Dunedin, New Zealand
The Sri Lankan cricket team is currently touring New Zealand for the second time in two years. By now, they might be quite sick of these shores – especially considering the fact that they lost their 9th Test in this country at Dunedin on Monday. But this time, they’re without the services of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – who were pretty much the only ones who’d put up a fight on any ground outside the subcontinent.
Only West Indies have lost more Tests in New Zealand than Sri Lanka now. That the Lankans are poor travelers is a well-known fact, but with Sangakkara’s second wind last year and Angelo Mathews’ rise to the top of his game, they had managed to win a Test series (1-0) in England (something even Australia and India struggle to do) and even a Test in South Africa.
But now, without their senior stalwarts, with Herath not as effective on these pitches, and with a young, new, untested team in terminal transition, the Sri Lankan team will take a while before they even start winning at home. Recently, they lost to poorer travelers India at home, and will perhaps now be focusing all their energies on retaining the T20 World Cup in India next year.
However, it wasn’t all gloom and doom for them in Dunedin, where New Zealand won their 12th consecutive Test at home – a streak that began in March 2012. This wasn’t an easy win, for they had to score at over 4 in both their innings, and literally force a result after losing a bit of Day 4 to rain.
Another win or draw means that they will equal their longest winning streak of 13. Under McCullum, this was their 10th Test win – a significant milestone, considering the fact that only Stephen Fleming (28) and Geoff Howarth (11) won more Tests as Captain.
Bright Spots for Lanka
Dinesh Chandimal is finally coming into his own and fulfilling the potential so many believed he had. He stuttered for years, and only after the exit of the senior stars, he seems to have taken more responsibility and stepped up his performances. He was the only Lankan to score fifties in both the innings at Dunedin, and kept them in the game until the second session of Day 5, when he was dismissed by Santner. His wicket triggered the collapse the Kiwis were looking for, and soon they went down by 122 runs – which could have been a far bigger margin if not for Chandimal’s dogged efforts.
The wagging tail of the Lankan batting order kept the Kiwis at bay in the first innings, contributing a fair amount of runs, taking them to almost 300. The likes of Siriwardana and Lakmal did more with the bat than they did with ball (their original role), but at least they showed grit and intent at the crease – an attribute that seems to be lacking in most teams that visit these shores to play on green tops under gray skies.
Also, the Lankans managed to take the match into the fifth day, and didn’t exactly go down without a fight. This wasn’t a weak performance by any standards. This is far more than even most ‘senior’ Indian teams have done in recent years in New Zealand. There is definitely determination and potential, and perhaps this tour will allow the youngsters to grow and come back harder next time.
Angelo Mathews, Captain ‘Dependable’ and perhaps the best all-rounder going around in cricket right now, seems to be wilting under the extra pressure of leading a team with a totally inexperienced line-up. For many, this is their first tour of New Zealand, even though they came here only a year ago. Mathews could have contributed more with the bat in both innings, and seems to be fancying himself as more of a bowler lately. One can’t blame him though, because his team is short of world-class bastmen and bowlers – and he wants to fill both gaps.
Rangana Herath, the most experienced player of the current team, went wicketless in the first innings, and went at almost 6 an over in the second. Their spinning star is highly effective on dusty subcontinent pitches, but struggles elsewhere – which is quite common to see even amongst Indian and Bangladeshi spinners. Except for his resistance with the bat in the first innings, Herath managed to make little difference to the outcome of the match. He will want to contribute far more in the next one.