Sri Lanka have all the bases covered – their World Test Championship final push was no fluke
Sri Lanka might have been whitewashed in their last World Test Championship assignment in New Zealand, but prior to that, they had shown glimpses of getting back to where they want to be, writes Shashwat Kumar.
When the ongoing World Test Championship cycle began, Sri Lanka were not expected to contest for a spot in the final. Since the mid-2010s, they have been far from consistent in Test cricket, and have often struggled to put together a string of positive results.
Cast your mind back to June-July 2022. After losing the first Test match of their home series to Australia by 10 wickets, Sri Lanka bounced back to defeat the tourists by an innings and 39 runs days later. In a matter of days, though, they were plummeting to another defeat – this time, allowing Pakistan to chase 342 in the fourth innings at Galle. Just to cap off that erratic sequence, they then beat Pakistan to level the series.
To their credit, Sri Lanka enjoyed more good days than bad in the 2021-23 WTC cycle. Winning a Test series in Bangladesh is never easy, but they managed to do that with relative comfort. They also came within a whisker of beating New Zealand at Christchurch earlier this month. And, of course, they drew their series against Australia and Pakistan at home.
One major improvement has been on the batting front. Four of the current top seven – Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne – average more than 35, a reasonable number in a bowling era. In fact, since the start of 2022, Chandimal (81.72), Karunaratne (43.11) and Mathews (48.75) average more than 40 as well as more than their respective career averages.
Kusal Mendis, on this metric, fares the worst, averaging less than 35 over the same span and throughout his career. Arguably the most gifted Sri Lankan batter of this generation, he can single-handedly turn games around. His special performances, while not very frequent, have helped him earn the faith of the selectors.
Niroshan Dickwella, who featured at Christchurch but not in Wellington, is also a very handy counter-attacking wicketkeeper who averages a fifty every 4.36 innings in Test cricket.
Their bowling has variety. In whatever little Test cricket Prabath Jayasuriya has played, the left-arm spinner has looked the real deal, picking up 33 wickets in five matches. Off-spinner Ramesh Mendis has good numbers as well, averaging a tick under 29 and striking every 57.4 balls. Dunith Wellalage, too, seems to have all the attributes to succeed in international cricket.
In Asitha Fernando, Dushmantha Chameera, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando, there is no big name but a reasonably strong pace attack. If the pace unit has a problem, it is of lack of fitness, not performance. If that hurdle is overcome, the bowling unit has the potential to create ripples. None of these pacers are more than 32, indicating that they can serve Sri Lanka for the foreseeable future.
But like most things Sri Lanka, their potential translating into performances depends on which version of their side turns up on any given day. The spirited display at Christchurch was quickly followed by something more listless at Wellington, just like it had happened during the 2022 home season.
At this point, there does not seem to be any obvious aspect that makes them tick. What has changed in this cycle, though, is that when things do click, they seem a lot more equipped to win games of cricket. They won 44.44 percent of their points this time out, as opposed to 27.8 percent in the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship.
That Sri Lanka were still in with a chance of qualifying for the World Test Championship final until the last few balls of the first Test match in New Zealand should also tell you that they are on some sort of an upward curve.
It might not be a lot, considering the lasting image of this cycle might still be of them getting drubbed in New Zealand. But there are glimpses that they can get back to where they want to be.
Of course, there are a lot of asterisks attached at this stage, but they have certainly performed better than the previous WTC cycle. On that basis alone, this is a good start, and an even better foundation to build upon.
Oh, and it also illustrates that this surprise World Test Championship final push was not really as much of a fluke as it first seemed.