Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Colombo November 24, 2012

SL batsmen must overcome pace test

Sri Lanka's batting, which crumbled against New Zealand's seam attack in parts in the first Test, must find a way past them in more testing conditions at the P Sara Oval

Though New Zealand lost the first Test early due to their failure against spin, Sri Lanka's batsmen hadn't fared too well either. On the second day, four top-order batsmen and the nightwatchman had fallen for 50 runs, and a first-innings lead, which they eventually achieved, seemed a long way away. A measured partnership between Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews rescued them then, but it was made easier by a Galle pitch that withdrew its assistance for the seamers after the 25th over. The pitch at the P Sara Oval is less generous to batsmen, and Sri Lanka's top order cannot afford another collapse.

But it is perhaps harsh to cast Sri Lanka's wobble as a failure against swing bowling because the movement Tim Southee and Trent Boult generated was of the highest quality. Almost every delivery in the first 20 overs curved in the air, and many moved off the seam as well. At one stage, Ross Taylor had eight men stationed in a catching position, six of them behind square on the off side.

But it is also not an anomaly for Sri Lanka, who have failed against the moving ball before. Against England at the P Sara Oval in March, James Anderson dismissed Sri Lanka's top three for 30, effectively paving the way for a large first-innings total for England, and thereby, a series-levelling victory. In Sri Lanka's tour of South Africa three months earlier, they had surrendered 30 wickets to Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, who had a combined average of 16.8. In the third Test at Newlands, Sri Lanka lost 16 wickets to South Africa's seam attack, while their own pace bowlers could only manage two wickets. There is no doubt that Steyn and Co are in a different league to Chanaka Welegedara and Dhammika Prasad, but the batsmen must bear some blame when they average 29.05 per wicket in a Test in which their opponents average 145.

It is a weakness Sri Lanka's batsmen have always had, and though those playing international cricket are now exposed to seam-friendly conditions even at home - with the pitches in Pallekele and Hambantota helping the quicks - a diet of dour domestic wickets that remain slow, low and dry have not allowed burgeoning talent to develop effective technique against effective seam and swing bowling. Tharanga Paranavitana is a prime example. He is adept at working the spinners around the park, and has even flayed fast men with a flowing range of strokes on the off side, but only if the ball is not moving. His judgment outside the off stump has been found wanting. He has left balls that have cannoned into his off stump and prodded at others that were never threatening the stumps, and brought his demise via a catch to the keeper or the slips.

Jayawardene was perhaps the most complete batsman to debut for Sri Lanka, but ever since his maiden hundred, his record outside the subcontinent has been the cudgel with which his bids for greatness have been thumped away. Though his technique has improved despite a poor tour of South Africa, he is still far more uncertain outside off stump than a man befitting his experience and talent.

Southee and Boult have barely had a bad game this tour, and if Doug Bracewell can find that difficult length for his hit-the-deck away-seamers, New Zealand will test Sri Lanka's most obvious chink. The P Sara Oval hasn't been a happy venue for Sri Lanka of late because of its bounce, and their pace attack is New Zealand's best hope of sparking an upset win.

"It looks a very good wicket and a competitive one, probably with something for bowlers more than in Galle," Jayawardene said on the eve of the second Test. "We need to make use of that opportunity and try and make sure that we get on top. In Galle, we thought after the first day we were in a good position, but after two sessions on the second day, we felt that we were behind them, and had to fight our way back. On the third morning, we managed to take control of the game, but we need to make sure that we don't get into those sorts of situations and be on top from throughout."

Having already picked their squad for Australia, the longer-term significance of their performance in this Test is not lost on Sri Lanka. If they are to avoid another overseas trip replete with an innings loss and a near-innings loss, as they did in South Africa, Sri Lanka's top order must learn to conquer pace, bounce and movement. Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Ben Hilfenhaus await, but first they must win past Southee, Boult and Bracewell.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Arosha on November 25, 2012, 1:25 GMT

    @ rajithwijepura I agree with you.SLC must prepare greenish wicets.Otherwise who the hell loves to ball fast on those dead pitches they make.Thats the first thing they should do to improve fast bowling in SL.

  • Chandima on November 24, 2012, 23:21 GMT

    SL batsmen are brought up on slow turners so they are good at playing spin but not so good on pitches with phase and bounce. Batsmen outside the subcontinent revel on pitches with phase & bounce but struggle on slow turners. Is it advisable that we try to go against what comes naturally to us and try to prepare seeming pitches and train our batsmen on them? Is is really feasible? Will we loose the home advantage if we do this? But if we don't do this will we ever be able to compete outside the subcontinent? I guess as long as cricket is played on variable pitches, there's no real answer to this. All we could do I believe is equip our young batsmen with the technical prowess to have a chance on any type of surface. Its really up to the individuals to take it from there. Sanga, Dilshan & even Jayasuriya (to a certain extent) were successful on fast wickets. Chandimal too seems to do good on them. So there's no reason why others also couldn't follow their footsteps and adapt.

  • Rajith on November 24, 2012, 18:53 GMT

    @KingOwl - most of the srilankan schools cant afford to have a pitch in their school grounds. Thats why they playing on top of matting. And I think Pallekale and Hambanthota grounds assist pace bowlers. SLC must prepare greenish wickets on these grounds. That will defiantly help Srilankan cricket in long run

  • Poorwaka on November 24, 2012, 15:25 GMT

    KingOwl- It's really hard to do that at school level. At club level, you can do that. Some school pitches don't even have proper pitches. They only have coir mats, that's why there are good spinners in SL and play them well. Now they are trying to make the club pitches with more bounce and pace. It's a good move I think.

  • Chatty on November 24, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    Is it so hard to prepare seaming wickets at the school level in SL? I do not think so. Such wickets would clearly benefit SL cricket in the long run. So, why don't they? Can someone with knowledge of SL cricket please explain?

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