Pace attack's image has transformed - Lakmal
Sri Lanka's pace attack arrived in the UAE with a poor reputation, but two Tests into the series, they may have already transformed their image, fast bowler Suranga Lakmal believes. Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Pradeep had been instrumental in the Dubai victory that has seen their team achieve an unassailable series lead, having taken seven wickets for 132 between them in the first innings of that match.
Fast bowling had appeared Sri Lanka's most conspicuous frailty before the series, and Rangana Herath's left-arm spin expected to be the major attacking threat, yet it is on the fast bowlers' tireless efforts that the team has achieved the biggest advantage in the field. Lakmal has claimed nine scalps at a better average than Herath to lead Sri Lanka's wicket-takers' list, and as a trio, the visiting pacemen have comfortably outbowled the opposition attack.
"In the past there was a feeling that the fast bowlers aren't effective, but we were able to change that idea in this tour," Lakmal said. "In the past months we have been working very hard, all three of us. We had a big plan coming here, that the two or three of us that get a chance to play have to do well. We've followed that and played well."
Lakmal credited bowling coach Chaminda Vaas for facilitating improvement, and in the UAE, the fast bowlers have adhered to the modus operandi Vaas himself had used on unhelpful Asian surfaces in the early stages of his career. A persistent dedication to line-and-length bowling and gradual increases in movement have been evident in Sri Lanka's efforts in the series, both of which are qualities Vaas has prescribed since taking the job last February.
"I had played in the 2011 series we had in the UAE, and actually a lot of wickets here don't help fast bowlers. So we had to come up with the strategy to put the ball in the same place over and over and over again, until the batsman makes a mistake. I think our success in the tour has been because we did that very well. There was some help from the Abu Dhabi wicket, but there wasn't as much help in Dubai in the last few sessions. But we were able to practice what we had learned, so we were able to put Pakistan in difficulty.
"We had the ability to swing and seam the ball, but Vaas aiya has come and helped us develop those things. Even if you seam the ball, if it's not in the right area, that ball is not useful. So those things we learned a little more. There are more things to develop, so we need to build on what we have achieved."
A focus on fitness and nutrition has also begun paying dividends. All three frontline pace bowlers have their origins outside Colombo's cricket structure, and had not been accustomed to bowling long spells for school teams. Eranga and Lakmal had only begun playing competitive cricket being discovered at pace competitions at 20, and though all three have several seasons of first-class cricket behind them, they rarely deliver more than 25 overs in those matches.
In the second Test Lakmal and Eranga bowled 49.3 and 50 overs respectively, having also bowled more than 40 overs each in the first match. There has been no marked dip in effort or pace throughout the series.
"Before this tour we had about a month and a half where we focused on fitness, because we know that in every match we need to bowl at least 35 overs. The three of us did the work together, with our trainer, and that has meant we're not finding it difficult at the moment."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here