Sri Lanka’s woes in Tests have been manifolds, from an ever-changing opening combo to the always-feeble new bowl pair. Vaas’s retirement connived a dearth of fast bowling options. Just when Malinga, Kulasekara and Thushara made it look potent, Murali’s retirement forced Sri Lanka to search for a spinner who can fill his shoes. When Herath emerged, Malinga announced his retirement and Thushara vanished. When Angelo Mathews towed in the advantage of a fast bowling all-rounder, an unprecedented value in the Sri Lankan side, the openers collapsed once again. Selectors kept switching from Mubarak to Warnapura to Vadort to Paranavitana. At last Dilshan was promoted and selectors could put together a good opening partnership, if they find Dilshan a stable partner. Paranavitana gleamed with promise on occasion but failed to impress. When Dimuth’s centuries galore at first class level, Dilshan announced his retirement leaving the selectors to find Dimuth a new partner. When Kaushal Silva showed his obduracy at the opening slot Dimuth failed to translate his performance to the Test Level.

 

Nuwan Pradeep crashes into his stumps after avoiding a short ballAnother surreptitious problem that has somehow managed to sneak underneath the radar was Sri Lanka’s inability to clean the tail and their very own tail’s inability to wag. Sri Lanka had Muralitharan and then Mendis who had unorthodoxy up their sleeves to befuddle the tail enders. Which meant once you  get through the top 7, running through the rest would just be a formality. The absence of both in the lineup had made the Sri Lankan bowling surprisingly orthodox and clueless against the tail.

 

Even though Sri Lanka’s fast bowlers together with Herath have somehow cooked up a decent bowling line-up, the inability of the tail to prop up the batting line up  has been stark. It may be too early to be cynical on the batting ability of the bowlers, while they are yet to achieve the menace required to be a top test side.

 

On the other hand England’s tail has done tremendously well in the match at Lord’s. Sri Lanka’s tail collapsed in both innings and Sri Lankan bowlers had a lot more difficulty in running through the tail than they had in running through the top order.

 

England accumulated 195 runs after the sixth wicket fell, while Sri Lankan bowlers got half the side out before England had 210 runs on the board.  England’s number 8,9,10 and 11 added 114 runs together. Take that 195 off England’s first innings and you would know the impact those runs had in the game. England’s score would have been just 380 had Sri Lanka’s bowlers managed to find a way to keep the English tail at bay.

 

In the second innings too Sri Lanka had the English side 6 for just 121. But England added a further 146 runs for the loss of only two wickets. England’s number 8,9 and 10 added 61 runs together while the number 10 batter Plunkett remained not out. Sri Lanka’s ability to run through the tail could have wrapped up England under 150 which would have meant that Sri Lanka had to chase only 272 in comparison to the eventual 390.

 

Meanwhile Sri Lanka’s tail could only mange 53 runs in the first innings and 7 runs in the second. Sri Lanka’s number 8,9,10 and 11 managed to score only 20 in total in the first innings and 2 in the second innings.

 

Had Sri Lanka been able to either clean the English tail or get some runs from the tail, the game could have swung significantly in Sri Lanka’s favor. At the same time we should also consider the fact that the English tail has some serious batting ability that one might even argue that England is tailless. England’s number 8 is genuine all-rounder in the shorter formats. Stuart Broad’s highest score reads 169 in tests. Plunkett is a useful bowling all rounder who has the ability clear boundaries with ease. James Anderson is often promoted as night watchman in tests.

Test Batting AverageTest Highest ScoreFirst Class Batting AverageFirst Class Highest Score
Chris Jordan27352192
Stuart Broad24.4816923.17169
Liam Plunkett13.9144*24.39114
James Anderson10.463410.0137*
Test Batting AverageTest Highest ScoreFirst Class Batting AverageFirst Class Highest Score
Nuwan Kulasekara14.486418.3095
Rangana Herath80*12.5680*15.90
Shaminda Eranga12.2225*20.88100*
Nuwan Pradeep5.5717*5.3321

Nuwan Kulasekara, Herath and Eranga have what it takes to be a migraine-giving-tail ender for bowlers. But they have a lot of work to be done in their bowling that it is definitely not the right time to speak about their batting.  But what Sri Lanka could do to neutralize the threat is to find a way to inflict the same trouble on the English tail.

 

If Sri Lankan bowlers have the ability to get the wickets of top order batsmen, then they can definitely fret the tail even though all of them are capable bats. In the first innings the Sri Lankan fast bowlers kept bowling short at the tail and the tail kept on scoring runs at a brisk pace. What Sri Lanka could have done, knowing that they are not malign enough to penetrate batting lineups, is to bowl a constant line and length. Tail end batsmen of England would have definitely been tempted to throw their bats at balls which would have definitely accounted for their wickets. You can’t expect the same amount of patience and concentration that a top order batsman exhibits from the tail. Enticing the tail to play big shots will definitely help Sri Lanka to both stop the run flow and clean the tail.  Sri Lankan bowlers should find the right balance between conservativeness and aggression and should not play into England’s tail’s strength by breaching the limit on aggression.

 

If Sri Lanka can find a way to blow the coup de grace on the English batting and should the tail of Sri Lanka score some runs then it will give Sri Lanka a significant advantage in the Leeds test.