Sri Lanka v Australia, 2nd Test, Pallekele, 4th day September 11, 2011

Sri Lanka's batting finally comes good

While their bowling attack has been weakened by retirements, there are no excuses for Sri Lanka's batting failures in this series, and the batsmen took what was, perhaps, their last chance to assert themselves

This might easily have been the day that ended the series. When Michael Clarke declared Australia's innings closed at the overnight tally of 411 for 7, all he required for an innings victory and an unbeatable 2-0 series lead was a Sri Lankan top-order display consistent with their prior performances in this series. What he received instead was a far spikier batting performance from a team that was on its very last chance to gain a foothold against the visitors, and last perhaps to avoid a raft of reactive changes to a transitional team.

Clarke's declaration was made with the weather in mind - rain was predicted to cause significant disruption to the final two days of the Test, and threatening clouds ringed the ground more than once while 79 overs were bowled on the fourth day. He must also have reasoned that the morning air had been the most useful for bowlers seeking wickets, having yielded five wickets before lunch on the first day and the opportunities for more on the second and third. There was some early movement to be found, and Ryan Harris beat Tharanga Paranavitana three times in succession in the first over with his nasty habit of hinting at movement one way through the air then getting it to go the other way off the pitch.

For the first time all series the early deviation wrought by Harris and Trent Copeland did not bring a gaggle of Sri Lankan wickets, as Paranavitana and his captain Tillakaratne Dilshan fought their way through the initial Australian spells, on a pitch that offered them more in the way of hope provided their bats came down straight to meet the ball. Dilshan's innings was ended by a characteristically rash swing at Harris in the shadows of the lunch interval, but he had at least managed to give Kumar Sangakkara at No. 3 something to build on - for once Sangakkara walked out without having to glimpse the manufacturer's logo on a still-new ball.

That there were no more chances for Sri Lanka to assert some kind of influence on the series was beyond question. Dilshan himself had stated the case with a passionate public address on the first evening, after his men had been splintered for 174 on a surface that had many more runs in it. Sri Lankan cricket is in a state of unease, whether it be financial, strategic or tactical, and the team's lack of fight for most of the series had been deeply unsettling for those who had become used to strong performances over the five years that spanned the captaincies of Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara. While Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas have left vast holes in the bowling attack, there are no such manpower excuses for the batsmen.

"Definitely there is something wrong in the batting," Dilshan had said. "We are talking, discussing, we are doing a lot of hard work in training and we are discussing a lot of things, but now is the time to deliver. We can't say the wicket is bad. They've bowled really well but we've played the last series in England, where there was a better attack, and on a difficult wicket we batted really well. Now the players should put their hands up and deliver, they have to deliver, now is the time, we can't wait anymore."

The example was set, as it had been in England, by Paranavitana, who is not a stylish player but shows a strong willingness to fight out his innings. It was he who had hurried the collapse on the second day in Galle by setting off for a run that Jayawardene could not complete. The burden of that dismissal weighed heavily on Jayawardene in the second innings of that match, and Paranavitana exhibited a desire to atone for his part in the mix-up once he was past the perils of Harris.

His dismissal, burgled out by Michael Hussey - the man of the series to date - brought Jayawardene to the crease to join Sangakkara. So much of Sri Lanka's success has been built around the two of them that the failures in the first three innings of this series had a lot to do with the fact that only once had either passed 50. But it is also instructive to note that they have never had much success in Test match partnerships together against Australia. As the most prolific batting pair in Sri Lanka's history, it stood to reason that eventually Sangakkara and Jayawardene would get themselves in together against an Australian attack that for all its determination and planning, and the leadership flair of Clarke, lacks the fearsome armoury of previous teams. More composure with the bat in Colombo and Sri Lanka can hope to place Australia under the sort of scoreboard pressure that made them wilt during the Ashes last summer.

The hosts were still trailing by 109 runs when Jayawardene walked to the crease, but the two former captains set about their work with purpose, frustrating Australia, who had more overs to attack Sri Lanka in the day than they would have predicted when the clouds first rolled in towards Pallekele in the morning. The second new ball remains a threat, but some more sturdy work on the final morning and Sri Lanka may yet have a chance of reviving their tilt at the visitors. Victory in the final match would mean a drawn series and Sri Lanka's retention of fourth spot in the ICC rankings. Such a conclusion remains a long way off, but now there is hope for the hosts, and a contest for Australia. A day ago both were decidedly lacking.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on September 13, 2011, 2:48 GMT

    @ landl47 - don't forget, the 2nd test was finished an hour early as there was no liklihood of a result. Probably about 60 overs lost allowing for innings changes & the last hour.

  • Andrew on September 13, 2011, 2:42 GMT

    @ landl47 - SL were not "saved by the rain" in the England series. They were an outside chance of winning both of the remaining tests. The 2nd Test, Strauss's declaration probably came a shade early had no overs been lost, but SL chasing 200+ runs with 7 wickets in hand was gettable! The 3rd Test - 2 days lost, poor 1st innings by SL was followed by a good 2nd innings. A lead of over 200, (half a chance of 300), would of presented a tough but doable challenge for England. Certainly NOT a guaranteed win. I'm leaning towards a 2-1 scoreline had there been no lost play.

  • Dru on September 12, 2011, 8:58 GMT

    This article is making too much of what I would term a 'normal' batting performance by SL and even suggests a win in the 3rd test!! SL are still behind with a day to play and could easily loose this game and are yet to do anything to date in the series to suggest even a remote possibility of a win. I think Sanga and Mahela saved a few blushes for now and that about it!!

  • Dummy4 on September 12, 2011, 5:27 GMT

    @Hris-Well your point questions me alot.....cause the conditions are diffrent....I assume that you are quite wise enough to understand both situations cause if you did..u will never point out the esult of the 02 series which Sri Lanka played between ENG & AUS....You are soo againts the weather mate.....well done....

  • Randika on September 12, 2011, 4:48 GMT

    @hris: With all due respect sir, I beg to differ with your theory. Sri Lanka had a torrid time in England with temperatures plummeting below 10C during the first test. Not excuse enough to get bundled out for 82 but the conditions were so so alien that you couldn't blame the hard hands of top order. Second test through was a different matter altogether. SL had a wonderful opportunity to rack up the remaining 200 runs with the sun on their backs had it not for the rain curtailment. The third test they had a handy 3rd innings lead after rain washed out much of the game earlier, so were well placed to earn atleast a respectable draw. Not taking anything away from England for the way they played, but SL were certainly no pushovers during that tour except for the second innings of first test!

  • Christopher on September 12, 2011, 3:24 GMT

    Its hard to be critical of SL.Their attack is threadbare at best and none of the final 4 contribute with the bat.On most occassions,the batsmen are merely waiting to see how many runs the opposition will make before declaration.Their best hope,is to bat first and build a huge total,hoping to create some kind of scoreboard pressure for the bowlers to work with.This puts responisibility for creating momentum in the match,soley in the hands of the batsmen,leading to greater inconsistency and the kind of strokes for which they are being criticised.If they fail with the bat in the first innings,then it implies a last innings chase or long crease occupation for a draw.The 1st Test results should be completely disregarded,given the ICCs opinion of the nature of the pitch and this Test seen as the true start of the series.To that end,i applaud the SL batsmen.The evidence suggests that they have little to hope for from the bowling & have taken the lionshare of responsibility on their shoulders.

  • Andrew on September 12, 2011, 2:11 GMT

    @johnathonjosephs - 50 overs in the 2nd Test & over 100 in the 3rd Test (roughly) was lost. That is fairly significant. I agree that hris was WRONG in asserting that SL would of lost the 2nd Test as SL needed just over 200 runs with 7 wickets in hand. Tough but definately do-able. Probably would of been a tense draw, remembering England probably would not of given SL a 300 run target off 90 overs. The 3rd Test, basically 2 days were lost, but SL had fought their way back & had 5 wickets in nahd with a 200+ run lead. There was more overs lost than you give credit for, but SL were well placed in the last 2 matches (as they were in the 1st Test) to save or win. @hris - Oz are the only side that can win this 2nd Test at this point, however, you can never discount SLs ability to rack up big scores, I'm a staunch Ozzy fan, but the way the pitch was playing from Day 3 onwards, it wasn't impossible that SL would of batted into Day 5, with an unassailable lead.

  • Syed on September 12, 2011, 1:10 GMT

    SL is wasting Dilshan by playing him in the opening slot. One or two stints as opener in the T20, ODI, and/or test formats does not make him a technically solid opener. He is by default a #5 or #6 batsman....period. Secondly, as a captain I don't recall seeing a single occasion where I can appreciate him of his captaincy. He probably can be classified as a technician but for sure he is not a strategist. As long as he is the captain and open the inning for SL.... I don't see any light at the end of tunnel for SL cricket. In comparison..... Kumar Sangakara has better vision, knowledge, and above all wisdom but unfortunately he also has personal issues which are bringing nothing but harm to SL cricket.

  • John on September 12, 2011, 1:04 GMT

    Johnathonjosephs, I'm afraid you have no idea what you are talking about. Test matches two and three of England's series against Sri Lanka were reduced by 85 overs (almost a full day's play) and 189 overs (over 2 full days' play) respectively. Look it up for yourself. Sri Lanka were certainly saved by the rain in both games.

  • Johnathon on September 11, 2011, 22:49 GMT

    @hris, in England, the only match where significant amount of overs was lost was Cardiff.. Strangely enough, Sri Lanka still lost. The other matches, about 30-40 overs was lost first day, and was made up on the other 4 days (starting early/ending later), so not a signiciant amount of overs was lost to rain (perhaps like 5 or 6 overs at most, but it honestly wouldn't have made a difference).... In this match, Sri Lanka is very lucky though. They are only allowed a 15 minute head start (which i think is ridiculous since they can't end later due to bad light), and have lost around 80 overs. Given how good Sanga/Mahela are doing, it would be nearsighted to think that Aus would win. Who knows how long these two can go, and if Lanka got a 300 run lead (which is what 80-90 overs would give them if they didn't get bowled out) on the last day, it would be interesting to see what would happen to Aus. But crazy theories aside IMHO, if there was no rain, Aus would have win.

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