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Match Analysis

Where was the planning, Sri Lanka?

This was always going to be a hugely challenging tour, but it didn't have to be so shambolic

Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne thought fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera would be available for this match. In fact, Karunaratne said Chameera would be rested for the Mohali Test, specifically so that he would be ready for Bengaluru.
It made some sense. Chameera had played eight T20Is in a row (five in Australia, three in India) and had picked up an ankle injury, which is unsurprising for a bowler of his pace. Give him a break. Keep that powder dry. Have him steam in with the pink ball, under lights.
But in the days before the Bengaluru Test, it came to light that Chameera's injury might need long-term management. He could still have played in Bengaluru, but the team's focus this year is the T20 World Cup, and they absolutely could not risk losing their pace spearhead in that format.
So what ended up happening is that a team that had already lost one of their fast bowlers, after Lahiru Kumara strained a hamstring in Mohali, carried Chameera in the squad right through the series, for no good reason, taking up the place of someone else, such as Asitha Fernando.
It doesn't seem like there was much of a plan.


In this series, Sri Lanka have Charith Asalanka batting at No. 5. He lit up Sri Lanka's T20 World Cup, and has largely been excellent at No. 5 in the ODI set-up, so that he is a talented player with a potentially long trajectory is clear. But is he a Test No. 5 at the moment? In 70 first-class innings, he has a single century.
His selection might be palatable if Sri Lanka had no others to fill his place, but in this squad, this very squad, is an experienced Test batter, who, if history is anything to go by, relishes playing India. Perhaps you'll say Dinesh Chandimal averaging 50 against this opposition is skewed by that once-in-a-lifetime 162* he hit in Galle, way back in 2015. But its not. His body of work against India, and particularly in India, is impressive.
In 2017, when Sri Lanka last toured here, Chandimal hit 366 runs at an average of 61, which was second only to Virat Kohli's. In that series he hit twin fifties in a big loss in Nagpur, and then a vital first-innings 164 in the (trigger warning) "pollution Test" in Delhi, which Sri Lanka went on to draw. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja played all those matches, and Mohammed Shami two of them.
There is no tougher assignment in Test cricket than a series in India. To succeed here, against this attack, against the SG ball, requires skill, application, and, vitally, experience. Chandimal has had a couple of modest pandemic years in the Test side, but despite that has 11 Test tons, and a career average touching 40. He was left out for a batter averaging less than 28 in first-class cricket. Sri Lanka's multi-day competitions have been some of the softest in the full-member cricket world over the past decade.
If there was a plan, it doesn't seem like much of one.


In the first innings in Bengaluru, Kusal Mendis opened the innings with Karunaratne. The thinking, probably was that Mendis is a decent starter against spin, and can also better counter the offspin of R Ashwin, who was likely to open the innings. Mendis was out to Jasprit Bumrah, having faced zero deliveries of spin.
On day two, Sri Lanka burned two reviews in the space of 10 overs, then missed one they should have taken soon after. Having served his six-month disciplinary suspension, Niroshan Dickwella has promptly reclaimed his role as one of the worst review-advisors in Test cricket.
And in this match, the bowlers have sprayed the ball around on a track that should suit them, batters have played muddled little innings, wafting at balls away from their body, not committing to defence or attack. And they have caught exceedingly poorly, having dropped at least six catches across their two innings.
Sri Lanka were never really going to challenge this India team, perhaps, but as sublime as the hosts have been, Sri Lanka have also generously provided their own shambles.
They have played, in short, like a team that hasn't had a head coach since December, and are still scrambling to find one. Like a side with many high-profile and well-meaning advisors, but no cohesive vision. (Tom Moody, Aravinda de Silva, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan are all now part of the set-up, but three of them have big IPL jobs, and Murali and de Silva have businesses; none are on the ground with the team full-time.)
They have made decisions on the fly, thrown underprepared players into the toughest possible Test-match situations, and have made startling selection calls. And they may end up losing their second successive Test inside three days.

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