Sri Lanka series review November 30, 2012

Batting woes continue to hurt Sri Lanka

As they did against England earlier this year, Sri Lanka failed to hold onto a series lead at home as New Zealand's pace bowlers delivered victory in Colombo to reignite debate about the home side's frailties

Even before Mahela Jayawardene admitted Sri Lanka were the less happy side with a 1-1 result in the Test series their dismay was obvious, and perhaps justified, given the context. The last time New Zealand visited, the hosts recorded two crushing wins. They had Muttiah Muralitharan in their ranks then, but this New Zealand side arrived had arrived in Sri Lanka with a significantly poorer reputation. Sri Lanka's comfortable victory in the ODI series only frayed their opponents' esteem further, and a rapid loss for the visitors in Galle saw them plummet to rock bottom.

Perhaps there was some complacency in the Sri Lanka performance at the P Sara, but the primary reason for their failure in the second Test had already appeared in the first. In Galle, Sri Lanka seemed destined for a first innings deficit at 50 for 5, before Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews added 156 together to lift Sri Lanka out of distress.

Dimuth Karunaratne can be forgiven for a first innings duck on debut that almost seems a rite of passage now for Sri Lankan openers, but Tharanga Paranavitana's technique against the moving ball had seemingly not improved since being dropped from the side, largely for that reason. Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera also failed to show the judgement necessary to survive quality new-ball bowling, though to be fair to Samaraweera, he was set up beautifully by Tim Southee, who trapped him with one that jagged in after having bowled several overs of outswing.

At the P Sara Oval, on the same pitch that Sri Lanka's seam bowlers had managed only 2 for 165, the top order folded again, sinking to 12 for 3 in less than six overs. This time there was no vicious swing to blame, though New Zealand's bowlers certainly achieved as much movement as the conditions allowed and did so at sharp pace and with discipline.

Tillakaratne Dilshan was undone by a straight ball - perhaps one that surprised him with its speed - Sangakkara failed to control Southee's bounce, though even he will wonder why he was hooking so early in his innings, and Jayawardene fell having misjudged a Trent Boult delivery that moved away from him. The second innings was even worse for Sri Lanka's top four, who again failed to counter the moving ball and were reduced to 46 for 4 as their side sought a series-saving draw.

Sri Lanka's batsmen have never been comfortable against pace, movement and bounce, and on the last occasion in which they had encountered high quality fast bowling in Tests, they capitulated similarly. Save for that famous victory on a dry Durban surface, an innings loss and another defeat as close to an innings loss as it is possible to get, were their returns from a tour of South Africa. Even at home, Sri Lanka played James Anderson poorly in March, when England levelled their series at the P Sara, as New Zealand did.

It is becoming a weakness Sri Lanka must urgently address as international pitches at home become more seamer friendly with each series and they can no longer rely solely on their considerable skill against spin to win Tests at home. Even during the World Twenty20, teams expressed their surprise at the amount of movement available at Pallekele, while Hambantota is even more helpful, though that venue has not seen a Test match yet. At the P Sara, the bounce which made New Zealand's batsmen more comfortable added to Sri Lanka's woes. It is a worrying sign as Sri Lanka prepare to depart to Australia for a full tour which includes their first Boxing Day Test in 17 years.

To add to the concerns Sri Lanka's seam bowlers also emerged from the series looking lacklustre, despite a creditable first-up performance in Galle. Chanaka Welegedara, the left-armer, is still coming back from a shoulder injury. His absence was felt at the P Sara where the seam attack was woefully short on penetration and at times could not even hold down an end while Rangana Herath attacked from the other. A return of 12 wickets between Nuwan Kulasekara and Shaminda Eranga, in which New Zealand's new-ball pair plundered 21 scalps, illustrates how far they have to go to become a good all-round Test bowling unit.

Herath and Mathews were two major positives for the hosts, but meaningful contributions from elsewhere in the side were limited to a single innings or a lone spell. New Zealand was an opponent Sri Lanka could have boosted their confidence against with the sterner challenges ahead, but instead they have finished on a deflating note with only two of their players truly in form.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent