Lakmal targets gradual improvement for pace attack
Shane Bond dreamed of knocking batsmen out, so they would fall on their stumps. Dale Steyn loves nothing more than to "pitch leg, hit off". Bouncers. Banana swing. Batsmen backing away in fear. Stumps cartwheeling. If a sport played in whites over five days could have adrenaline junkies, fast bowlers would come closest. But not everyone has the means to become merchants of chaos. Steyn and Mitchell Johnson can define series with vicious pace, but others contend with more modest talents.
Sri Lanka have put together the beginnings of a pace-bowling battery over the past few months, but none of their lead bowlers will be attempting magic deliveries yet. As they head to the SSC - a notorious graveyard for quicks beyond the first afternoon - Suranga Lakmal hopes his steady, no-frills approach is enough to help Sri Lanka toward a series-leveling win. "I think the focus over the past few months has been to just gradually improve on the things each of us fast bowlers is good at," Lakmal said. "There's no big secret to it, but we feel this is how we can win matches, and this is our best chance at winning the next match.
"I feel like I am in good rhythm after Galle. I had to do something I didn't anticipate there, with having to take on Shaminda Eranga's overs after he got injured. But I felt I was bowling well."
Lakmal and Eranga have formed the core of the pace attack this year, with others like Nuwan Pradeep and Dhammika Prasad contributing meaningful spells, on occasion. Sri Lanka have won three Tests in 2014, all away from home, and seam bowlers have accounted for over 73% of the opposition wickets in those matches.
"For a long time Sri Lanka has won matches through spin bowling," Lakmal said. "We've been able to change that a bit over past few months. Going ahead, we just need to develop our strengths further, and maybe bowl more and more cleverly." Building pressure as a unit is key to Sri Lanka's bowling strategy. Working as a pack to dry up the runs and await mistakes has marked the attack's route to improvement, and to that end, camaraderie and close knowledge of each other's cricket has paid off, Lakmal said.
"In the past little while, the fast bowlers have always trained as a group - that's me, Eranga, Chanaka Welegedara, Dhammika Prasad and others as well. We work hard with the coach and share what we have with each other, in terms of knowledge and skill. Because of that there's a good exchange of ideas and that helps us to develop. Right through the team we have that. "
While Eranga and Lakmal's line and length has kept the attack on an even keel this year, Pradeep produced an inspired burst of seam bowling to set up Sri Lanka's win in Dubai, and Prasad's hit-the-deck pace broke the back of the England top order in the second innings at Headingley. While the coaches have asked the bowlers to buy in to Sri Lanka's bowling strategy, they have also worked to magnify each bowler's strengths, with a view to improving variety as well, Lakmal said.
"If you take our four main fast bowlers in this series, we're four different types of bowlers, all with different strengths. I think if Eranga and I bowl, opposition batsmen have to face each of us differently. That's useful. What I try to do is take wickets with swing, most of the time. When the ball gets old, I reverse it a little as well. Eranga gets early swing as well, but he also has great accuracy and a good bouncer. We're always talking and supporting each other."
Eranga will not play the SSC Test, having been ruled out by injury. The pitch did not appear to have a lot of live grass two days before the match, but Lakmal expected some assistance for the quicks nonetheless.
"In the first hour and a half here the ball swings. We're hoping to make the most of that. Getting as many wickets as possible in the morning session is key I think."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando