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My Test Team for Galle

June 16, 2015

Michael Roberts, 16 June 2015… an essay drafted on 16th June 2015 before the final XI was selected, but also failing to note that Tharanga was not in the reckoning. The article was sent to islandcricket.lk and The Island for publication, and also presented to Michael de Zoysa and Andrew Fernando with an express request for “critical comments.” De Zoysa’s immediate dissent is incorporated here as a COMMENT at the end with a response.

The retirement of Jayawardene and Dilshan from Test cricket and the impending departure of Sangakkara render the future of Sri Lanka’s cricket team as worrying as intriguing. In chatting with Michael de Zoysa in Colombo early in June we touched on future possibilities and just yesterday a long Skype-chat with Andrew Fidel Fernando in Colombo was extremely enlightening. His prospective Eleven for the Pakistan series worked within the limits of the XV chosen for the series by the SLC Selection Committee.

Sri Lanka cricket team captain Angelo Mathews (R) and team coach Marvan Atapattu chat during a practice session at the Galle International Cricket Stadium in Galle on June 15, 2015. Sri Lanka and Pakistan will play three Tests, five One-Day Internationals and two T20 Series in Sri Lanka between June 17 to August 1. The first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be played on June 17 at the Galle International Cricket Stadium in Galle. AFP PHOTO/ Ishara S. KODIKARA        (Photo credit should read Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Sri Lanka cricket team captain Angelo Mathews (R) and team coach Marvan Atapattu chat during a practice session at the Galle International Cricket Stadium in Galle on June 15, 2015. Sri Lanka and Pakistan will play three Tests, five One-Day Internationals and two T20 Series in Sri Lanka between June 17 to August 1. The first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be played on June 17 at the Galle International Cricket Stadium in Galle. AFP PHOTO/ Ishara S. KODIKARA (Photo credit should read Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

However, I intervene first with my choice of XI, guided in part by Fernando — but adding my own twist. The twist arises from the fact that the match is being played at Galle.[1] This background links up with my reasoning that bowlers win matches and that one must enter a match with one’s three or four best bowlers. With Eranga out of contention because of injury and Lakmal in question and without match practice, I hold that our best three bowlers for the sort of conditions that are likely to prevail at Galle are Rangana Herath followed by Dilruwan Perera and Tharinda Kaushal at level pegging.

So I will choose three spin-bowlers and have only one paceman, with Angelo Mathews as medium pace support. If memory serves me right there were Tests at Galle in the past where the pacemen, such as Dilhara Fernando and Vaas, hardly bowled. Moreover, in the Second Test against South Africa at the SSC grounds in July 2014, Sri Lanka opted for only one paceman (Lakmal) and selected three spinners: Herath, Perera and Ajantha Mendis – even having Perera and Herath opening the attack in the second innings.[2] If my memory serves well, in one match against Pakistan Herath opened bowling in the fourth innings and was a central figure in a dramatic victory that was snatched. In other matches on previous occasions Muralitharan was the main destroyer.

Yes Murali is a freak; and yes in those days we also had Sanath Jayasuriya as spinning-allrounder and Dilshan as useful spin back-up. Dilruwan Perera is an allrounder and was a useful aide for Herath in the victory over Pakistan in August 2014, taking 5 wkts for 137 (31.5 overs) in the first innings and 2 for 68 (28 overs) in the second. But he would not earn a place as batsman in the manner Dislhan or Jayasuriya because such contenders as Vithanage, Priyanjan, Mubarak and Dickwella would be deemed superior.[3]

My Eleven in Batting Order

Kaushal Silva

Upul Tharanga

Kumar Sangakkara

Thirimanne or Chandimal

Matthews

Chandimal or Thirimanne

Kusal Perera

Dilruwan Perera

Tharinda Kaushal

Rangana Herath

Dhammika Prasad or Nuwan Pradeep … with Prasad batting ahead of Herath and Kaushal if he is in the XI.

Andrew Fernando’s Eleven

Kaushal Silva

Karunaratne or Tharanga

Kumar Sangakkara

Thirimanne or Chandimal

Matthews

Chandimal or Thirimanne

Kusal Perera

Kaushal or Perera

Dhammika Prasad

Rangana Herath

Nuwan Pradeep

Sri Lankan cricketer Kaushal Silva (R) gestures after scoring a century (100 runs) as Pakistan wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed looks on during the second day of the three-day warm-up match between Sri Lanka Board President's XI and Pakistan at the Colts Cricket Stadium in Colombo on June 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ Ishara S. KODIKARA        (Photo credit should read Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Sri Lankan cricketer Kaushal Silva (R) gestures after scoring a century (100 runs) as Pakistan wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed looks on during the second day of the three-day warm-up match between Sri Lanka Board President’s XI and Pakistan at the Colts Cricket Stadium in Colombo on June 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ Ishara S. KODIKARA (Photo credit should read Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Andrew Fernando stressed that Kusal Perera had struck a purple patch recently and could not be rejected. He also surmised that the Selectors would opt for Kaushal over Dilruwan Perera (aged 33) because Kaushal (aged 22) is a wrist spinner who turns the ball more than Perera and packs a doosra. I add here that Kaushal’s “First Class” bowling average of 21.56 and strike-rate of 33.69 is better than Dilruwan Perera’s average of 24.93 and strike-rate of 49.84 –with the caveat that Perera’s bowling seems to have improved considerably in recent years.

Kusal’s presence and attacking style may tilt the opening batsman scales in favour of Dimuth Karunarane over Upul Tharanga. Both Karunaratne and Tharanga scored half-centuries in the recent trial game versus Pakistan so they are level pegging in recent shows. It may seem cruel for the Selectors to drop Karunaratne after he compiled century in the last Test Match that Lanka played (in New Zealand). However, I would opt for Tharanga because his attacking cricket could give our XI an extra edge. Note, moreover, that Tharanga and Kaushal opened the innings in both home Test Matches against Pakistan in 2014, compiling 24, 79 and 54 runs together on the three moments in which they were paired.[4]

Again, when push comes to shove and one faces tight choices, fielding capacities and the positions into which players fit should tilt the decisions taken. I have not witnessed enough Sri Lankan cricket matches of late to use this yardstick to assess the relative merits of Tharanga and Karunaratne in the context of the fielders available. Since Sangakkara is retiring soon, Karunaratne should not be disappointed with my choice: his opportunities will come pretty soon at either No. 2 or No. 3.

A Comment from Michael de Zoysa, 16 June 2015:

Won’t discuss team other than to say Karunaratne who made 155 in his last Test against NZ In  NZ has to be first choice opener…….. Lets see.

A Response from Michael Roberts, 17 June2015

Though the match was aired in Australia I did not witness Karunaratne’s innings. Witnessing cricket at this level first-hand is of the utmost significance so Michael de Zoysa’s explicit evaluation of Dimuth Karunaratne as our first choice opening batsman has to be given the greatest weight. It certainly suggests that Karunaratne should always be penciled in for our next tours of such countries as England, New Zealand, and South Africa and Australia.

That granted, I note that my choice of Upul Tharanga over Karunaratne was dictated by a policy of horses for courses. He fares well on Sri Lankan wickets and is in good touch. Omitted from the World Cup squads he is motivated to make a point. Batting together against Pakistan in 2014 on the same grounds scheduled for the present series, Tharanga and Kaushal Silva made a good fist of their opening combination. Within my limited observations, Silva is our best short-leg, a key position for Lanka’s bowling attack on home pitches. Having this kind of dilemma, opting for two out of three solid choices is a good problem to have. But, as it is, Tharanga is out of the reckoning at this moment though not out of the Selector’s minds as option and back-up opening batsman.

Test cricket at Galle 2012

*****   ****

[1] My beloved home town and in fact using the municipal grounds where I played virtually all my school cricket and soccer.

[2] They were chasing victory but South Africa held out by losing only eight wickets for their 159 runs over 111 overs during the fourth innings.

[3] In fact Perera scored 5 runs batting at No. 8 in Galle and then collected a golden air of ducks at the Second Test Match at the SSC in 2014. He also collected twin ducks against South Africa at Galle the previous month that is July 2014 but had a good game with the ball.

[4] Mahela Jayawardene replaced Silva as opener in the second innings at Galle because quick runs were required.

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