At best, Sri Lanka have a slender chance of levelling the Test series at the Rose Bowl this week. They have taken only 22 England wickets at a cost of 1,317 runs in the first two matches, they have no go-to wicket-taking bowler and they expect the pitch to have even less pace than the Lord’s track that proved so unyielding in the second Test.
They are without their one in-form frontline batsman and captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and the job of finding a replacement to toss the coin and set the fields has proved somewhat problematic. It seems that being captain of Sri Lanka is like being England football manager but without the good bits.
Kumar Sangakkara will do it under duress at the Rose Bowl, two months or so after he jacked it in because he’d had enough of the relentless and endemic politicking that undermines Sri Lankan cricket.
Stuart Law, the interim coach, gave a newspaper interview last week before his side’s game against Essex, the county where he spent six mostly happy seasons. Law claimed his acrimonious departure from the county in 2001 was because he became “more popular than the captain”. There’s not much danger of that being a problem with Sri Lanka since no one knows who the captain is half the time.
At Chelmsford Law said he was “banking on” Dilshan being fit for the Rose Bowl, a claim that flew in the face of all medical fact and indeed Dilshan’s own views. Law did say it with a smile on his face – his default disposition is a sunny one – but one can deduce that part of the reason for his bullishness was that he didn’t have a clue who else would be prepared to step in.
Such was Sangakkara’s reticence that he let Thilan Samaraweera captain the side against Essex. Although Sangakkara did jog over to shake Samaraweera’s hand when he positioned a heavy leg-side field for the left-hander Billy Godleman. It was a field-setting reminiscent of Sangakkara’s own slightly hat-stand leg-theory tactics for Alastair Cook when he was standing in for Dilshan in the second innings of the Lord’s Test.
Hopefully, from Sri Lanka’s and the cricket-lover’s perspective, Sangakkara’s temporary position of responsibility might re-engage his run-scoring capabilities. With a career Test average of 26 in England and a top score of 66, the bar is not set especially high for him to finish the series with a flourish.
That England have restricted Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to 156 runs between them in eight innings is the salient reason why England are 1-0 up in this series.
It is all about priorities. Sri Lanka were World Cup finalists and some of their best players joined the tour late after playing in the IPL. England remain sharply focused on Test cricket.
Despite losing 5-0 to Sri Lanka in the 2006 one-dayers, England are generally no pushovers at home at least for the series that are scheduled mid-season, rather than the September shenanigans when everyone’s frazzled and fed up.
It is hard to see how the bizarre and brief return of Sanath Jayasuriya for the one Twenty20 and first one-dayer, before he retires again, is of any use to anyone. Law will hope that his side can perform their way through that particular distraction because his future in the job surely depends on it.