Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sharjah, 4th day

Sri Lanka tread too far down the conservative route

While conservatism has worked for Sri Lanka in this series, their dour defensive play on day four in Sharjah neither decisively put defeat beyond them nor, it would appear, did much to revive the flagging interest in Test cricket

Andrew Fidel Fernando in Sharjah

January 19, 2014

Comments: 41 | Text size: A | A

Angelo Mathews and Mahela Jayawardene punch gloves, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sharjah, 4th day, January 19, 2014
Cricket match or staring contest? © AFP
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A few days ago, in the Emirate just west of Sharjah, a group of cricket administrators unveiled a proposal that would put the Test-match future of Sri Lanka and Pakistan in serious doubt. On day four, in a series already ruled by attrition, the teams produced the least watchable cricket of the tour. The comatose third session, in which Sri Lanka progressed at 1.36 runs an over, was little more than a staring contest featuring 13 grown men. There are pharmaceutical ads that are more compelling.

The few hundred fans that had come to the stadium stared too, only their eyes had long since glazed over. If any new followers of the sport tuned in, they might wonder why Tests between these sides deserve saving.

Sri Lanka were almost certainly the more passive of the teams, and though the players will contend that abrasive battles are an inextricable part of Test cricket, they can hardly claim it is the type of play that will stir the flagging interest in the format at home. They will also hold that Sri Lanka's first away series win since 2000 is much better reward for their fans than risky, aggressive cricket. If the sport is reduced to its scorelines, then perhaps that is correct. But cricket has always been about the journey, not just the destination, as laid out by the two best Tests of 2013, in Auckland and Johannesburg, both of which ended in draws.

Before the Test, captain Angelo Mathews had said this: "We need to play positive cricket once again, because we will try to win it 2-0. We are certainly not going for a draw here, because it sends a negative message to the whole team."

To single Mathews out for hypocrisy here would be grossly unfair, primarily because press conferences with almost any athlete have become an exercise in professional pretense. Even the most dour batsman will speak of "being positive" - a ubiquitous cricketing phrase - because anything less conveys weakness. But the fact is, no one likes to lose. When you're ahead in the series, why bother with winning the match? Sri Lanka have been in control at the close of almost every day since the middle of the first Test, and the prospect of finishing the series on even terms might appear madness to those in the dressing room.

Moreover, an inexperienced Sri Lanka side have largely gained ground by playing conservatively and respecting the limits of their ability. The fast bowlers have not attempted magic balls, nor sought to blast oppositions out. The spinners have found safety in the quicker, flatter deliveries, hoping to build pressure with dot balls. In the Dubai Test that Sri Lanka won, they scored at less than three an over in both innings, effectively challenging Pakistan to change the tempo of the series, if they wish to level it.

But on Sunday, Sri Lanka discovered the perils of treading too far down the conservative route. An uncompromising focus on defence with the bat allowed Pakistan's bowlers the opportunity to settle happily into their work, even though the onus was on them to take quick wickets, having finished their first innings with an 87-run deficit and only five full sessions to play. Three of Sri Lanka's five dismissed batsmen fell offering defensive shots, having earned poor dividends for their time at the crease. Kaushal Silva and Dinesh Chandimal fell to very good balls, but that is hardly unexpected at Test level; if batsmen are to receive unplayable deliveries, it would seem wise to score off the balls that are not so menacing.

Mahela Jayawardene stalled for 15 deliveries on 46, allowing Saeed Ajmal to put men around the bat, as he constructed what was among his most threatening spells in the series. Flat pitches in India recently prompted MS Dhoni to compare bowlers to bowling machines, but to Ajmal, Jayawardene and Mathews - whose 38-run stand spanned 176 deliveries - might have seemed the batting equivalent. Predictably, he got one to turn a little more than Jayawardene anticipated, and ensured Pakistan's slim hopes of winning the Test survived into the fifth day.

It is excusable, perhaps even commendable, that Sri Lanka have taken stock of their personnel and embraced conservatism in the series, largely to good effect. Their gains in the series may even suggest it is a strategy that suits them until key men develop the ability to play attacking, intimidating cricket. But in defending to the point of alienating fans, they have also weakened their grip on the match.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by ooper_cut on (January 21, 2014, 9:04 GMT)

Where are the exciting players from SL ? Guys like Kalu, Jaya, Aravinda, Mahanama ? Guys who take the attack to the opposition ? Bowlers like Vaas, Fernando, Murali ? Why isn't Thirumane playing ?

Posted by android_user on (January 20, 2014, 13:19 GMT)

I never watched like this series...boring boring...

Posted by imtiazjaleel on (January 20, 2014, 11:00 GMT)

I remember the series of Australia and India under the captaincy of Azharuddin. The Adeliade test, India could easily have drawn the test, but Azhar was very positive and almost got the victory and ultimately India lost but still i believe there should be an attempt to win the game. One more example i will give India and Pakistan match. it was played in India i dont remember exactly when and where, but in that match Yunus Khan scored double hundred and India played very defensively on the final day and lost the match.

Posted by shanazpk on (January 20, 2014, 9:15 GMT)

from the 1st ball of this test sl were looking for a draw..not wise for test cricket MR. ANGELO MATHEWS

Posted by Fauzer on (January 20, 2014, 9:07 GMT)

At lunch on the last day of the last test, all results are still possible, 2-0, 1-0, or 1-1. so what is the fuss? I don't see why SL should make it any easier for Pak. If they want it bad enough, let them make 302 in just under 60 overs or perish trying. There I think SL and Mathews have read the game to near perfection on almost every day of this series

Posted by gul_khan on (January 20, 2014, 8:53 GMT)

I'm a Pakistan fan and it is not the responsibility of the Sri Lankan team to make the game competitive. They had every right to bat Pakistan out of the game. Infact, I was surprised they declared their first innings. Any team one-up in a series with one to go would bat for as long as possible. It's for the opposition, in this case Pakistan, to take twenty wickets. Any criticism should be levelled at the Pak team and Sri Lanka should only receive praise for the way they have played.'No more tests please. Let India, Australia and England play only. Who gives a flying kiss to this type of cricket.' - well whomever you are (you're hiding behind an anonymous facebook entry), test cricket is what it is all about. I've never known a cricketer when they are young to say - "i want to grow up to play ODIs for my country", they nearly all say test cricket. By your own standards, Aus would not have been allowed to play in the early 1980s and Eng and Ind not allowed to play between 1987 and 1992

Posted by Udendra on (January 20, 2014, 8:23 GMT)

This author has got it wrong. a strategy is a strategy, whether it's positive or negative!

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