South Africa in Sri Lanka 2013 August 2, 2013

Deferred Tests a lost opportunity for Sri Lanka

The indecision over the Tests between Sri Lanka and South Africa, in the wake of the SLPL's cancellation, has robbed cricket of a interesting contest. The worrying thing is that it may lead Sri Lanka down a path of Test mediocrity

The day after South Africa arrived in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Premier League's franchise owners missed their second payment deadline, and slammed the door on the tournament's second edition. Sri Lanka Cricket had not quite moved mountains to secure a window for their cash cow, but they had postponed the Test leg of South Africa's tour to 2015. As a one-sided ODI series has helped make clear, SLC's disregard for Tests has robbed Sri Lanka of a genuine chance at toppling Test cricket's best team.

Sri Lanka are now ranked seventh in the world in Tests. In 2012-13, they had an abysmal tour of Australia, losing all three Tests comfortably on the most high-profile tour they have had in years. They were uninspiring at home, throwing away a 1-0 lead against New Zealand, and allowing Bangladesh to muster a draw on a featherbed in Galle. Yet, despite the team's shortcomings, Sri Lanka's ranking has also been a victim of SLC's contempt for the format.

In 2012, four Tests were removed from the schedule: one against England, that clashed with the IPL's schedule in March, and three against India, which were replaced by an ODI series that bordered on disastrous for the home side. The effects of culling the Test against England are yet to be felt in full. Sri Lanka's reciprocal tour of England in 2014 will also now have only two Tests. In 2013, Sri Lanka were only too happy to acquiesce when the West Indies Cricket Board wished to free up its own players for the IPL, and sought to replace the scheduled bilateral tour with an ODI tri-series. When that tri-series and the window already set aside for the SLPL then made a full South Africa tour untenable, the Tests, predictably, were relocated to a vaguely defined period in the future.

While it's true that only a few men in the South Africa side that have been demolished in Sri Lanka also take their whites on tour (and perhaps they are better at red-ball cricket, anyway), there can be little doubt that a three-match series would have been more competitive than the teams' disparate rankings suggest.

South Africa's troubles with playing and producing good spin bowling have been the most conspicuous contributors to their dismay in Sri Lanka and, in a country that presents a distinctive challenge to bowlers and batsmen, Sri Lanka are well placed to exploit the widest chink in South Africa's cricket. Robin Peterson had been South Africa's frontline spinner in their last Test series against Pakistan, but on pitches as helpful as any he might bowl on, the ease with which Sri Lanka's batsmen played him might have caused particular worry in the South Africa side if Tests were to follow.

Sri Lanka have also been something of a bogey team for South Africa in the past. South Africa have established a 15-Test unbeaten streak in the last 18 months, but Sri Lanka are the last side to have defeated them, in Durban in 2011. Their unbeaten streak in away series - which stretches all the way back to 2006 - is also a feather in their cap of dominance. Even then, the last side that had bested them was Sri Lanka, in a 2-0 win. Hashim Amla, AB de Villers and Dale Steyn are vastly improved players now, but even so, chasing leather for over two days as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara amassed the largest partnership of all time in Colombo, must count among their least favourite cricketing memories.

"We saw how much South Africa didn't like our spinners, our climate and our pitches in the one-dayers," Sangakkara said, after Sri Lanka completed a 4-1 victory in the ODIs. "If we had the chance to play them in Tests here, and if we had won, our ranking would have risen. There is a Test championship in 2017. If we had been able to play at home, where we have such an advantage, it would have been a great thing."

SLC offers up its financial disarray as justification for its policy of Test abandonment, but the same forces that drove the board into the fiscal abyss still make the plays at Maitland Place. The board will claim it is not at fault for the SLPL's demise this year, but the tournament had failed to appear financially viable from the outset, and has now become the most high-profile victim of a regional cooling on Twenty20 leagues, following the IPL's sixth-season scandals.

The opportunity cost of postponing the Tests may not make a major difference to SLC's ledger, but it has robbed the sport of what promised to be a fascinating battle, and has led Sri Lanka down a path of Test mediocrity.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • spirit on August 3, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    @Farce-Follower..BCCI didn't disrespected test cricket,thats the reason why BCCI never cancelled any of their test series for trivial ODI/T20 events,infact they organised few extra test series outside of FTP when there was a long break for team compare this to SL who cancelled test series in WI and now against SA only because of money..its a shame

  • David on August 3, 2013, 2:04 GMT

    SL blew a fantastic opportunity to take on a severely weakened SA at home. Smith, the captain, injured & unable to play. The top ranked bowler injured, also unable to play. The top ranked batsman batsman nursing injuries. What an opportunity - wasted for no reason.

    Meanwhile, India & Pak play SA soon, and I would not be surprised if Ban get to play tests against SA before SL get their chance again. SZ chased the money, but lost the prize.

  • Harish on August 3, 2013, 0:47 GMT

    Test Cricket is the format for greatness. No one can forget Murali and Aravinda's Test exploits. Jayasuriya's ODI knocks are just about barely remembered. Sri Lanka has done a huge blunder following the BCCI path of disrespecting Test Cricket.

  • manjula on August 2, 2013, 20:45 GMT

    SL could have got a good test practice with current SA squad. They could make full use of it when Steyn, Smith, and Kallis are absent.

  • Prashan on August 2, 2013, 17:52 GMT

    @Prabhash1985, wrong to say Lankans dont watch test matches. Many prefer to watch it on tv rather than fill up the stadiums. After all, that is why test cricket has still survived here. For outer Colombo test matches, about 2000 could well attend a test match which could be pretty ok. Tests are well attended only in England, SA, India and Australia. Other places not really.

  • Tony on August 2, 2013, 12:52 GMT

    I read today in one of the local papers that Sanga was angry about the lack of tests. Really? He wasn't complaining when the administration cancelled test series that were meant to be played during IPL and now he's complaining. The players too played a part in this debacle. Sri Lanka is a small country and you need to take bald steps to show you mean business. None of the senior players have been able to do so this in pursuit of the big dollars in IPL. We can all see what's happening this Ashes series with one team having half their players play IPL this year and the other team barely anyone, and that team has won 2 out of 2 in this series.

  • Janaka on August 2, 2013, 12:24 GMT

    Without Test matches, Sri Lanka will never produce better batsmen and disciplined bowlers. Test cricket is hardly watched by many Sri Lankans, but it allows players to improve. For example, Lasith even accepted the fact that he gained a lot of experience even from the few Tests he played for Sri Lanka. I wish SLC give more priority to Tests.

  • Ian on August 2, 2013, 9:09 GMT

    It was one of the most awful decisions to cancel the Test series. SLC administration has been absolutely horrendous for the last 3 years or so.

  • Ruchith on August 2, 2013, 8:37 GMT

    @Bharatha Naotunne mate you are no Cricket Fan if you talk like this!!! Cricket is not all about entertainment!! If you want only entertainment go watch a movie without talking rubbish. If a country is to be stable in One day and T20 cricket.... they should be a serious test playing nation as well. What ever said, the best test players are the ones who will win you One day and T20 matches.

  • Dummy4 on August 2, 2013, 8:02 GMT

    aren't I glad we not playing a test at the moment. We need a fit Smith, a fit Steyn, a fit Amla and a smooth of the edges approach

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