New Zealand in Sri Lanka 2012-13 November 16, 2012

Sri Lanka face fast-bowling questions

With the tour of Australia looming, it's time for Sri Lanka's fast bowlers to match their spinners

Heading into the two-Test series with New Zealand, Sri Lanka have the visitors beaten on paper in most aspects. A man-for-man comparison of the two top sixes might show that only Sri Lanka's opener, Tharanga Paranavitana, fails to command better numbers than his opposite. The chasm in quality is almost as wide among the spinners. Rangana Herath has bowled several match-turning spells for Sri Lanka in the last 12 months, both home and away, but Jeetan Patel's only five-wicket haul came in 2008. For all Kruger van Wyk's fight, Prasanna Jayawardene is more assured behind the stumps and with the bat, and Mahela Jayawardene remains at least as good as Ross Taylor in the slips.

Where Sri Lanka are soundly bested though, is in the pace bowling department. Since Chaminda Vaas retired in 2009, several bowlers have been tried, retried and jettisoned, without anyone making a sustained claim for the position of fast-bowling spearhead. Left-armer Thilan Thushara was Sri Lanka's great hope for a while, before his form and confidence fell away rapidly in 2010. Dilhara Fernando has appeared intermittently, but has done little to prove he is fit for Tests, or international cricket at all, and Suranga Lakmal was largely underwhelming before getting injured.

The fast bowlers currently in the squad do not inspire much more confidence. Chanaka Welegedara came closest to donning the spearhead's mantle when he had a number of encouraging outings in 2011, but he has also been listless in other spells, and is coming back from injury to boot. Nuwan Kulasekara is a fine limited-overs bowler, but in Tests, when the ball loses its shine and there is little swing on offer, he becomes very hittable at 130 kph. Dhammika Prasad suffers from the opposite ailment; he has pace, but not much else. And as promising as Shaminda Eranga has been, he has played too little international cricket to prove he can be Sri Lanka's pace panacea.

The problem for Sri Lanka is at domestic and school level, where pitches conducive to movement are scarce, and tracks with pace and bounce even rarer. To bowl fast in Sri Lanka is to toil while the spinners reap, and though some international cricket venues have suddenly become havens of swing and seam, first-class pitches remain tiresome for the quick men.

The fast bowlers in the national side however, cannot use poor pitches as an excuse for mediocrity, particularly with the challenges that loom in Australia. After the New Zealand series, Sri Lanka depart for their most high profile tour in years. Their first Test assignment is at Hobart, which was a greentop the last time a Test was played there, and has barely settled down since the square was relaid earlier this year. Sri Lanka's seam bowlers may get away with allowing the spinners to paper over their failures at home, but unless they take major strides in the Tests against New Zealand, they will be exposed by Australian pitches and a batting unit that has recently quelled the threat of even the most potent pace attack - South Africa.

Sri Lanka's fast bowlers may have a difficult beginning to the series in Galle, where spinners often rule, but if the November rains have livened up the surface, they may enjoy some assistance. A better measure of their worth, and a more accurate gauge of their prospects down under, will come in the second Test at the P Sara Oval, which has long been the most seam friendly Test venue in the country - though perhaps now, it has been pipped by Pallekele. Sri Lanka have only one warm up match in Australia, and the pace and bounce in the P Sara pitch might go some way to deciding which of Sri Lanka's fast men will take the field in Hobart.

New Zealand's more obvious batting weakness may be against spin, but as they proved in Hamilton earlier this year - again, against South Africa - they can be just as susceptible to fast bowling of high quality. If Sri Lanka's pace battery can emerge from this series having made significant contributions to a series win, they will have given themselves form and momentum, and some hope of taking their side to a first ever Test victory in Australia. If they cannot, Sri Lanka's campaign in Australia could well be stillborn.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prashan on November 17, 2012, 14:21 GMT

    @reality_check27, by the way India should have lost 4-0 at home when Aussies toured India in late 2004! It was rain on the last day in Chennai which meant it was a draw and also 2 days of rain in Mumbai and of course the toss decided the whole game. Aussies came so close to winning but India were too lucky. So it was actually 4-0 for Australia in that series!

  • Prashan on November 17, 2012, 8:44 GMT

    @reality_check27, if you are so desperate to look at the last 25 years Sri Lanka has played tests away, remember then you must look at India's test record away from 1933 to 1970 indeed. I can write a book showing how India got continuously thrashed away. Recall how India got all out for 54 in an ODI in Sharjah where the pitch is flat. That showS Indians are no bullies whatsoever.

  • Prashan on November 17, 2012, 8:39 GMT

    @reality_check27, Indians are the pure flat track bullies. Sri Lankan pitches are spinning pitches as shown by Galle, P Sara, R Premadasa and Pallekelle. Look at India's test record in Australia since 1991 to today. Aussies have thrashed India in 14 out of the 20 tests. In 2004 tour, Warne and McGrath were missing and that was why India got a respite. So it is Indians who get thrashed big time away.

  • Prashan on November 17, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    @reality_check27, yeah if Sri Lanka is only better than Bangladesh in tests, then remember in the last decade we registered test wins in South Africa, England, NZ, West Indies etc. There is a first time for everything like how we won in Durban last year, so we can win a test match in Australia too. Remember last time we were there, Sanga scored 192 and if there was DRS, he could have batted on and created history. This time there is full DRS and no room for umpiring howlers.

  • Prashan on November 17, 2012, 8:29 GMT

    @reality_check27, how many years did India take to win a test match in Pakistan?? We have so far won 6 test matches in Pakistan in contrast to just 2 by you all and that only happened in 2004! But Pakistan thrashed you all in their 2nd ever test match in history in your shores and that too by an innings. India took 19 years to register their first ever test win but Sri Lanka and Pakistan took a very very short period to register their historic test match win. Check history first.

  • Prashan on November 17, 2012, 8:25 GMT

    @reality_check27, we have not toured England adequately unlike India who toured England back in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s as well. We have registered 2 test wins in England in contrast to just 5 test wins which India have achieved since 1930. Yeah I am sure you predicted a 3-0 defeat for us in South Africa but it was all wrong. We have all to play for in Australia and I am sure you will get a hiding when you see how we play. I respect Aussies a lot so I know it is tough but we will have a lot of fans outthere cheering in numbers.

  • vinit on November 17, 2012, 5:28 GMT

    shevhan let me remind you hat we won in 2007 in england which is like england took 3 series to best in england they beat us after 12 years in england which is the seaming wicket and swining wicket and ur boosting about ur first test victory in soutafrica still u did not win a test series u lost while we drew the series in southafrica which is better than losing like srilanka what stata are you guys talking about you havent doner better than india and never will just to rtemind u in england u were saved becuase of rains otherwise u would have been whitewashed as well checked out the scores and in australia you will lose anyways

  • Hashan on November 17, 2012, 4:04 GMT

    I don't know what is wrong with these indian fans.They always try to predict before even a series starts.Remember history is there to be changed. Sri Lanka haven't won a world cup before 1996.That didn't meant they cannot win in 1996.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 3:26 GMT

    we dont care abt the past-we are only looking at the future -you guys got thrashed in england and in aus how pathetic couldnt even draw a game- while we won a game in sa,you'll couldnt even do well in the cb series in aus where we came to the finals and we lost it because of our mistakes not because aus played better,indians please face the turth that you'll are flat track bullies

  • Vihanga on November 17, 2012, 3:11 GMT

    @narbavi - Give them some time. When they are as mature as you are in test status (80 years) they will have plenty of series wins under their belt. Youngsters like Chandimal, Thirimanne and Perera look like future champions to me. and yea aren't India and Srilanka brothers? i dunno i m English.

  • No featured comments at the moment.