Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, Colombo July 22, 2014

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sinhhalaya on July 23, 2014, 7:29 GMT

    @SripriyaReddy & KingOwl: couldn't agree with you more. What if SA bat second after SL are bowled out for 250 runs? What is your 'plan B'? Line and length to Amla and ABDV as well as De Kock, Elgar, Duminy, Du Plessis and Petersen for 2 days and 6 sessions? The one thing Lakmal is right about is that spin bowling matchwinners for SL are a thing of the past.

  • Prashan on July 23, 2014, 0:52 GMT

    Never bowl with an intention of controlling the run flow. Look at Harris, Siddle and Johnson who bowl with heart out determination to get the batsman out. They always make the batsman to play each and every ball.

    Your determination and stamina is definitely great Lakmal. I know Eranga's injury put a lot of weight on you.

  • Lakmal on July 22, 2014, 23:40 GMT

    Lakmal has listened to Chaminda Vaas and keeps a good line and length,,,,,, let the batsmen make the mistakes.... Good luck, Lakmal: we are counting on you.

  • chandra on July 22, 2014, 23:33 GMT

    Stop conceding easy runs, mostly in 2 or 3's; Mathews should set a tight field, just like the South Africans does. You will find things get much tighter than they have been in the past. South African pace bowlers can be rattled if the openers are not timid, and play with passion.

  • Cricinfouser on July 22, 2014, 20:41 GMT

    On what basis has Lakmal made his last comment? Did he have dream that SA will be batting first, that he already made up his mind of taking early wickets in the 1st innings?

  • Sage on July 22, 2014, 19:03 GMT

    Sri Lanka cannot handle the South African pace bowlers. South African fast bowlers are a much better unit than England bowlers. SSC is a flat track but fast bowlers have played havoc there in the past too. It is important to see how much patience Sri Lankan batsmen have against South African fast bowlers. How are they going to handle Amla and De Villiers and company? Giving excuses will not win any match and no room for complacency. Perseverance is the only key to success.

  • Android on July 22, 2014, 17:33 GMT

    SL should bring on Left arm seamer soon.

  • Chatty on July 22, 2014, 17:09 GMT

    "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.": That sounds a bit naive! Has the toss already been won and SA have been asked to bat first? Anyway, good luck to Lakmal and co.

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