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Jarrod Kimber

Facts conspire against Sri Lanka

Some may believe they were victims of misfortune but the truth is Sri Lanka's defeat was at least partly self-inflicted, not the result of a conspiracy

On April 24, Dinesh Chandimal played a sweep shot in a practice match in Pallekele. It shouldn't have made the news, but that sweep went straight into the back of Kaushal Silva's head. He was taken to a hospital in Kandy, before being airlifted to a hospital in Colombo. The practice match was for Sri Lanka's tour of England; it hadn't even started and they were having trouble.
On May 8, the Sri Lankans were bowled out for 254 by a teenager in his first game for a Division Two county, despite playing a long batting order. The same day Sanath Jayasuriya suggested that Sri Lanka had the best bowling attack in the world. Their batsmen were under pressure, their bowlers were under pressure.
On May 9, Dhammika Prasad injured himself. The same Prasad who had ended England's hopes at Headingley two years before. The same Prasad who had become Sri Lanka's best seam bowler over the last couple of years. Yeah, the guy with 53 wickets at an average of 26 since the start of 2014 wouldn't be playing a Test. The best bowling attack was already damaged.
On May 15, that slightly inferior bowling attack allowed Leicestershire, also of Division Two, to pass them only five wickets down. It was their last warm up match before the Test series began.
On May 19, Sri Lanka chose to bowl first at Headingley. It was a slow start that was suddenly changed when Dasun Shanaka came on and took over 10% of his first-class wickets in one spell. England were 83 for 5. Then Sri Lanka bowled poorly, not in execution but in strategy, and the partnership that followed would be more than Sri Lanka made in either innings.
On May 21, they collapsed for the second consecutive day. They ran into a perfect storm of early May conditions and James Anderson's wrist position. It was as ugly as it was understandable, a struggling batting line-up coming up against a swing bowling team when it swung. But it was still ugly.
On May 24, Dushmantha Chameera, the lively young quick who took three wickets in his only innings at Headingley, was ruled out of the tour with an injury. Sanath's best attack in the world was two men down.
On May 28, at Chester-le-Street, Sri Lanka entered the day after one of their best recent fielding efforts. They backed that up with a terrible display on the second day. Their fielding was below par. Their strategy, their captaincy, their intent, was non-existent. England eventually declared through boredom, sensing that if a team is behaving in this way, making a massive total is just not that important. They were right: at the end of the day Sri Lanka were 91 for 8. There were even rumours of a fight in the changing room after play, which, if true, was the only fight Sri Lanka had shown since day one of the first Test.
On May 30, they did summon a fightback, showing they could play in England to put on a total worthy of making England bat again. But even then, as Chandimal and Rangana Herath hinted at the possibility of an unlikely victory - a miracle victory - all they really pulled off was a moral victory and a crushing nine-wicket defeat.
On May 31, Shaminda Eranga, in his 38th international match and five years after his international debut, was reported for a suspect action. While he was allowed to continue bowling, he still had the stigma, and the pressure of knowing that he may be about to play his last Test for some time.
On June 6, the English press stopped talking to England players about Sri Lanka and started talking to them about Mohammad Amir. A Test was happening at Lord's in a few days, and one in over a month's time had trumped it.
On June 8, Angelo Mathews was too tired to train, or do a press conference, and part of the reason was that they had a busy schedule of dinners each evening.
On June 9, they dropped Jonny Bairstow at Lord's. It wasn't a hard drop, it wasn't something that a professional cricketer would be happy to be involved with. And it was Bairstow, the guy that ruined their first Test. This time, after the drop, he went on to make even more than he did the first time.
On June 11, they turned up having batted quite well, there was a platform, and a decent pitch. By lunch they were out of the game. The ball swung more, but only marginally; England bowled better, but not that much better. It was just that the Sri Lanka batsmen had another bad session.
They have been poor, even the most dogmatic fan, or fanatic, would agree with that. But beneath all this has been a feeling - and it's not a new feeling, it's been around for a while - that Sri Lanka get the worst end of the stick, almost always. From the first calling of Muttiah Muralitharan, to many of the subsequent callings of Muttiah Muralitharan, to Adam Gilchrist's squash ball all the way through to Sachithra Senanayake's action being questioned before the World Cup. There is a good proportion of Sri Lankans that think they are the victim of more misfortune than other teams.
Then there is the overall idea that somehow through umpiring Sri Lanka get beaten with that end of the stick. There was MS Dhoni asking politely for a decision against them that was clearly not out and getting it. There were several recent bad decisions against West Indies as well. And while much of this can be laughed away as "the howl of the losing fan", even the Sri Lanka team believe the rub is going against them.
Their hardest-core fans will take to social media to talk about how there is, for want of a better word, a conspiracy to make sure Sri Lanka lose matches. Including those of against West Indies.
Why on earth would there be a conspiracy to keep Sri Lanka down - and that is even before wondering why on earth West Indies would be in it? What political or financial muscle could West Indies use, to force umpires to give them favourable decisions? And why would they be in on it anyway? West Indies can't even get jerseys to their team on time. If they were part of a global conspiracy to defraud Sri Lanka of marginal-call umpiring decisions, they would stuff it up.
You want a conspiracy? How about the conspiracy to defraud the Sri Lanka seam bowlers, perpetrated by their own team-mates
Some point to the fact that Sri Lanka have to play in England in May as proof of the conspiracy. How could an Asian team be expected to perform in England in May? That obviously discounts the fact they won here two years ago. And that smaller-market teams, regardless of being Asian, are going to play in England in May. That's the economics of the ECB, not a system to oppress tourists.
And what would this conspiracy achieve? It would be keeping down a team who have won one of their last six Test series, a team that was almost non-existent in the World T20, a team that even with Kumar Sangakkara still on board couldn't go beyond the quarters of the last World Cup.
But there is a bias. You would have to have not watched much sport to think otherwise. Home teams get a bias. Bigger teams get a bias. And winning teams get a bias. In this series that means England, England, and England.
If there is a bias, it should be flushed out, at least in part, by DRS. Sri Lanka had 15 reviews during the three Tests and got one right. Not even mentioning the two that they should have reviewed, and didn't, making them 1/17. They did get a few almost right and had they not already lost some (on occasion to umpire's call) they might have got more right later. Or under the proposed new regulations they might have got more right. But this system exists, and has for a while, to review a dead certainty for lbw or die trying. That has almost never been the case for Sri Lanka. Most of their DRS calls took a long time to agree on, were half-hearted and almost never unanimous throughout the team. England completely out reviewed them.
Then there was Rod Tucker's no-ball call. The umpires have been told not to call close no-balls. Which in itself is a flawed system, at least until all of them are called by the third umpire. But Tucker did call it, he was wrong by millimetres, and just happened to be wrong at the exact same time that Nuwan Pradeep had exploded Alex Hales stumps. There was a moment when Tucker and Pradeep were staring at the line, one in disbelief, one in hope.
It turned out that Tucker was wrong, so wrong that he apologised to Mathews (he did a similar thing with AB de Villiers once, after another bad no-ball call). Tucker's decision to call a no-ball wasn't part of a conspiracy - unless he knew before the ball was bowled that Hales would be bowled - it was an umpire making a mistake. He made less mistakes with Hales in that innings than Sri Lanka did, as they had already dropped him twice.
And the thought that Tucker could be part of some kind of conspiracy, or even bias, against Sri Lanka is not held up by the stats. Ray Markham, the press-box scorer, keeps stats of which umpires are involved in which reviews. There were ten reviews of decisions made by Tucker (not counting the no-ball that should have been reviewed under a better system), and six of those reviews were decisions that went in favour of Sri Lanka on the field. That doesn't mean England didn't just do crazy reviews against Tucker (they did one at least), and that Sri Lanka weren't sawn off after their reviews had already gone. But on the field, when it looked marginal, his decisions often went with Sri Lanka.
You want a conspiracy? How about the conspiracy to defraud the Sri Lanka seam bowlers. They turned up in May, became undermanned, were put under silly pressure by their chief selector, yet still bowled consistently well, as a team and individually, yet were defrauded by their batsmen failing to make totals; their captain who ranged between defensive fields and rolling on to his back like a dead dog; and their fielders who dropped simple chances when it mattered almost every time. It was a conspiracy of ineptness.
So when the Tucker decision happened, Sri Lanka waved the flag on the balcony. It was nice, and showed how much they care, but it could only happen by them putting away the white flag their batsmen, fielders and captain had used for much of the tour. It was a powerful statement, the first they had made since they arrived in England.
In the space of one ball, Sri Lanka made three mistakes. It was that kind of tour for them
Or you want a real conspiracy? SLC has spent so much money on bringing over cricket officials to one of the most expensive cities on earth, more than a cricket team's worth, to sit around and look important for a Test that it didn't even matter if they won. This while they couldn't find the money for a full-time media guy. Also just after the same board scrapped an entire plan to build indoor training facilities all over the country, because their current substandard facilities (which wouldn't be good enough for a posh English school) are good enough for their professional players. A team that can't keep a coach, because they pay less than other countries pay for assistants. A board whose president, Thilanga Sumathipala, was asked not to attend ICC meetings in 2005 because of his connection to the gambling industry. If anything was going to hold back Sri Lankan cricket, it seems it already exists, and is Sri Lankan in origin.
On June 13, when Sri Lanka finally got on the field, Kaushal Silva was facing Anderson. Ball 15.2 pitched outside off stump, on a fullish length, and swung away. Ball 15.3 did the same. Ball 15.4 did the same, until it swung in, not out. Silva was already into his leave, and now he was leaving a ball that was hitting him in front of middle and off, crashing into middle and leg. As the umpire gave it out, Silva was running through for a single, but stopped with Dimuth Karunarate for a mid-pitch chat and they decided to review the decision.
In the space of one ball, Sri Lanka had made three mistakes. You can't leave an inswinger that is hitting your stumps. You can't run a leg bye when you are leaving the ball. And you can't review a ball successfully unless it is going to miss the stumps. But it was that kind of tour for them. They lost in almost every way imaginable. They lost through the skill of England, the conditions, through their batting and their decision-making.
Two-nil is not conspiracy, it is fact.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber