Sri Lanka’s Spin Bowling Prospects Present & Future for TestsJune 18, 2015
Michael Roberts, courtesy of islandcricket.lk
In chatting cricket with Michael de Zoysa early in June we addressed the issue of spin bowlers in the longer-format of cricket in the light of Murali’s retirement and Rangana Herath’s aging 37 year-old frame. De Zoysa was concerned because he felt the majority of the options were rollers of the ball rather than genuine spin-merchants, a type of bowling that he considered of limited value in the longer format of cricket. Dilruwan Perera (aged 33 now), in his view, was “a genuine off-spinner,” while Tharinda Kaushal (22 years) was a good prospect who needed to develop consistency and guile.
Intriguingly and with some foresight de Zoysa presented Jeffrey Vandersay (aged 25), a right-arm leg-spinner, as a good prospect. This he did early in June well before Vandersay was picked for the trial match against Pakistan where he proceeded to take 5 wickets in the first innings and a brace in the second. De Zoysa is an SSC stalwart and Vandersay plays for that club now, but it is evident now that more than club loyalty directed his assessment. Vandersay could be an asset in the future and one hopes that he is made to concentrate on the longer form of cricket for the near-future.
Vandersay-–Pic from Lake House Sandakan —Pic from http://www.ceylontoday
The issue one needs to address is de Zoysa’s dismissal of those whom he called “rollers,” especially the left-arm rollers. Though not discussed specifically in our conversation, we were both thinking of such spinners as Malinda Pushpakumara, Sohan Boralessa, Milinda Siriwardena and Chaturanga de Silva. Here, Andrew Fernando inserted a caution: there are many bowlers in India and Bangladesh who bowl in this style and produce results. Fernando also introduced the name of Lakshan Sandakan (aged 24) as a young left-arm wrist spinner with a good future.
Framed thus, I shall bring a statistical comparison of a select number of spin-bowlers into the review of Sri Lanka’s spin-bowling prospects for the present and near-future. Because only a few of them have participated in Test Matches or “List A” games, I shall concentrate only on the figures from those games defined as “First Class Matches” in http://cricketarchive.com/Archive/Players/. It appears that First Class Matches are “matches of three or more days’ scheduled duration between two sides of eleven players each, officially adjudged to be first–class by virtue of the standard of the competing teams” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-class_cricket). This definition would seem to cover domestic completion (at what level?), but would also embrace matches against English county sides when Sri Lanka tours England or any such practice game where touring abroad (but not games where more than eleven play for one side).
In other words the focus is largely on performances in the domestic arena and strict three-day games when on tour. With names arranged alphabetically, their bowling statistics are presented below.
|Balls||Runs||Wickets||Avrg.||5 wkt hauls||S/R||E/R|
|Ch. De Silva||3,994||2,207||64||34.38||02||62.60||3.31|
The comparison is as intriguing as bewildering; but let us place the different men in order of significance in (A) averages and (B) strike-rate.
Senanayake = 20.22
P’kumara = 20.57
Prasanna = 20.63
Kaushal = 21.56
A-Mendis = 22.60
Sandakan = 23.18
Boralessa = 24.31
D-Perera = 24.93
Vandersay = 25.80
Randiv = 26.09
S’wardena = 30.84
Kaushal = 33.69
Sandakan = 35.18
Prasanna = 37.84
P’kumara = 38.10
Vandersay = 39.81
A-Mendis = 42.53
Senanayake = 42.68
Boralessa = 43.66
Randiv = 45.72
Siriwardena = 49.04
Perera = 49.84
Ch deSilva = 62.40
First readings of these figures indicate that Kaushal, Sandakan and Vandersay are, indeed, good prospects; and that we are indebted to Andrew Fernando for bringing Sandakan into our purview (especially if he has a chinaman in his repertoire?). But the statistical picture indicates the need to consider Seekkuge Prasanna for the longer format. He has been generally treated as an ODI bowler, and so too Sachitra Senanayake. However, Fernando reckons that Prasanna is multi-dimensional and that he bowled better than Jeevan Mendis (another leg-spinner) during the recent ODI format matches.
Senanayake’s figures in the longer format in the domestic circuit (i.e. “First Class” matches) are also formidable. However, his action has been seriously questioned and his return with a re-modeled action during the tour of the Antipodes recently indicated that he had lost some of his panache. A watching brief must hang over him for both longer format and ODIs.
Ajantha Mendis is probably a lost soul. His mojo has waned and opposition batsmen from beyond Lanka’s shores have worked him out; while he is a liability on the field and unreliable with the bat. Malinda Pushpakumara’s figures suggest that he is among the best of the left-arm trundlers and should be given some scope in ODIs. For the moment, however, Kaushal, Dilruwan Perera, Prasanna, Sandakan and Vandersay must be in the Selectors’ sights for the longer-format tours and series.
Dilruwan Perera’s statistics may not stand out, but he is 33 years old and I conjecture that his bowling performances at the beginning of his career were average at best. This query highlights the problem with my gross survey. Let me raise a serious question through a simple ‘trick’. I present the gross figures for “’First Class” matches from Rangana Herath’s long career:
Balls Runs Wkts Av 5wkt hauls S/R E/R
First Class 49,271 22212 885 25.09 56 55.67 2.70
Tests 16,820 7717 261 29.56 21 64.44 2.75
While Herath’s economy rate at both levels of the longer format outshine most of the other spin-bowlers in our list, his bowling average for “First Class matches” (presumably mostly in Sri Lanka) places him ninth in our list; while his strike-rate makes him 13th, one below the last.
Statistics in the gross can be a nightmare. What is required is a careful breakdown of the data in temporal blocks by some whiz-kid so that we can be better enlightened. For our evaluations TODAY it is the span 2012-15 that we should focus upon. This essay is merely a starting point, hopefully good to think with.
After such a massive effort, we need to relax. What better than a spinners’ puzzle that will make Ritchie Benaud – out there in the netherworld — stumble and sweat in his commentary box, while David Bumble Lloyd – still with us today — grasps the nettle with ecstatic glee. So, let us present to the world some of our spinners in their fullest measure:
- Senanayake Mudiyānselāgē Sachitra Senanayake
- Herath Mudiyānselāgē Rangana Keerthi Bandāra Herath
- Hēwā Kaluhālmullagē Suraj Randiv Kaluhālmulla
- Bālapawadugē Ajantha Winslo Mendis
- Tissa Appuhāmilagē Milinda Siriwardena
So, our present lot of spin-bowlers, individually and collectively, nearly out-vaaaaaaaaaas Warnakulasuriya Patabendigē Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas. Maybe we should be kind to those alien beings beyond our shores and settle on Jeffrey Dexter Francis Vandersay as our one-and-only spin bowler!
- From Author Michael Roberts, 17 June 2015: One aspect that I have not taken into consideration is the impact of Mahela and Dilshan’s retirements on the fielding positions. They will be sorely missed, with Mahela’s absence at slip creating a massive chasm. As it is, de Zoysa indicated that our fielding lapses let us down during the last NZ and World Cup tour. So Atapattu, Mathews and the selectors have hopefully penciled in suitable candidates for backward point and first slip for (a) pace bowlers and (b) spinners. I rate Prasanna and Senanayake highly and they can certainly fit in at backward point, but the issue here is their bowling capacity in the longer format. Kaushal seemed reasonable, but we require a more considered opinion from a critical observer at ground level. If my memory from a past ODI tour of Australia serves me right, Dilruwan Perera is not what I call “cricket quick.” Vandersay and Sandakan are unknown entities in the fielding department. In brief, when push comes to shove fielding abilities must sway one’s selection choice.
- From Michael de Zoysa, 17 June 2015: We have to hope Sachchithra gets his ability back, Sandakan has a long way to go.
- From Andrew Fidel Fernando, 17 June 2015: I think you make some good observations and sum up the situation quite nicely. Vandersay seems a good prospect, but I think he needs some A-team cricket before we get a better idea of his ability. Pakistan are no longer very good players of spin bowling, and are also notorious underachievers in practice matches. That said, I think there is a good group of spinners – all quite raw – who will push each other for places in the national side over the next few years. I’d love to see Sri Lanka play two wrist spinners (say a Kaushal and a Vandersay), with maybe a finger-spinning allrounder in support, to provide some control. …… Either way, as Sri Lanka enters this period of transition, our spin prospects seem healthier than the prospects in any other discipline.
 Vandersay took 5 for 83 in 19.3 overs in the first innings and 3 for 94 in 18.4 overs in the second. See http://www.espncricinfo.com/sri-lanka-v-pakistan-2015/engine/match/860261.html
 After stints at several other clubs. He is a lad from Wattala who attended Wesley College, which produced a stream of Sri Lankan cricketers in the 1940s and 1950s (for instance, the Claessens, the Fuards and Lou Adihetty).
 I am grateful to Hilal Suhaib for a discussion on this intriguing terminology.
 The practice match which Pakistan played recently would not count as “First Class” because each side had 12 players. So Vandersay’s wicket-haul would, presumably, not enter this facet of the record books