India in Sri Lanka 2008 August 30, 2008

Seniors' struggles cost Sri Lanka

Jamie Alter reviews Sri Lanka's performance in the five-match home series against India


Thilan Thushara showed the potential to be a genuine allrounder © AFP
 
Since the final of the World Cup Sri Lanka have had a poor run, losing three bilateral series against significant opposition besides a disappointing show in the CB Series earlier this year. Things appeared to be falling in place during the victorious Asia Cup campaign, but losing 3-2 to a young Indian side has opened up huge cracks again. Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekara performed well but poor series from Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, coupled with an abysmal batting display, led to a second consecutive one-day series loss at home for the first time.

Bowling

It was hardly a coincidence that Sri Lanka's travails in this series coincided with the failure of two senior players. Vaas bowled some tidy opening spells, dismissing Gautam Gambhir for a second-ball duck in the series opener and taking his 400th wicket in the fourth game, but his overall failure to get wickets hurt Sri Lanka. Murali was decidedly off-key, finishing the series with four wickets (three in one game) at 43.00. However, there is plenty for Sri Lanka to take from the spirited performances of Kulasekara and Thushara.

After a poor Test series Kulasekara bowled some very good opening spells, troubling India's top order, and a career-best 4 for 40 earned him the Man-of-the-Match award in the dead rubber. A mere four months after his debut, Thushara has emerged not just as a bowler capable of making inroads but also as a batsman with the potential to develop into an authentic allrounder. He filled the third medium-pace slot superbly and almost always produced wickets; he took two in an over in the second game and pulled India back with his maiden five-wicket haul in the fourth.

Thushara is 27 and Kulasekara 26, but the duo could provide a potent ODI pace-bowling partnership in the coming years, and with the likes of Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof on the mend, Sri Lanka's fast bowling stocks look in good health. Ajantha Mendis finished as the highest wicket-taker in the series with 13, polishing off the tail in the final game, but oddly wasn't close to the standards he has set this year. Once India's batsmen negated his threat for three straight games, the series was decided.

Batting

Like India's famed middle order in the Tests, Sri Lanka's top and middle orders came a cropper. Bar Mahela Jayawardene's two fifties - his 94 nearly got them home in game three - there was not one stand-out innings. Most damningly, Sri Lanka's opening acts were woeful, as one fifty from three different openers in five matches, with a highest stand of 28, indicates. Sanath Jayasuriya dazzled with 60 in the fourth game, but was otherwise a disaster. There is no time frame on when Jayasuriya is likely to retire from ODIs, but with the Champions Trophy postponed till 2009, he might take a second look at his options.

More worryingly, Kumar Sangakkara's best was 19. Not once did he bat out the Powerplays, and every time was beaten for pace and movement by one of India's fast bowlers. He struggled as opener, one-drop, and at No. 4.

The middle order was shambolic apart from Jayawardene. Chamara Silva was dropped after scores of 0, 1 and 0 while Tillakaratne Dilshan stitched together 44 runs in four games; both were exposed by bounce and movement. Chamara Kapugedera came up with an unbeaten 45 in the series opener but his form nosedived thereafter. The selectors and captain have kept faith in Dilshan for some time now, but he has only responded with occasional bursts of brilliance, while Silva's place is no longer guaranteed. The lack of confidence was all too evident, and Jayawardene's repeated mention of his disappointment at inconsistent batting clearly fell on deaf ears. A new opening combination needs to be established and at least a couple of middle-order spots are up for grabs.

 
 
There is no time frame on when Jayasuriya is likely to retire from ODIs, but with the Champions Trophy postponed till 2009, he might take a second look at his options
 

Fielding

This is the one aspect that Sri Lanka had going in their favour. As in the Tests, the fielding remained energetic. Silva's run-out from midwicket in game three was athletic, and Dilshan and Kapugedera were sprightly inside the circle. Jayasuriya, at 39 years and 58 days, pulled off a beauty to his left at cover in the fourth game. Most outfield chances were held, and the ground-fielding was generally sharp.

Leadership

Like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Jayawardene was his side's highest scorer but the lack of support was disappointing. His captaincy, though, was generally competent, and the field placements were rather effective. He almost always kept a short cover and short midwicket and got Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh early thrice. He even tried the aggressive option of three fielders around the bat during the low-scoring second match. Lack of runs from his main batsmen meant that despite these moves, the results didn't go Sri Lanka's way.

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo