Has Sri Lanka forgotten how to bat ?

ABU DHABI, Wednesday: There is something terribly wrong with the Sri Lankan one-day international side’s batting. Can someone put a finger on what that problem is?

For two successive series running the batsmen have made the same mistakes over and over again and suffered the humiliation of 5-0 whitewashes at the hands of Asian giants India and Pakistan in successive series.

Man of the Series Hasan Ali with 14 wickets.

This is not the Sri Lankan one-day sides that we have got accustomed to. Where are those big hitters like the Jayasuriyas and the Kaluwitharanas and the stroke players like the Aravindas, Ranatungas, Sangakkaras, Jayawardenes and Dilshans. Since these great stars left the scene there suddenly seems to be a dearth of quality one-day batsmen who could take the game to the opposition.

What we see today are batsmen surrendering meekly to bowlers whom they should be hitting out of the park – no effort to dominate the bowling, no feet movement, no rotation of the strike and no plan by the batsmen to bat out the full quota of 50 overs.

It seems that Sri Lankan batsmen have suddenly forgotten why they have a bat in their hands.

There was a time when we were showing the rest of the world how to play one-day cricket with several innovations brought about by those wonderful coaches from Australia who served Sri Lanka well to keep the nation ahead of the rest of the field and take them to win a World Cup and figure in two other World Cup finals. We are talking here only of fifty-over cricket.

What is difficult to fathom is how the current batsmen struggle to play spin especially in a country where spin is so dominant that it has produced the greatest wicket-taker in history Muthiah Muralitharan and the most successful left-arm spinner in the game Rangana Herath. There have been occasions that even domestic matches sometimes see spinners opening the bowling with the new ball. So how come that our batsmen brought up on turning tracks struggle to compete at a higher level?

We talk so much about talent being available in the country. But “talent” is one word that present head coach Nic Pothas of South Africa does not like because according to him the way some people misinterpret it.

“What is talent mean?” asked Pothas. “The world overlooks at players that hit the ball nicely and move nicely. Look at someone like Shivnarine Chanderpaul they would not use the word talent alongside him but his average is in excess of 50 in Tests. Talent is a very broad word. If you haven’t got the mental capability and the ability to adapt to the usual skills I don’t believe that is talent. I think we need to stop using that word because people misinterpret what it means.”

Leading run scorer in the series Babar Azam with 303 runs at an average of over 100.

Talent or no talent Sri Lanka will need a quick fix to their batting problems before the team loses its belief and self confidence and goes to pieces. There is a limit to the losses one can absorb and Sri Lanka are certainly running out of time. Thankfully, they have got over the automatic qualification period for the next World Cup with the deadline for it ending on September 30. Had that date got extended one dreads to think where Sri Lanka would have ended up in the rankings. Despite the successive 5-0 thrashings they are still clinging onto the no. 8 spot with six points separating them from ninth ranked West Indies.

The fact that only two batsmen scored over 100 runs and the next highest batsmen were Thisara Perera with 91 runs and Akila Dananjaya with 70 runs tells you the sad story of Sri Lanka’s batting miseries in the series against Pakistan.

One thought that the way Sri Lanka outplayed Pakistan in the two Tests to win the series handsomely 2-0 they would give a better performance in the ODIs. They had seven players who had appeared in the series winning Test team, but the results were disastrous.

Previously there has been only one occasion where one team had swept the Test series and the other the ODI series and it also happened in the UAE in 2011-12 when England lost the Test series to Pakistan 3-0 but won the ODI series 4-0.

Sarfraz Ahmed claimed at the end of the series that Pakistan had the best bowling attack in the world. “I have been saying this, that we have the best bowling in the world and the fact that when you give an opportunity to someone and he performs, it’s great,” said the Pakistan captain, “We’re going from strength to strength, we have lots of options. I want our batting to perform more; if we score 270-280, our bowling is strong enough to defend that.”

Sarfraz lauded his bowlers for not letting the absence of Mohammad Amir hurt the team. “We did not have Amir due to injury but Usman Shinwari filled that gap and throughout this series we did well with the ball and this is a great sign for us,” he said.

Pakistan has not allowed any of its opponents to cross 250 in their nine-match winning streak. The last time they had conceded more runs was in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 opener, when India beat them after scoring 319 for 3.

The pick of the bowlers was Hasan Ali, who has been in great form, taking 14 wickets in the five-match series to go to the top of the ICC rankings for ODI bowlers. Shadab Khan, the young leg-spinner, has also been outstanding with 10 wickets.

For the time being we will have to go with Sarfraz’s claim because one cannot judge how good the Pakistani bowling was because of Sri Lanka’s underpar batting.

Sri Lanka’s beleaguered skipper Upul Tharanga admitted that his batsmen had no idea how to counter the aggression of the Pakistani bowlers. “Throughout the series we did not have answer to Pakistan’s bowling as they were outstanding. We’re not playing to our strengths, to our capability. We didn’t score 200 three times. We couldn’t handle the pressure.”

Tharanga’s team was restricted to totals of 209-8, 187, 208, 173 and 103, failing to play out the quota of overs on four occasions.

Like in the bowling Pakistan found a batsman to fill the no. 3 slot vacated by the injury to Azhar Ali with Babar Azam playing the role to perfection scoring two centuries and a fifty in his four innings to average over 100.

The win gave Pakistan their sixth 5-0 series whitewash and ninth consecutive ODI win, a run that had started during the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 in June this year.

 



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