Can Sri Lanka make it count in England this time?


This will also probably be the last tour of England for Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

by Rex Clementine

The national cricket team takes wings to Dublin on Friday to play two ODIs against Ireland. From Dublin, the Sri Lankans will leave for London for their bilateral series against England which comprises two Tests, five ODIs and one T-20 International.

Sri Lanka’s last tour of England three years ago was a disappointing one. The board had failed to get a full time coach in time and Stuart Law, Assistant to Trevor Bayliss, took over the duties as interim coach and mid way through the tour expressed his desire to move on. He ended up as Bangladesh’s Head Coach.

In 2011, the side was led by Tillekeratne Dilshan and the selectors’ decision to not to name a vice-captain backfired midway through the tour. Kumar Sangakkara had relinquished captaincy and Mahela Jayawardene had stepped down as vice-captain. Prasanna Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera were the two other senior players in the side and one of them, ideally Samaraweera, who had captained Sri Lanka ‘A’ should have been named deputy, but the selectors in their wisdom thought against it. A silly move considering that it was such a long tour.

Unfortunately Dilshan got injured during the Lord’s Test and was ruled out of the final Test in Southampton. All four senior player refused to lead the side in the final Test and after much convincing Sangakkara decided to take over the captaincy for the final Test.

Sri Lanka lost the Test series 0-1 and the ODI series narrowly 2-3, but it wasn’t a bad series considering all the upheaval. Sri Lanka’s players arrived in England in different batches due to the IPL and some even missed warm-up games.

The tourists went into the first Test underprepared but relentless rain in Cardiff meant that the game was heading for a draw. But the Sri Lankans committed hara-kiri as they were blown away in a session to be bowled out for their lowest total in England. The hosts won by an innings as Sri Lanka were dismissed for 82 runs in the their second innings.

Had the batsmen shown some application during the final session of the fifth day, they could have drawn the Test series and lack of preparation began to haunt them.

This time though all the upheavals are settled prior to the tour. Players have signed contracts and all players are expected to be in England on time. The departure of Paul Farbrace to enemy territory was a massive blow too, but SLC has countered that by appointing former captain Marvan Atapattu as the Head Coach.

The Irish are in the World Cup and are extremely competitive. They will most probably come on top if someone organized a triangular tournament involving them and the lowest ranked teams in ODIs among ICC’s Full members – Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

It’s good for Sri Lanka to play two competitive games lead up to the clash against England. Sri Lanka will play three warm-up games against English counties Essex, Kent and Sussex prior to the T-20 International, which will be played at The Oval, the venue that attracts most Sri Lankan fans.

Following the five ODIs, Sri Lanka will play a four day game against Northampton. During Sri Lanka’s recent visits, the Tests have preceded the ODIs much to the disappointment of the tourists. In early May, with wickets still fresh the Sri Lankans have struggled as conditions are cold and windy. But this time by the time the first Test gets underway on the 12th of June, the Sri Lankans would have spent over a month in England.

England have got their problems too. They were whitewashed in Australia during the Ashes and the Sri Lankans will be glad that Kevin Pietersen is not in the opposition ranks. Jonathan Trott too will be unavailable while Graeme Swann has retired.

There are changes to England’s coaching set up as well with Peter Moores taking over as Head Coach. The presence of Paul Farbrace will work to England’s advantage as he has firsthand knowledge about the opposition.

England in recent times have proved vulnerable to quality fast bowling. During the Ashes defeat, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris did most of the damage. What Sri Lanka lack is quality fast bowling and the likes of Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal will have to do a containment job.

There were similar fears leading up to Sri Lanka’s tour of UAE for the series against Pakistan early this year. But Sri Lanka’s limited fast bowling resources did a quality job for left-arm spinner Rangana Herath to exploit. That was a series that Sri Lanka should have won. But tactical blunders on the field on the final day of the tour saw them suffering an embarrassing defeat and the series was drawn.

The conditions will be different to UAE though. The Tests will be played at Lord’s and Headingly and the Sri Lankans can gain inspiration by the fact that the last time they were in England in 2011, they won ODIs at these two venues. In fact, during their previous tour of England in 2006, they won at these two venues too. On that occasion, however, the ODIs were a whitewash with Sri Lanka wining 5-0.

The cricket hierarchy was also searching for a consultant to work with the team during the tour of England. With the ECB having compensated SLC generously to the tune of US$ 150,000 for hiring Farbrace, SLC bigwigs can give their English counterparts a taste of their own medicine by acquiring the services of someone like Ashes Giles, who was England’s coach during their unsuccessful campaign in the World T-20.

Meanwhile, what’s trending on social media in cricket related matters makes interesting read. There was quite a bit of criticism when SLC issued a media release that they were referring the comments of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara to the Disciplinary Committee. This was a matter that SLC had considered closed just two days after the incident. One fan was questioning why start probes after issuing a media release stating that the matter was closed. He went onto question whether individuals were trying to divert attention from the Paul Farbrace affair by taking Mahela and Sanga to task!

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