There can be no illusions about the current state of Sri Lankan cricket. Last year was hard. The home season was brutal. Sri Lanka’s only series win came against the West Indies. Against India, Sri Lanka won the first test and lost the remaining two to lose the series. Pakistan who toured before India won the first test and the last. The ghost of two away tours to New Zealand, where they lost all 4 tests still haunts them.
Within those battles and loses, Sri Lanka have had days very similar to their change of fortunes at Chester-Le-Street. Against New Zealand in December of 2014, when they were asked to follow on with a massive 303 deficit Sri Lanka somehow summoned their resolve to score over 400 and make New Zealand bat again. Against India in 2015 they started their second innings 192 runs in arrears. They were 3 down with 5 runs on the board before they knew what had happened. Then 95 for 5. That time Dinesh Chandimal played the innings of his career and together with a couple of others and a helping of Herath brilliance pulled Sri Lanka from abyss and went on to win that match at Galle
It’s as if Sri Lanka need to be pushed to a corner with no avenues for escape before they respond. Maybe that is the lesson here. They are reacting rather than taking the game by the horns. When they have had the game under control they let it go. Sri Lanka have had opportunities in both tests so far with the ball to find a corner for themselves in the game. Only to squander them with poor tactics and fielding and then even worse batting. It is as if they face opportunity in the eye and say “‘No, not today”
So finally Sri Lanka have been provoked into a reaction again. It all began with a simple adjustment to their approach. Where before they had been timid and overawed, in the second innings they have shown enthusiasm and finally, finally, a bit of life. There were off stump guards. There was the avoiding of stepping foot inside the corridor of uncertainty. There were positive leaves. There were leaves on length There were quick singles. Some attempted even when they weren’t really there. So much so that Kaushal Silva nearly ran himself out a couple of times. But who cared. These guys were trying. They were doing something. Anything. And it was beautiful.
This team has days like this in them. They’ve had days like this before. The blueprint is there. But it seems to get flushed from their memory after a while. Only to be accessed randomly. This is the sort of day Sri Lanka needs to bottle up and wear on their neck like a sweethearts keepsake. The sort of day they need to pack away like a tent and unfurl everywhere they go. All the time.
Chandimal, Siriwardana, Herath, Pradeep, Lakmal, Eranga. Sri Lanka never thought their test batting hopes would hinge on these players. But they do. No one ever thought Sri Lanka would take this game into the fourth day. But they have. So far on this tour, they’ve not managed to link two of these days next to each other. Go on Sri Lanka, give us another.