of style and that's rare from any subcontinent team...well done.

  • on January 8, 2014, 20:35 GMT

    what happened to pakistan quicks is more interesting ,they consistently bowled at 138kph or lower.thats not what they are good at,lets see if they go 142kph and better tommorow,this game aint over yet,good luck pakistan.good job lankans.

  • Chris_P on January 8, 2014, 21:40 GMT

    Good to see the improvement in the SL pace bowling stocks. Good initiative to help with the development, keep it up.

  • on January 8, 2014, 22:22 GMT

    I was excited watching the performance today, but I just couldn't get rid of the niggling thought that this was Pakistan, the most mercurial cricket nation of them all. I also couldn't help feeling that they were playing away from their bodies and gifting catches behind. However it was some really disciplined bowling, and Pradeep has added a bit of sting to this attack. I really hope these guys can continue taking wickets like this. Let this not be a false dawn...

  • samincolumbia on January 8, 2014, 22:26 GMT

    SL bowlers should show results against teams like SA, Australia and India. Taking wickets against minnow batsmen will bring in complacency and undue pressure to take wickets like this against high quality teams.

  • Herath-UK on January 8, 2014, 22:38 GMT

    The team should develop a rotational policy among the fast bowlers to prevent injuries rather than waiting till one bowler get injured to try a new pace bowler. I hope for the third test they will rest one of the three and bring the fourth in the squad to the match. This way not only you increase the shelf life but will uncover a gem.

  • Lalindra2012 on January 9, 2014, 0:32 GMT

    Sack that Man Champaka Ramanayake..! We would be grateful for the service he's provided for the National team but, It's high time he moves on with his life.