Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd ODI, Lahore January 24, 2009

Seamers shine in spinners' shadow

The only thing better than defeating opponents is crushing them. And the only thing better than that is to do so at their own game


Sri Lanka have built a depth in their pace reserves matched by only a few, but envied by all © AFP
 

The only thing better than defeating opponents is crushing them. And the only thing better than that is to do so at their own game. The themes before Sri Lanka arrived in Pakistan laid themselves out readily. Spin, Pakistan's batsmen must conquer and likewise pace, the Sri Lankans.

The pitches were bouncier and Pakistan picked six fast men in their squad. All talk was on how best to tackle Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan, cricket's M&M, every bit as tasty a prospect as the candy and every bit as vicious as one of the rapper's lines. The only cursory glance cast over Sri Lanka's pace attack was at Chaminda Vaas, for not being here.

Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara became, by default, the men to wait through before the spinners came on and the real game began. Yet with delicious irony and Tillakaratne Dilshan aside, no one contributed more to this series win than Sri Lanka's fast-bowling pair. Together they took one less wicket (nine) than Murali and Mendis, but no one will deny they essentially set up both wins and the series. It has happened more often than people think and it may happen more often.

Without too many people cottoning on, Sri Lanka have built a depth in their pace reserves matched by only a few, but envied by all. Probably the variety cannot be matched. There was something in the pitch today, as well as something in the lights and the atmosphere; in Kulasekara and Thushara they had the men to wring every little bit out of it. They located whereabouts to bowl early on and went about it with considerable verve. The movement they got suggested at times they were playing on a different pitch to Pakistan's bowlers.

Beyond them, Dilhara Fernando is more than just a magnificent mullet. He is tall and hits the bat very hard and if he is erratic, it still means he has days when he can run through sides. Farveez Maharoof every now and again, on particular surfaces, reminds various people wherever he travels of Glenn McGrath. There is to be relished the soon-to-return freakishness of Lasith Malinga. Dammika Prasad has pace, reverse-swing and spunk. And remember, Vaas has not yet retired. Only Maharoof has been a member of their pace attack in this series.

Malinga aside, none of these individuals has perhaps been given the recognition they deserve. And collectively, just the depth of resources has slipped by. It is understandable, and difficult, when you have men such as Murali and Mendis doing things never before seen on a cricket field. But Kulasekara and Thushara are part of what Mahela Jayawardene, the man responsible for deploying this talent, called Sri Lanka's "unsung heroes."

 
 
They [our fast bowlers] have been unsung heroes for quite some time because of someone like a Murali, who has taken a bucketful of wickets. Guys like Vaasy have been forgotten, guys who have been doing a lotMahela Jayawardene
 

"They have been unsung heroes for quite some time because of someone like a Murali, who has taken a bucketful of wickets. Guys like Vaasy have been forgotten, guys who have been doing a lot," he said. "But our pace attack has been really good for the last two to three years and these guys have been pushing each other."

Sri Lanka bid adieu but return soon enough for two Tests. It is likely Pakistan will still focus on how to handle the spinners but they will overlook the pace attack at their own peril. The names will be different, the threat the same.

"There was lot of focus on the two spinners and we were quite happy for them to talk about that because we knew these guys [the fast bowlers], given the right conditions, are very good bowlers and they can create opportunities. They came to the party when required, so Murali and Ajantha have a good group of bowlers around them which is a good thing.

"We have completely different guys coming into the Test series, who have been playing consistently. Dammika, Dilhara and all those guys, even Lasith is coming back. He's played three-four games back home so he will probably be in the squad pretty soon."

As he usually does, Jayawardene's words were calmly uttered, with a smile. Make no mistake, Pakistan - and indeed the world - should heed them as warning.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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