In Test cricket, Sri Lanka have been dominant over foreign nations at home having beaten South Africa 2-0 this year and overcome Australia 3-0 in 2016. So the three-match bilateral series against England many thought would be another walk in the park. The outcome is far from it.
Armed with local knowledge thanks to the presence of Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace, both whom had been Sri Lanka’s Head Coach within the last decade, England caught the hosts off guard. Their campaign was well planned and nicely executed.
The tourists not only won their first Test series in Sri Lanka in 17 years but went on to become only the third team in the history to complete a 3-0 whitewash in Sri Lanka with Virat Kohli’s Indian side in 2017 and Ricky Ponting’s Australians in 2004 being the others.
The Sri Lankans were banking heavily on spin but the England trio of Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid outclassed their Sri Lankan counterparts – Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Malinda Pushpakumara and Akila Dananjaya. To put it plainly, England gave Sri Lanka a taste of their own medicine.
It didn’t help that Sri Lanka were without their skipper Dinesh Chandimal, who strained his groin early in the first Test and was ruled out for the rest of the series. It also didn’t help that England won the toss on all three instances. On turning decks, Sri Lanka were always playing catch up once they lost the toss.
Surely, you cannot blame the toss or injury for losing all three Tests. England were definitely the better side. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, were extremely poor. At times they were lethargic, at times dumb, on other occasions lacked imagination and on a serious note even showed arrogance. They didn’t deserve to win a single game.
You may be surprised why Niroshan Dickwella wasn’t penalized for excessive appealing. Andy Pycroft is a mild man. But maybe he realized that the Sri Lankans were digging their own grave and turned a blind eye to the host’s excesses.
Sri Lanka have the wrong man to give their captain a clue whether to review or not as Dickwella acts like a bull in a china shop. The man who famously got under the skin of Virat Kohli last year in Kolkata seems to believe that every appeal that is turned down should be reviewed.
Did you know that in Galle during the first innings, Sri Lanka lost both their reviews even before Rangana Herath, their best bowler, came onto bowl? And in Colombo both their reviews were gone before the 25th over. It hurt them a lot.
There’s something that Dickwella can learn from England. A decisive moment of the third Test was when Roshen Silva was dismissed leg before wicket to Moeen. Umpire S Ravi had turned down the appeal, but England had a review left deep into the 74th over of the innings. England’s cricket was smart to watch whereas Sri Lanka were sloppy and grumpy.
They basically forgot a simple fact you have to remember in using DRS. That is the system is there to avoid howlers.
Not a single Sri Lankan scored a hundred in the series. England had four of them and that was one key difference in the series. However, Sri Lanka had more half-centuries (11) compared to England (7). When the Sri Lankan batsmen were set and looking good to post a big one, England found a moment of magic to make a breakthrough. Their fielding was good in all three games.
Dimuth Karunaratne is the man capable of long vigils and in Pallekele, Ben Stokes ran him out when on 63 with a stunning direct hit fielding at covers.
Then Kusal Mendis was turning the third Test on its head when he chanced Jack Leach’s arm when on 86 and again he was run out with terrific piece of fielding – another direct hit.
The South African born Keaton Jennings looked like he was from a different planet. He took short leg fielding to a new level with some remarkable efforts and in the third Test alone took six catches.
In the first two Tests it was England’s tail that made the difference. In Galle, they were 113 for five at lunch on day one. But the next five wickets produced 239 runs. A first inning total of 300 is a match winning one in Galle and England had 342 thanks to their tail.
In the second Test at Pallekele, the last wicket produced more than 100 runs with both innings put together. In the first innings James Anderson and Sam Curran added 60 runs and in the second essay, Anderson added 41 runs with Ben Foakes. The margin of victory was 57 runs.
In the last the margin of victory was 42. England were in a spot of bother again. They had slumped to 39 for four. Sri Lanka, who chased 327 to win the game, could have kept the target below 250. But there was a comedy of errors. Ben Stokes (42), who added 89 runs for the fifth wicket with Jos Buttler (64) was dismissed off a no ball not just once but twice. Spinner Lakshan Sandakan was the culprit. That sums up Sri Lanka’s story.