Many positives despite series loss

Rex Clementine reporting from Edinburgh

At the start of Sri Lanka’s tour of England, to imagine that the tourists would triumph in the Test series was too much to ask for, against a side that had just won The Ashes.

But it was felt that Sri Lanka would emerge victorious in the ODIs, but at the end of the tour, they had lost both the Tests and the ODIs.

England had their moments in the just concluded World Cup, but more often than not their deficiencies in the shorter version of the game were exposed. Injuries to key players didn’t help their cause either.

The difference in the new England under Andy Flower seems to be that there is a sense of purpose by them to excel in one-day cricket. The old England, while considering Test cricket as pristine, regarded limited overs cricket as just the warm up ahead of the sterner tests of the longer version of the game.

Overall, in the ODI series, England bowled and fielded better than the Sri Lankans and that proved to be a huge difference in deciding the series. "We lost the Test series in one hour and again in this one-day series, we lost three matches in about the first six overs of our batting. I think we can be a much better side than that," Sri Lanka captain Tillakaratne Dilshan said, summing up the series.

At The Oval and at Trent Bridge, Sri Lanka lost heavily, by 110 runs and 10 wickets respectively and on both occasions, the early damage was done by James Anderson, who took four for 18 and three for 24 on both occasions.

It didn’t help Sri Lanka’s cause that Dilshan lost four of the five tosses in the series. His form too was worrying. Dilshan is such a vital player for the side and his brilliant form during the Test series deserted him during the ODIs, as he managed just 17 runs in five innings with a top score of nine.

During the series, Sri Lanka’s moments of brilliance came at Headingley and Lord’s, where they won convincingly.

A star in the making

The find of the tour for the Sri Lankans is Dinesh Chandimal, who lit up Lord’s with a thrilling century, in the second ODI. Now those who have seen Chandimal know what a good player he is, but this was his biggest test in foreign conditions against a good attack and he proved that he belongs in the big league.

The Lord’s run chase was criticised as Angelo Mathews blocked 21 deliveries while scoring one run. He refused to run several singles that were available and Chandimal at one point was embarrassed at what was going on, with the mood in the dressing room too not looking good, he urged Mathews to get on with the game.

And then finally when he got the strike, Chandimal reached his century at the Home of Cricket with a six and sealed the win with a four in the next over.

Chandimal topped the averages for Sri Lanka, scoring 164 runs in four games (he didn’t play the first ODI at The Oval) averaging 54:66.

Then at Old Trafford, he walked in with the side in trouble at 29 for three and helped Sri Lanka recover with a 94 run stand for the fourth wicket with Kumar Sangakkara, making a half-century.

Mathews’ steady rise

In 2009, when Angelo Mathews walked into the side at the age of 21, with him being tried as an all-rounder, people weren’t too sure how he would go. Sri Lanka, before him, had tried several bits and pieces cricketers as ‘fast bowling all-rounders’. They failed miserably. It took Mathews less than a year to establish his place in the side in all three formats of the game, the hallmark of a good player. Today, with injury preventing him from bowling, he has become good enough to make the side as a specialist batsman and that goes onto show the immense strides he has made, in less than two years.

During the run chase at Old Trafford, he showed the maturity of a player who had been around for a decade until he fell to the slower ball of Jade Dernbach. Since the 2007 World Cup, Sri Lanka possessed a middle order that looked as fragile as the Egyptian government, but the likes of Mathews have helped sort issues out.

Another feature in Mathews’ cricket is that he plays the game with passion in the mould of someone like Sanath Jayasuriya. However, his fielding, surprisingly, lacked spark during the series.

Why the selectors failed to name him the vice-captain of the side remains a mystery, especially given the player whom they appointed as vice-captain Thilina Kandamby was dropped from the final ODI at Old Trafford.

The general thinking for players to be appointed for the leadership role is that they need to have a guaranteed place in the side, but the Sri Lankan selectors seem to think otherwise.

He maybe a slow mover in the field and a hopeless runner between the wickets, but Kandamby has a decent record with the ‘A’ team and with Sri Lanka looking to rebuild aiming for the next World Cup, he will feel that this is a fine opportunity to get into the side. But by appointing him as the vice-captain, the selectors have started a needless debate and that must be working on his mind too.

Fast bowler Suranga Lakmal was another player who did well, but towards the end of the series, he began to lose the edge. The way he worked out Jonathan Trott at Lord’s was impressive, setting him up with a bouncer before bowling the yorker. He missed the fifth ODI with a side strain and has been ruled out for four weeks.

Nuwan Kulasekara, who had done exceptionally well over the years, was a massive disappointment in the series. Kulasekara managed just one wicket, despite playing in all five games.

Much was expected from Lasith Malinga too and although he claimed seven wickets in the series, he wasn’t all that effective in certain games, particularly in the last ODI, where he failed to take a wicket and was wayward when he returned for the second spell.

Off-spinner Suraj Ranidv was the joint leading wicket taker in the series with James Anderson with both bowlers claiming nine wickets each. He also claimed the only five wicket haul in the series from either side, when he finished with 5 for 42 at Old Trafford.

It was only the fourth instance that a Sri Lankan had taken a five wicket haul in England.

Another off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan was the last to do that. Ashantha de Mel did it on two occasions in the 1983 World Cup against New Zealand and Pakistan.

Jayawardene breaks Jayasuriya’s record

Mahela Jayawardene possesses an excellent record while opening the batting for Sri Lanka and he further enhanced that reputation during the series when he stroked a brilliant 144 at Headingley. His knock is the third highest individual score in ODIs against England in England, following Viv Richards’ 189 and Sanath Jayasuriya’s 152.

He broke the Sri Lankan record for most runs against England in ODIs when he went past Jayasuriya’s 1195. Only Richards, Ricky Pointing, Sachin Tendulkar and Allan Border have scored more runs against England, than Jayawardene’s 1200.

The series loss meant that Sri Lanka lost their number three slot in the ICC Official ODI Rankings. Sri Lanka has now slipped to number four. Several Sri Lankan bowlers too lost their impressive rankings, slipping several places, while Graeme Swann emerged as the number one bowler in ODI cricket.

With the series evenly poised leading up to the decider at Old Trafford, Sri Lanka couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The wicket was slow and helped spin bowling. They didn’t play Ajantha Mendis, although England called up the additional spinner. The tourists were confident that their part-time spinners could do the job for them. Like with their batting, the Sri Lankans were off the mark when they bowled in the morning and although they did well to pull things back, England had done too much damage in the first 10 overs, having reached 75 for no loss.

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