8 years ago, in the United Kingdom when the summer sun was just starting to peep on the British Isle, Sri Lanka Cricket team lead by Mahela Jayawardane defeated England 5-0, making history. 8 years after the heroics, we find Sri Lanka struggling even to get bat on ball. The reason is not because the spring conditions in England are hostile, neither is it because Sri Lanka is finding it difficult to counter bounce and swing. The reason is temperament and attitude.
In the Summer of 2006 Sri Lanka continued the trend they set in 1996, when they revived the art of batting by going hard at the bowlers during the initial overs. Sanath Jaysuriya partnered with Upul Tharanga dismantled the English bowling. The English men instead of trying to swing and seam the ball, were trying to souse the fire set by the opening duo of Sanath and Tharanga. The last match of that series was a perfect epitome of Sri Lanka’s fearless batting when Sri Lanka chased down a target of 321 under 40 overs, thanks to the highest opening partnership between Tharanga and Jayasuriya.
8 years down the line Sri Lanka seems to have forgotten their success formula. Sri Lankan openers’ mentality today is to survive rather than to thrive. When Kusal Perera was dropped from the team and Thirimanne came to open the innings with Dilshan, what everyone thought was Perera’s poor form with the bat during the warm up games has seen him out. But what Sri Lanka thought was that Thirimanne was better equipped to counter swing than Kusal. Here is where Sri Lanka insidious path down hill began. Sri Lankan brand of Cricket was known to make bowlers deliberate about countering their attacking style of batting. Instead, Sri Lankan batters looked to counter bowling.
Even last year in the Champions Trophy when Sri Lanka defeated England, it was their positive mindset together with their creativity which won the game. But here once again in England, we find Sri Lankan batsmen trying not to be victims of England’s incisive fast bowling.
Thirimanne in all the games he has played so far in this series, has struggled to score runs quickly even though he has had limited success in negating the swinging ball. Although Thirimanne’s role in the team is seemingly to see off the swinging ball and to lay a foundation to the likes of Sangakkara and Jayawardane to launch from the platform, he has succeeded only once. In the English conditions under a murky sky, a batsman is never in, as Dilshan showed against Jordan when he missed an incoming delivery. So what is the point of activating the survival mode, throwing your natural instincts and success formula into oblivion? Though, if Thirimanne succeeds it will lay Sri Lanka the most picture perfect platform, is it something that you can always expect? In an ideal world Thirimanne would bat through the first 10 overs nullifying James Anderson’s first spell with Sri Lanka scoring at around 3 runs per over. Then Thirimanne would look to score more freely and should he get out the rest of the batsman can come in and build on the foundation laid. But in a pragmatic world Thirimanne’s defensive approach would further encourage the English bowlers to look for swing. Moreover English bowlers would be positively forced to look for wickets in a scenario pretty much similar to a test match. If Thirimanne gets out prematurely after slowing down the scoring rate, the batsman coming next would be forced to score briskly, in the process risking their wickets.
If we can have Kusal Perera open in Thirimanne’s stead, he will look for scoring opportunities. If he gets going, bowlers will then be forced to look to contain him. They will take a defensive approach and instead of looking for swing they will be looking to not to get hit. In the process batsman at the end can thrive in Kusal’s shadow, allowing him to build an innings. So even if Kusal gets out after a brisk start, you will have a batsman who can lead the scoring allowing the new striker to get used to the conditions. Well, what if Kusal gets out in the first over? If you ask me I will prefer a batsman to get out for a first ball duck rather than to score the same amount of runs in 11 balls. In comparison if Thirimanne succeeds it will provide Sri Lanka only with a platform, but in the success of Kusal Perera Sri Lanka can cherish the driver’s seat with bowlers completely demoralised. Should Thirimanne fail, it will hamper Sri Lanka’s progress. And the set back does not end with it. In addition to losing a wicket Sri Lanka would have lost valuable overs which they could have scored off with the field restriction on. Sri Lanka’s scoring rate would have fallen into a chasm with no platform laid. But if Kusal gets out early, at least he would not have swallowed balls as much as Thirimanne would have done, leaving the next batsman some time to get a start.
Sri Lanka if they need to win the series, should bring back the archaic but still useful formula into their batting lineup. Kusal Perera should open with Dilshan. Thirimanne considering he is a future prospect should bat at number 3. If Kusal gets out, Thirimanne can come in and try to consolidate. Sangakkara has become aggressive enough to warrant the number 4 position in the team. This will make the batting lineup evenly concentrated and would further strengthen their middle order. Chandimal should bat at number 5 with Mahela assuming the role of finisher together with Mathews, since Mahela is the most versatile Sri Lankan batsman. Thisera Perera should be brought back at number 8, since Sri Lanka needs a batsman who can finish the innings with a flurry. It was evident in the second ODI when Sri Lanka struggled to get those big hits in the slog overs which would have been otherwise in the presence of Perera. Of course Perera’s bowling has subsided to deny him the place of a bowler in the team, but Sri Lanka should not forget the fact that he is a wicket taker. And the only way by which he can get better in his bowling is only by bowling. The value Perera brings into the team is much more than the loss Sri Lanka may have to incur in the bowling department. Even if Perera is going to have a horrible spell with the ball Sri Lanka will have Angelo Mathews to fill into the 4th bowler’s spot. Thisera Perera would at least bowl 4 overs and Dilshan can bowl the remaining six. Sri Lanka can also exploit Thirimanne’s bowling ability if needed.
I am not sure whether we will be able to win with these Killer tactics. But we will definitely be able to do much better than just accumulating 67 runs. At least Sri Lanka would be able to win some pride. I would rather prefer Sri Lanka to get all out scoring 120 runs in 25 overs rather than just limping to 67 off 23 overs with no wickets to play. Kill or be killed, just surviving the kill will not help you survive every time.