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Suranga Lakmal: The most improved Test bowler on the planet?

suranga lakmal
by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

Suranga Lakmal, the veteran Sri Lankan seamer, has been around Test cricket for a while.

He made his Test debut over a decade ago in a home Test against West Indies in a team that featured Sri Lankan greats Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Rangana Herath.

The life of a seamer in Sri Lanka can be tough. Since Sri Lanka’s admission to Test cricket in 1981, only Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekara possess bowling averages of less than 30 among Sri Lankan seamers with more than 25 home Test wickets.

Lakmal’s career started slowly, too. Two-and-a-half years into his Test career, his bowling average sat at an eye-watering 65.75. His fortunes improved slightly thereafter, taking 19 wickets across five Tests against Pakistan and Bangladesh at the start of 2014. Despite that improvement, Lakmal still averaged 44.94 after 42 Tests by the end of 2017; in home Tests, that average rose to 60.42.

But since the start of 2018, he has experienced a dramatic upturn in output. In the 22 Tests since, Lakmal has averaged 24.07.

It’s not as if Lakmal has benefitted from a particularly kind set of fixtures either. In that three-year period, Lakmal has faced three of the top four ranked sides in the world, two of those – Australia and New Zealand – away from home. His average in those away Tests since the start of 2018 is just 22.30. The only bowler with more away Test wickets at a lower average in that time is Jasprit Bumrah; he is in esteemed company.

The highlights of this spell of his career include taking 4-39 in the second Test of Sri Lanka’s famous series victory over South Africa at the start of 2019. Later that year, Lakmal took 4-29 in an impressive home victory over New Zealand. In 2020, Lakmal took 10 wickets at 15.10 in a series victory over Zimbabwe.

When observers of the game think of Test cricket’s elite pace bowlers, it’s unlikely that many would instantly put Lakmal’s name into the conversation but there’s no doubting that his record over the last three years stands up to the very best in the game.

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