Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Galle, 5th day July 20, 2014

A quintessential Sri Lanka collapse

Sri Lanka had a platform to spring towards an unlikely victory in Galle, but their batting line-up succumbed to the same weaknesses

Play 05:58
Arnold: SL lost the match in the first innings

There was a buzz about Galle Stadium on Sunday morning. Kumar Sangakkara was in. Mahela Jayawardene was to come. Sri Lanka's solidity on Saturday evening was cause for their coach believing victory was within their sight.

Everyone knew 260 was a gargantuan target, but Lord's and Headingley has instilled a little belief in the Sri Lanka fans, just as those matches boosted confidence in the team. Some drove down from Colombo in expectation. "I thought it could be one of those 'I was there' moments, you know?" one person said. "It could be a classic."

It was not an 'I was there' moment, except for those who took pleasure in watching the best bowler in the world return the best figures for a fast bowler in Galle. But it was a classic, of sorts. It was the classic Sri Lanka collapse.

More indiscretion than ineptitude, a Sri Lanka collapse is imbued with as much subtlety and nuance as a Rangana Herath spell, or a field that Mahela Jayawardene would set. They are usually not like the single-digit abounding, telephone-number wonders that Pakistan sometimes contrive. Or New Zealand's languid but unrelenting declines - like a slowly deflating circus tent, or a bird flying into a window-pane in slow motion.

Sri Lanka collapses are a sub-genre of their own, because they are so often preceded by a little top-order excellence, then each subsequent wicket takes a little time to come. They are like a cartoon man who climbs to the top of the tree, and when he slips and falls, interrupts his descent regularly on the way down, as his pants snag on each branch. He might have climbed pretty high, but he ends up on the forest-floor mulch all the same. Sri Lanka get their fans all the way down to Galle, then they kick them in the gonads.

Like Citizen Kane, this collapse also rewards repeat viewings, for the keen observer. Almost every top-order dismissal was a microcosm of the weaknesses in each man's game. Upul Tharanga drove and edged behind. Mahela Jayawardene poked at a seaming ball outside off stump and nicked off as well. Lahiru Thirimanne was out cover-driving to a ball angled across him, a la the first innings. Dinesh Chandimal hooked at the second short ball he got, and though replays were not conclusive whether he gloved it, he was out to the bouncer for another low score.

Even Kumar Sangakkara fell in slapstick fashion, mis-hitting what was among the worst balls he has received all game. He swears by thorough preparation, so perhaps the coaches can send down rank long-hops to him in the nets, over the next few days. He will be livid to have not only gifted his wicket away in the second innings, but also to have not extended his streak of 50-plus scores, when he got out for 22 in the first innings.

It was fitting that Angelo Mathews remained unbeaten at the close, because beyond his own extraordinary batting form, he also captained Sri Lanka with positivity and flair, particularly on the fourth day. He confirmed after the match that he had ordered his men to go for an unlikely victory, but lamented that they did not do it nearly well enough.

"When we ended the fourth day at 110 for 1, our plan this morning was to go after the target," Mathews said. "But like in the first innings we didn't bat well.

"I was planning to go higher up the order in the run chase, in the afternoon session. But unfortunately we lost Sangakkara and I had to go back to my normal position and bat with the tail once again."

If Mathews' average remaining unspoilt by the day five capitulation was reward for his attitude and application, there was karmic symmetry on the other side too. Having copped only a 75% fine for ball tampering (which the South Africa side have shrugged off with revealing nonchalance), Philander finished the match without a wicket to his name, while the other quicks cashed in. Still, while day three's middle-order woes might be blamed on unfair reverse swing, Sri Lanka surrendered all on their own on day five.

"There were no demons on the fifth day," Mathews said. "They had a couple of spinners who were not dangerous, and if we had some wickets in hand we could have given a good run at them. But unfortunately we kept on losing wickets to their seamers on this track. It does a little bit up and down, but the wicket didn't have much to do with it. It was bad batting."

Sri Lanka now head to one of the most consistently flat pitches in the world, needing victory to draw the series, with Shaminda Eranga, their best seam bowler unlikely to play. They have blown so many 1-0 leads in the past few years, perhaps they are trying going down by one, for a change. Whatever pitch they encounter at the SSC, the team cannot afford another one of these quintessential collapses in Colombo.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2014, 7:31 GMT

    SL should learn to read the match situation do not work like robots. SL was in better position on 5th day. Early morning lost one wicket , MJ came, scoreboard not moving. Sanga got slow down because of MJ. SA bowlers got upper hand. If any attacking batsman like Hearth came that time I think we are in better position. Also depend on the scoreboard Mathew should change his batting position other vise he will run out partners.

  • shane on July 21, 2014, 22:17 GMT

    @ Santhush-Perera, honestly I hope I am wrong but history says U Tharanga is having wrong technique. If u carefully look at U Tharangas come bak matches he has started well with a century but slowly he has declined and got drop.( It has happened 3-4 times) the reason it happened is he got a technical error, have a closer look at his initial front-foot movement before the ball is delivered. Over the time bawlers were able to work out on his error that's the reason he got very good come backs and lean patch after that. U will see in next match high percentage of stratish balls (middle & leg) and one pitches middle and leaving left hander that's the one he Edges!

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2014, 21:53 GMT

    Mahela is and was and ever will be a flat track player. He is never a nor was a likes of Great Aravinda De Silva. It is really good that he took the decision to retire. There are plenty lads out there who can cope with bouncy and flat tracks. I think Angelo Mathews is a great find after Sanga who can bat through in all levels in all conditions.

  • Samantha on July 21, 2014, 19:03 GMT

    Solitary Formula to squire the series: At SSC, we need to put up a score in excess of 450. To do that, Tharanga, Sanga & Mathews need to play long innings without any foolish letups whatsoever (since the rest of the batting is so brittle & cannot depend on, if anyone clicks.. that is a bonus)!

    To achieve big individual hundreds for each of these players, Constant CONCENTRATION & will-power are essential in addition to their natural skills. These guys are capable of doing it & they have done that before. It maybe a wise move to promote Mathews in the batting order & send MJ at Mathew's spot. Best of Luck guys..!!!

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2014, 16:33 GMT

    Time to drop two of the 3 non performers Mahela, Dinesh and Thiri. Let them find form and come back. Bring in Dimuth and Roshane. Who is Roshane Perera ? He has more 1st class centuries than Dinesh and Thri and a average over 50. Selectors are sleeping or having their own favorites ? Dimuth had an average of over 30 in England. Surely he will do better in familiar conditions. Let Upul Tharamga open may be and Dimuth can bat down the order may be at 5. Position 4 should be Mathews as we are loosing loads of runs he can make without running out of partners. Imagine he and Sanga clicks and then they can milk the attack and mellow them for others to prosper.

  • Kepili on July 21, 2014, 12:37 GMT

    @shanepe2003: You are absolutely wrong to demean Upul Tharanga's batting contribution. If not for his contribution, the end result certainly would have been an innings defeat. Didn't you see how well Tharanga handled the fearsome attack of pace & some spin? He stayed at the wicket for more than 3 hrs and faced 155 deliveries in the 1st inning (majority from Steyn & Morkel) & played some beautiful cover drives, straight drives etc to collect collect 83 valuable runs with 14boundaries We didn't see such a score (Vs a formidable side) from any of the openers tried during the past few years in any format (apart from Dilshan)! So, Tharaga's appearance after 7yrs is certainly a positive one.

    These are the top scorers for SL in of 1st Test: Mathews- 89+27*=116, Av 116.00 Sangakkara- 24+76=100. Av 50.00 Tharanga- 83+14= 97, Av 48.5 I think Tharanga should be able to play long innings & add a few big hundreds to the side from the top, as he did before in ODIs. Hope for the Best, Good Luck.!

  • siddhartha on July 21, 2014, 12:26 GMT

    With flat track genius Mahela in their line up SL are basically down to 10 batsmen in sporting wickets

  • Chanaka on July 21, 2014, 9:14 GMT

    Can we all please stop blaming individual players? The problem is actually the so called domestic first class competition which is a glorified club competition. There are two many teams so the playing talent is spread too thinly and batsmen are not put under pressure. The pitches are so slow that fast bowlers hardly bowl and when they do it is to contain. There should be four or five provincial teams which play four day games against each other, twice a year, and grounds like Galle and Pallekelle should be used so that our players get used to conditions other than the lifeless pitches of the SSC.

  • Roshan on July 21, 2014, 8:10 GMT

    Bit harsh on Mahela - he did not poke at an outside-the-off delivery. No, he was goaded, quite superbly, by a near-off stump heading delivery from Morkel which seamed and swung away on pitching. It would have had even the best in trouble. Beautiful pace bowling on a flat track. As for the collapse, which the writer has described using various choice of words, it was quite simply due to the fact that SL has the longest no-resistance offering tail in test cricket beginnging with Thirimanne. Not for the happy-go-lucky SL tail the stubborn resistance type batting seen, and they themselves saw in England, from Anderson or Kumar and Shami for India. No, the Lankan would rather blaze away rather than offer dogged barraricading. They will be blown away at the SSC, if changes are not made especially Thirimanne, who has lost the touch for now, and Chandimal. Only plus point was Tharanga's batting in the 1st innings though he too played a bad shot when well set in the 2nd innings.

  • Ara on July 21, 2014, 5:19 GMT

    If we just had one more player like Mathews, results would be different

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