Galle mismatch symptomatic of wider malaise

Asela Gunaratne's thumb fracture, suffered on the first day of the Test, reduced an already struggling Sri Lankan side to ten men AFP

Opposite the main gates of Galle International Stadium is the Galle bus station. The buses almost all have Sri Lankan names, with "speed racing" or "super express" or similar terms added on. Wickremasinghe Speed Racing, for example. Tharindu Speed Racing. Dilshani. Chaminda. Although Vaas himself might disagree with words such as "super express" next to his name.

Almost all Sri Lanka cricketers' names are covered. These buses are not exactly dilapidated but you can bet on the glass in the windows rattling in the frames if they go over 40kph. This is a busy roundabout anyway, so there is no way they can speed. So they honk at each other mercilessly, creating a racket that can be heard inside the ground, perhaps even by batsmen in the middle of Test innings. Or at least in this Test they would have, because SLC in its infinite wisdom chose to block the view of passers by, who used to watch through the fence and create some noise.

Watching these buses as they try to manoeuvre their way through the roads, to overtake and try to deliver on the promise of speed, was far more engrossing than watching the Test match that took place inside the stadium last week. At least in this contest, if a new road is ready and satisfies all safety norms, you don't have to wait till October 1 to use it. Or if one bus breaks down, its passengers are allowed to travel in a substitute bus.

"So unbalanced and full of the myopic self-interest of member boards is Test cricket that by the end of this year India's last 30 Tests will have come either at home or against West Indies or Sri Lanka. Or both"

Most of what happened during the last week is a reminder - in case it was needed - of how broken bilateral international cricket is. The cricket could not have been any more hopelessly one-sided if it tried, and the two boards have already agreed to hold another series later this year. Entirely unrelated, no doubt, SLC was the only board to stand with the BCCI in their recent battles at the ICC table. On the field, Upul Tharanga grounded his bat inside the crease, only for it to bounce up upon impact, and was given out run-out even though everybody - including the MCC - has agreed that this sort of thing should not be out. Just that the ICC will wait till October 1 to adopt the change of rule. Asela Gunaratne injured himself on the first morning, and for the next four days an already weak Sri Lanka side was reduced to ten men.

Surely cricket needs to look at allowing like-for-like substitutions in the case of genuine external-impact injuries that result in fractures? The ICC has discussed concussion substitutes but is nowhere close to implementing such a move. Test cricket is a singular sport, yes, but its followers cannot be expected to stick through all kinds of hardships, especially those that are self-inflicted. Cricket's debilitating idiosyncrasies become so significant because it is already so delicately balanced that it can't stand any further blows.

This was not merely a bad week at the office for Sri Lanka; it has been a long time coming. Over the last few years it has taken some magical, once-in-a-lifetime performances to keep them from absolute misery in Test cricket. Dinesh Chandimal played a sensational - and lucky - knock against India to give them respectability in 2015. Kusal Mendis did something similar last year - though with far less luck involved - against Australia, and Rangana Herath - himself an example of how broken Sri Lankan Test cricket is, in how he is getting an opportunity to make such a late mark on Test cricket - sealed the series. They have lost a home Test to Bangladesh. They needed to stretch every sinew and benefit from a crucial umpiring error and some nervous fielding to beat Zimbabwe earlier this month. The problem with once-in-a-lifetime turnarounds is that they happen, well, once in a lifetime.

Winning Test matches in Sri Lanka was never this easy. Even as recently as 2010, India had to contend with high-quality batting and Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga. In the last 20 years or so, cricket has lost West Indies and Zimbabwe as competitive Test teams, and it now seems as if Sri Lanka might join them. It has gained Bangladesh over that period, but has steadfastly refused even to let other teams try to join the ranks. Outside the big three, South Africa and New Zealand continue to be formidable opposition, but those countries struggle to sustain Test cricket as a gainfully employable sport.

So unbalanced and full of the myopic self-interest of member boards is Test cricket that by the end of this year India's last 30 Tests will have come either at home or against West Indies or Sri Lanka. Or both. It is no fault of the players but it does devalue some of the runs and the wickets they have accumulated. This is more than half the careers of most of the current India squad.

The ICC has been doing its bit to try to introduce more context and balance to Test schedules, including trying to save Test cricket from its own excesses, but many of its attempts have been blocked by the member boards. Next up is an attempt that sounds like a covert army project: Option C.

Under Option C, teams will not be able to play more than three home series over two years as part of a rolling league. This is, of course, subject to member boards agreeing to it. If all decision-makers are invited and made to sit through the next five India-Sri Lanka Tests, they might just ratify Option C immediately. After all, not every ground has buses racing madly outside it to distract the spectator from the one-sided contest within.