Suranga Lakmal sits at number four in the all-time wicket-taker list for Sri Lanka. But is it enough for the retiring fast bowler to make it to the all-time Sri Lanka Test XI, asks Divy Tripathi?
In the old EA Cricket games, there was an option to could create your own cricketer, and add different attributes to them. One of the skill-sets available while creating a seamer was ‘The Workhorse’. In cricket it signifies an out-and-out team man, ready to put his body on the line and churn out over after over for the side’s cause.
It seems as if this skill was in-built into the system of Suranga Lakmal before he even took the cricket field. While there have been more successful ‘workhorses’ in cricket in the form of Ishant Sharma and Peter Siddle, Lakmal remains special in his own way.
He started out for Sri Lanka in 2010, and soon became symptomatic of the bare resources that lay in Sri Lanka’s fast-bowling cupboard after the departure of the great Chaminda Vaas. In the first six years of his Test career, Lakmal took 67 wickets at an average of 47.65, the worst bowling average in the world in the period, with a cut-off of 50 Test wickets.
Sri Lanka is a country known for its classy batters, and mysterious spinners. Other than Vaas and Lasith Malinga, pacers haven’t been able to secure a place for themselves in the cricketing legacy of the Island nation.
In 2016, Lakmal seemed destined to join a league of has-been Sri Lankan pacers, who shone bright before fizzling out.
But something changed in the 2016/17 season. Lakmal took his first five-for against South Africa at Port Elizabeth during the Boxing Day Test, and never looked back. From that game till his retirement, he picked up 104 wickets at an average of 29.22 with four five-fors. He was always a bowler willing to do the hard work, and it hardly mattered whether it was him or someone else who got the rewards. But after more than half a decade of soil, it was finally him cashing in.
But are these numbers good enough to warrant a place in the all-time Sri Lanka Test XI?
It is true that Sri Lanka aren’t the strongest side in the world, and their fortunes haven’t seen a significant upswing even in the years that Lakmal did well.
Still with his help, they have managed to punch above their weight away from home. He picked up 5-77 at Bridgetown in 2018, which helped Sri Lanka draw a Test series in the West Indies. His brilliant 4-39 in the second innings at Port Elizabeth paved the way for one of the greatest upsets in Test history in 2019.
Even in games where Sri Lanka were woefully out of their depth, Lakmal has produced spells which helped the tourists keep their heads high against much superior opponents. An example of the same was his superb 5-75 at the Gabba.
The fast bowler’s second coming makes a very good case for his inclusion in the all-time XI, but let’s take a look at his competitors first.
As stated earlier, Sri Lanka has never possessed the strongest of pace attacks. There were those who shone brightly in the 90s and 2000s without going on to have a full-fledged career, such as Dilhara Fernando (100 wickets at an average of 37.84), Pramodya Wickramasinghe (85 wickets at 41.87), and Nuwan Zoysa (64 wickets at 33.7).
Then there was Lasith Malinga, who managed to become the most successful all-format Sri Lanka fast bowler since Vaas. However, injuries ensured that he played only 30 Tests (101 wickets at an average of 33.15) before retiring in 2010.
Lakmal remains special in terms of his longevity, with his improvement over time slowly makes him vitalw to his team’s cause. If our Sri Lanka all-time XI plays away from home in conditions suitable to seamers, there’s no doubt that the attack will comprise of Lakmal, Vaas, and Malinga.
But if this side was to field only two pacers, a call has to be made between the enigmatic ‘slinger’ and the tireless ‘workhorse’ to partner Vaas.
And maybe Lakmal deserves to be in this XI by the virtue of number of years he gave to the format, and the dedication with which he churned out over after over for his side. With Lakmal’s retirement, a true Sri Lanka great has departed the scene.