The limited overs leg of the Sri Lanka Cricket tour of England only recently concluded, but as is often the case in the modern international cricket calendar, the tests are upon us in a flash. Here, we look back at an eventful, and at times controversial, ODI series, which was keenly attended by various Gecko members at various junctures, and look forward to what could be an equally intriguing contest in the test matches.
As Deno Srikantharajah rightly said in his last post, the build-up to the tour evoked considerable interest, with the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s World T20 success, England’s Ashes drubbing, and the move of coach Paul Farbrace between the sides. The contest certainly lived up to the hype in the limited overs games, with seismic momentum shifts and seemingly unthinkable reversals of form from one game to the next. In the end it was Sri Lanka who took the only T20 international and the 5-match ODI series, but England certainly had their moments.
The T20 featured the newly crowned champions this time without stalwarts Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Brisk innings from Kithuruwan Vithanage, Lahiru Thirimanne and Thisara Perera, and some quality death bowling from the redoubtable Lasith Malinga saw Sri Lanka prevail by 9 runs.
The first ODI (50 overs) at The Oval was a rain affected game which was dominated by England, with their new boy Chris Jordan at the forefront, notably for his targeted short-pitched bowling which troubled the Sri Lankan batsmen, which would become a recurring ploy throughout the series.
The teams then headed North to Durham, where England were backed by many to continue their dominance in cold and overcast conditions in early May. However roles were reversed as Sri Lanka’s batsmen battled hard to post 256 and then scythed through England’s batting for 99, Nuwan Kulasekara and off spinner Sachithra Senanayake doing most of the damage.
Conditions were perhaps harsher for the Sri Lankans in a wet Manchester, where they were shot out for a paltry 67, Jordan again the destroyer. England’s openers knocked off the runs in double quick time. The series was fast becoming an inexplicable see-saw of form and results.
Finally, a real contest came at the home of cricket, Lord’s, which Sri Lanka edged by 7 runs to keep the series alive. Standout performances were those of Kumar Sangakkara (who scripted a masterclass in manipulating the field in compiling 112). Jos Buttler (who scored the fastest hundred by an England ODI player to give them genuine hope of victory when they seemed out of the contest), and Lasith Malinga (who picked up key wickets with the new ball and yet again held his nerve to bowl a supreme last over under pressure).
Following the Lord’s thriller, Sri Lanka’s off-spinner Sachithra Senanayake, who had had considerable success against the English batsmen thus far, was reported for a suspect bowling action. He will undergo formal testing to determine the legality of his action.
If that wasn’t controversy enough, the series got spicier in the decider in Edgbaston when Senanayake ran out Jos Buttler, England’s hero from Lord’s via the “mankad” method. For those who aren’t familiar with mankad, this is when the batsman at the bowler’s end (not facing) is run out by the bowler before he has delivered the ball. It is extremely uncommon (though entirely within the laws of the game) and is considered by many to be unsporting. The issue has divided the cricketing world, with some notable former cricketers criticizing Sri Lanka’s concordance with “the spirit of cricket”. However others found the Lankans well within their rights to appeal for Buttler’s wicket as he had been previously warned (at least once formally, supposedly more than that informally) for leaving his crease too early to gain an unfair advantage in running.
Sri Lanka went on to post a relatively comfortable win in the decider to take the series, with Man of the Match Lahiru Thirimanne finding form in the middle order after struggling opening the innings. Lasith Malinga was on song yet again and took the Player of the Series award.
The controversies throughout the series add an extra edge to the test series, which begins at Lord’s tomorrow. There is a strategic change in personnel for both sides, with England bringing in Sam Robson and Moeen Ali. Stuart Broad also returns from injury to give a major boost to the bowling attack. Sri Lanka will likely open their innings with the inexperienced Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva, while Senanayake will exit the spotlight of the ICC, at least in the international arena to make way for Rangana Herath.
It should be remembered that although Sri Lanka will carry forward momentum from winning the ODI series, England are a considerably stronger test side, particularly at home. The Lankans will look to prey on any insecurities hanging over England from the Ashes whitewash down under, and the inexperience of their new-look batting line up. One feels a key battle will be that between England’s fast bowlers and Sri Lanka’s batsmen. After the retirement of Graeme Swann, Sri Lanka hold the aces in the spin department with the guile of Herath. Conditions will of course be a factor, and pitches may indeed be prepared by home groundsmen to play to England’s strengths. However Sri Lanka can take confidence from the ODI series that they have the ability to adapt and produce results. Their pace attack has both a mediocre record and a lack of experience, but showed promise in the series against Pakistan earlier in the year. This series is a great opportunity for them to show their worth.
While one lion gorges on its captured prey, three plot revenge in a five day feast…