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Match Analysis

The tireless, understated and obnoxiously consistent world of Suranga Lakmal

At 34, the now-veteran is the benchmark in highlighting the benefits of hard work and perseverance

Suranga Lakmal bowled Nkrumah Bonner, West Indies vs Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, 1st Day, North Sound, March 29, 2021

Late resurgence: Since turning 31, Lakmal has picked up 57 Test wickets at 23.83  •  RANDY BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images

Suranga Lakmal is having a moment.
Or is he?
It's really quite hard to tell. Sure, he just rolled off six straight maidens to start off the second Test against the West Indies. And yes, he picked up two wickets in that period. And okay, it probably could've been more had Oshada Fernando held on to a tough chance at third slip to dismiss Kraigg Brathwaite on 37 - quite some way away from the century he would eventually reach. But having said all that, are we really taking it all in as we should?
There's no question that those in Antigua were enjoying the show; I mean, you must be doing something right if Ian Bishop and Curtley Ambrose are waxing lyrical on-air about your fast bowling exploits.
"On a flat deck, with Brathwaite unbeaten on 107, Lakmal produces that," Bishop gushed at one point on the second day, as Lakmal squared up the set Brathwaite with one that spat past his outside edge from a length. This, though, is what Lakmal had been producing all game to be fair, starting with that sublime opening burst.
Really, you can't overstate just how impressive an opening spell it was; six overs, six maidens, two wickets, zero runs - a man at the peak of his powers. On a pitch that offered adequate seam movement and swing early on, before flattening out as the day wore on, Lakmal was positively obnoxious in his lines and lengths, the ball seemingly tethered on the end of a string as he relentlessly probed that space just outside off stump. And he would persist with this strategy even as the pitch slowed up and batting became considerably easier.
This would in the end bring him figures of 4 for 94, just one shy of what would have been the fifth five-wicket haul of his career. But even then, there remains the sense that many don't quite realise how good this man really is.
For example, did you know that Lakmal's Test bowling average away from home is 32.09, bettering the 32.34 of a certain Chaminda Vaas? In fact, his away average among Sri Lankan bowlers is only bettered by Muttiah Muralitharan (27.73). This stat becomes all the more impressive when you realise that Lakmal has only really started producing world-class numbers in the last three years or so. Since turning 31, Lakmal has picked up 57 Test wickets at 23.83; in contrast, his previous 102 Test scalps had come at 43.56. His yearly averages since 2018: 27.70, 23.28, 15.10, 15.85.
So why then is Lakmal so overlooked? Well much of it could come down to the fact that his career renaissance occurred just as Sri Lanka's terminal decline had set in. But in general, Lakmal's lot in life seems to be that of perennially flying under the radar.
In a career blighted by injuries, even when he does turn up it's a fascinating quirk of his time with the national side that his best work seems to come away from the expecting gaze of a home crowd. Of his 160 Test scalps, a staggering 128 have come away from home (18 in neutral venues). Christchurch, Port Elizabeth, Brisbane and Antigua have each witnessed five-fors, but the best fans at home have been treated to was a four-wicket haul against New Zealand in Galle.
Lakmal's successes are borne out of sheer consistency; there's no magic bullet, just subtle adjustments, that ever so gently unsettle those facing him
It also probably doesn't do the perception of Lakmal much good that his output doesn't possess the same 'oomph' factor of his fast-bowling forebears. While Lakmal is undoubtedly top dog now, before him there was Lasith Malinga and the aforementioned Vaas, both of whom are responsible for some of Sri Lanka cricket's most devastating highlight reels.
Lakmal, though, is different. Even when he has removed your top order, he never gives the impression of a man that's going to tear through your team. His successes are borne out of sheer consistency; there's no magic bullet, just subtle adjustments, that ever so gently unsettle those facing him. That's probably why he prefers grounds and surfaces more suited to amplifying the natural variances he yearns for; on home pitches, his diligence more often than not leads to economical figures but not as many wickets - even if that haul against New Zealand did show he could deliver on the more docile surfaces.
So in many ways, this relatively slow track in Antigua was nothing new for Lakmal, and so he proceeded to do what he does best. Which would have been particularly frustrating for his opponents because this was a wicket that was supposed to favour the batsmen.
On a surface not doing too much, aside from some early movement, Lakmal was patient and inquiring. Both John Campbell and Jermaine Blackwood would edge behind to the keeper in due course - fairly textbook wickets as far as Lakmal is concerned - though it's the removals of Nkrumah Bonner and, later on, Rakheem Cornwall, that would have provided him the most assured validation of his approach.
Having delivered five consecutive full-length deliveries to Bonner, off the final ball of his fifth over Lakmal went a little shorter - not so short that you could cut it, but short enough to make the batsman think that he could. By the time Bonner realised his mistake, the ball had moved back in and knocked back his stumps via the underside of his bat.
That would be the last of Lakmal's wickets until much later in the innings, as Brathwaite would put together successive key partnerships, including a 103-run stand with Cornwall for the eighth wicket. It was this partnership that would have been the most threatening from a Sri Lankan perspective, with Cornwall taking it upon himself to singlehandedly boost the scoring rate, and the visitors aware that anything over 400 would be considerably harder to claw back.
But Lakmal would intervene, not with anything special per se, but just what was needed in the moment. With Cornwall looking to force the issue, all it took was Lakmal continuing to place the ball in hard-to-score zones, goading the batsman to force the issue and make a mistake - in this case, it was a simple length ball on off stump that Cornwall was unable to clear over mid-off.
That is what Lakmal brings to the table - consistency, reliability and, most importantly, efficacy. He may not have the edge-of-your-seat theatrics of Malinga, or the memorability of being a key cog in a successful outfit like Vaas, but at 34, the now-veteran is the benchmark in highlighting the benefits of hard work and perseverance. For any young quicks looking on, Lakmal's tireless enterprise should be required viewing.