Sri Lanka ended the two-Test series against England exactly how they started it – with a costly batting collapse that ultimately determined the outcome of the match.
Last week, the first Test was virtually lost on the opening day when the hosts were bowled out for 135 in their first innings, and yesterday they threw away a small but useful 37-run lead to be dismissed for 126 in suffering a six-wicket defeat.
It was a sixth straight home Test defeat to England, a run that beggars belief considering these are home comforts for Sri Lanka’s batsmen, in which they staked their claims to be in the national team, and yet somehow they could not get the measure of.
The evidence of batsmen throwing their wickets away in this series only grew more damning in yesterday’s second innings – Kusal Perera missed with an aggressive slog sweep, Niroshan Dickwella did no favours to kill the somewhat dispelled criticism about his temperament for Test cricket driving straight to the fielder at short cover, and stand in captain Dinesh Chandimal was left with egg on his face when he threw his wicket away attempting to hit out against Jack Leach, just after England captain Joe Root egged him on to do just that: “Come on Chandi, throw your wicket”, Root was heard saying.
After Sri Lanka were reduced to 78 for 8 it was left to Lasith Embuldeniya to add vital runs, with the left-arm spinner, who bowled 42 overs in England’s first innings, making 40 runs off 42 balls.
Having toiled through the third day with figures of 7 for 137, Embuldeniya bowled a further 20 overs yesterday, with the onus on him to bowl Sri Lanka to victory.
It was almost embarrassing to watch England’s batsmen show more proficiency and technique in playing in tough, spinning conditions, showing the caution that Sri Lanka threw to the wind yesterday – ostensibly what the home team’s batsmen considered their best approach of setting a match winning target.
However, it was not the plan discussed in the dressing room, Head Coach Mickey Arthur said yesterday after the defeat.
“That was nowhere near our game plan. Our game plan this morning, was to absorb pressure, was to grind away, was to try and bat a couple of sessions, to make sure we got ourselves into a very good position to push for the win tomorrow. That was our strategy. We had a long chat about it this morning, we used the blueprint of our second innings of the first Test, as something that we wanted to base our innings on. So somewhere it’s gone horribly wrong and that’s something that I am going to dig up and find tonight,” Arthur said.
Arthur cut a frustrated figure, after the team established themselves in the game, only to let it slip spectacularly.
“We fought and fought for three days and got ourselves in a really good position, and then in two hours we throw it away. It was poor batting,” Arthur lamented.
“When we lead the game from the front, we’ve got to be able to put our foot on the neck of the opposition, and we didn’t do that and that’s pretty disappointing. But this isn’t the first time it’s happened so it’s something I need to look into with the team and we need to talk about it, and we need to plot a way forward. We’ve got to get our good and our bad closer together, we can’t have a session like that because you never recover.”
While the preparation for the series was not ideal, Sri Lanka’s Head Coach said that it could not be used as an excuse for the performances in this series.
“I’m not going to make any excuses today. Yes, we haven’t had the greatest build up – with the Lanka Premier League into South Africa, South Africa straight back into Sri Lanka. But we’ve playing Test cricket again, and that’s great. I’m not going to use that as an excuse because for three days we were very good. For three days we held our own. We’ve got a board in the dressing room where we plot each session. We hadn’t lost a session and we had everything going for us. We were leading the game going into our second innings and we let it slip. That’s something I need to put my finger on, because that today wasn’t good enough. We’ve got to learn to be ruthless. We’ve got to learn to, when the situation presents itself and we’re in front of the game, take those opportunities and put our opposition under pressure. And we buckled first again today which is extremely disappointing,” Arthur opined.
Sri Lanka lost all their second innings wickets to spinners -- Dom Bess and Jack Leach took four each before Root removed the last two batsmen -- after losing all their first innings wickets to fast bowlers.
Picture: Dom Bess celebrates a wicket with his England team mates