Roughly eleven months ago Paul Farbrace, Sri Lanka’s head coach at the time, was approached by the England and Wales Cricket Board to join their set-up. A few days later, Farbrace resigned from the Sri Lankan job, a mere three months into his contract. All this transpired two weeks before Sri Lanka were meant to begin a full tour of Ireland and England. In the ODI leg of that tour, Lahiru Thirinanne scored 93 runs in five innings. One of them was a 60 not out. James Anderson dismissed him the four other times. He also dismissed him twice in four innings in the Tests.
So, 11 months on, Sri Lanka are playing England
in a World Cup match. Farbrace is in the dugout. Sri Lanka lose the toss and bowl.
The three frontline-bowler attack that Sri Lanka have been employing in the 2015 World Cup however, were determined to test the loosest definition of bowling, operating apparently without a plan or the acumen to deal with England’s top order. England got off to a brisk start, but they were helped along by the bowlers, in what appeared to be an exercise in trying to hit every nook and corner of the pitch mat. Too full. Too wide. Too full and wide. Too short. Too wide. Too short and wide. And this on the pitch on which Tim Southee had demolished England, hooping it around for a seven-fer.
In their desperation to get the bowling back on track, having been power hit around all the small grounds in New Zealand in the pre-World Cup tour, Sri Lanka are currently employing their original bowling coach – Chaminda Vaas – as well as a bowling consultant in Rumesh Ratnayeke. Both have huge amounts of experience as players and as coaches. But questions now need to be raised about what is happening on the training grounds between matches. Sri Lanka’s management have indicated that the scheduling and flights are taking their toll on the players – having to fly in and out of Australia and New Zealand – but to be so far from being able to attain the basics is a worrying sign. And one that cannot be ignored further.
Having had three good games previously, Suranga Lakmal unravelled as Joe Root and Jos Butler took him on. His day was capped after delivering two beamers in one over and he was cut from the attack before he completed his eighth over.
This was after he was warned for running on the danger area in his first over.
Lakmal has been one of the finds for Sri Lanka over the last few years. He was expected to be the most New Zealand-like fast bowler in the Sri Lankan side, providing height and away swing at decent pace with a classical action. On today’s showing, he would struggle to get a look in as a ringer for an amateur game.
His first spell lasted two overs. He was either too full and wide to Moeen Ali, or on the pads to Ian Bell. Both types of failings were the two batsmen’s bread and butter. You would expect Lakmal, Vaas and Ratnayeke to know this. Yet there it was.
Lakmal has arguably been the unluckiest bowler in the tournament. With yet another two chances going down in his second over, to add to the three that have been missed in the previous three matches within his first couple of overs. All this seemed to accumulate today, as he looked bereft of any confidence. From being the bowler who could have picked up four or five top-order batsmen including Kane Williamson for 0 and Ian Bell today, twice, he faces the prospect of being dropped for the next game.
Lasith Malinga looked good in patches. He landed some yorkers, as the commentators hyped him up as the most dangerous bowler in the death overs. Yet Malinga barely clocked 140kph. He didn’t look a threat in the early overs or at the death. A lot of column inches and air time has been given during each game about how Malinga is coming back from injury. He is four games into the World Cup and Sri Lanka are heading into the “business end”. He has improved yes, but it seems his rise has now levelled out. With Sri Lanka insisting on the three-bowler policy, they need him at his best sooner rather than later. More importantly, he needs to pick up wickets.
Angelo Matthews must be a happy man right now. His batsmen have scored 644 for 2 in their last two matches. His team have just demolished England in only the second chase of over 300 in this World Cup. The tactic of using himself, Thisara Perera and Tillakaratne Dilshan to complete twenty overs amongst them is seemingly falling into place. Today, by the 44th over it had only cost him 98 runs in 25 overs for 3 wickets. Impressive.
But then he used Rangana Herath in the most bizarre way. Once in the 19th over. Then in the 29th for a two-over spell. Two overs later, for a one-over spell. And in the 46th over for 11 balls before Herath was literally hit out of the attack by a Jos Butler ball that cut his spinning finger and may now put him out for the next game.
Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkara recorded Sri Lanka’s highest second-wicket partnership against England. © Getty Images
This is not to say that Mathews needs to do the same. But even Herath needs to settle into a spell. Herath’s greatest ability, that Mathews needs to exploit better, is utilising him to pick up wickets before the Batting Power Play begins. Herath was built for the middle overs. His genius comes from setting up batsmen over after over and beguiling them in a web of patience and subtle variety. He wasn’t allowed that opportunity today.
By now it should be clear to Mathews that the batting approach by most teams is to preserve wickets to take advantage of the fielding restrictions in the last 10 overs. A place where Perera never has belonged. He does not have a yorker. He does not have a slower ball. He is a length bowler. Today his eighth over, the 44th of the innings, went for 25, with two reverse hits. Then in a shocking move by Mathews he brought back Perera to complete Herath’s over. The single ball went for four. Dilshan had two overs up his sleeve.
People look at Mathews captaincy and they see a novel concept of himself, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene managing the side in what seems to be perfect unison. Sangakkara and Jayawardene are big names. When they have an opinion it is hard to repress it. Sri Lanka are now guilty of the worst review in the history of DRS. A ball hit Joe Root on the full, the impact was outside leg stump on the angle from Lakmal and going further down. Mathews was in the covers and asked for a review on the urging of Sangakkara. He was later shown being visibly annoyed at losing the review to such abject misjudgement.
Mathews is not a bad captain. But his tactical awareness within games seems to be a set of predetermined plans that have mostly failed. Wide fielders at third man and fine leg on the smaller New Zealand grounds. Bowling Perera in the death overs where he has always failed. A lack of any real plan on how to use Herath. This alongside fielding that is now entering the realms of farcical. These errors have cost Sri Lanka runs, wickets, and opportunities in matches to be unequivocally dominant. But luckily the opposition have not been able to take full toll. And Sri Lanka’s batting has covered up for these blemishes. But they cannot be left untended. Marvan Attapattu, the head coach, has a huge role to play here. Mistakes can be made. But not repeated
With about 10 runs to the finish line, the broadcast cuts to a shot of the England dugout. Paul Farbrace is there. Palm on face. He might not regret leaving Sri Lanka. He is obviously on a better pay packet. But oh to be a fly on the walls of Farbrace’s brain. Thirimanne drives one to deep cover. He takes a single. It is his 100th run. James Anderson doesn’t take a wicket all day. Thirimanne is the youngest batsmen to score a hundred for Sri Lanka in World Cups. He takes Anderson for 10 in his fourth over. Sangakkara scores his fastest ODI century. Sri Lanka have blitzed England again in a World Cup match.
For now, Sri Lanka and Mathews can take some satisfaction in the full circle they have come. But they must not think this was a perfect day out.