The action shifts to the Test cricket from a long vacuum of dried up international fare for the Sri Lankans by the raging COVID-19 pandemic as Dimuth Karunaratne’s men flex their muscles in a high buoyance for todays Boxing Day Test versus a rather new look South African outfit at Centurion Park. That charged up mood in the Lankan camp is derived by the historic 2-nil drubbing Karunaratne’s men handed out to the Proteas in their own backyard when the two nations last met in December 2019- January ‘20.
Indeed, the 32-year old Karunaratne will carry that high buoyance streak in the final countdown when the two sides draw the battle lines backed by his stealthy trade mark cool and calculated daring dash accentuated by a lucky captain element heightened by the left hander’s stealthy, specialist opening batsman role upfront. That it will be on a Centurion batting oriented turf of which the Lankan skipper has in the pre-match press confab pepped up his batting juggernaut to be keyed up to, will be the center piece to the unfolding contest where the predictable willow works are expected to dictate the fortunes of the opening test. No doubt, Karunaratne will be looking to a tight reigning upfront role with the bat which the 9-century strong experience the Lankan skipper will look to maximise to put his side on top in a contest which according to reports flitting in Sri Lanka is expected to cap a few promising new players. The sword edged upswing the Sri Lankans will carry is that there quite a number of tried and tested players who starred in bringing down the South Africans when they last met. That the Karunaratne influence in that landmark feat was a double icing on the cake in terms of self and country in a truly remarkable Cinderella fairytale type of emergence from the unknown to anointing his name as a highly potential captain in a feat that many of his predecessors had failed in Protea land is tall stuff. In that turn around, it is significant that Dimuth Karunaratne achieved the near impossible catapulted having been handed the high profile job in a shaky period that Sri Lanka had not won a single match in over two months. His stocks further rose when he was appointed the ODI captain as well ahead of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.
That apart, the Sri Lankans possess in their ranks a world record breaking batsman in a fourth innings chase in Kusal Janith Perera who did just that versus the South Africans in the first testwith an all-time great match winning unbeaten 153 in a last ditch stand. Significantly, the 22-member Lankan squad basking of dashing batsman Kusal Mendis and the recalled inform Dinesh Chandimal is a mixture of experience and new talent. While there are several players from the successful squad that toured last time, the uncapped are Wanindu Hasaranga, Minod Bhanuka, Asistha Fernando, Santhush Gunathilake and Dilshan Madushanka.
The Karunaratne element to the Lankan team is derived from a sound past of having become Sri Lanka’s leading Test batsman since 2015 by his century making in the second innings of a Test match. Four of his centuries in the second innings were out of six centuries he made until October 2017. On 7 October 2017, Karunaratne became the second Sri Lankan opener after Tillakaratne Dilshan to score three Test centuries in a calendar year.
Overall, it is a confidence high Lankan outfit that has touched down in South African shores questing for a repeat performance against a home team that had some early COVID-19 related player worries. What is more, South Africa will be going into a series with new trappings from the last series with a new captain in de Kock who has replaced Faf du Plessis when the two sides last met, while out of the equation from the 2019 squad are star batsman Hashim Amla, Kagisso Rabada through injury and Dale Steyn.
For the record, Sri Lanka defeated South Africa in the 1st Test by 1-wicket at Durban chasing down 304 on the final day with Kusal Janith Perera doing the impossible in the breathtaking drama of a 200-ball 153 in 309 minutes powered by 12 boundaries and 5 sixes. That the final assault was mounted in the make or break death stages yielding a record 78 runs for the last wicket with Vishwa Fernando whose contribution was 6 off 27 balls consuming 73 minutes was the high point of it. South Africa, batting first made 235 and 259 and Sri Lanka 191 and 304 for 9. Another feature of that win was Perera top scoring in the first innings as well with 51 off 63 (7×4, 1×6). Skipper Karunaratne’s 30 off 59 (3×4) was the next best. Sri Lanka went on to win the second test by 8 wickets chasing down 197 at Port Elizabeth with Kusal Mendis the Player of the Match with an unbeaten 84 off 110 (13×4) and one drop batsman Oshada Fernando undefeated on 75 off 106 (10×4, 2×6) in a total of 197 for 2. South Africa made 222 and 128 with Suranga Lakmal claiming 4 for 39, Dhananjaya de Silva 3 for 36 and Kasun Rajitha 2 for 20. Sri Lanka made 154 in the first innings with Niroshan Dickwella top scoring with 42. Karunaratne’s contributions of 17 and 19 and 30 and 20 in the series, though not high stuff, measured in terms of holding the batting together.
What’s England doing right in Sri Lanka
Rex Clementine in Galle Fort
There was a time when England barely lasted three days in Galle. The extreme heat, tracks that turned square and skilful spinners brought misery upon successive England teams. But they have found a way to turn the tide. What is England doing right to succeed in Sri Lankan conditions? In the last ten years, England have visited the island on three occasions and have never lost a series.
The easy answer is to say that the Sri Lankan team has lost some big names and the team is in transition. That’s not the truth. When England squared the two match series in 2012, the big three – Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and T.M. Dilshan – were very much part of the side. So, they must be doing something right to do well here.
To start with England and Wales Cricket Board initiated a programme whereby their young First Class players performed in our domestic cricket. Some of the names that come to mind are Ben Foakes (Colts CC) and Moeen Ali (Badureliya CC). There were many others. The experience these players gain by playing on our surfaces against some good spinners is invaluable.
Foakes for example made his Test debut in the last series in Sri Lanka and he looked pretty comfortable. He went onto top batting charts scoring 277 runs. His wicket keeping was flawless too and he was named Player of the Series.
How many of our players have gone onto represent county cricket in the last ten years?
The other important thing is that England’s development squads are constantly touring sub-continent. This prepares them well when they engage in Test match cricket. Sri Lanka rarely sends their ‘A’ team on overseas assignments these days. We had a former board president who went on record saying that ‘A’ team cricket was a futile exercise as they didn’t bring any money!
The other thing that England have done well is to plan properly. Last year when they were here, they spent more than two weeks before the first Test match and they were involved in two warm-up games. The tour was aborted after the outbreak of the pandemic. This time too, they spent nearly two weeks in Sri Lanka before the opening Test match although they didn’t have the luxury of warm-up games against local sides due to health restrictions.
Sri Lanka’s planning has been extremely poor. The gap between the LPL final and the first Test in South Africa was ten days. That sums up the story. In both Tests against South Africa and the first game against England, our batsmen have been in T-20 mode and we have had little momentum. When will we learn?
Sharmal seeks fifth straight title against Yasitha
2020 Tennis Nationals
by REEMUS FERNANDO
Defending champion Sharmal Dissanayake and number two ranked Yasitha de Silva advanced to the finals as the men’s singles of the 2020 Tennis Nationals went according to the pre tournament script at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Friday.
Dissanayake edged out number three ranked Sankha Atukorale 7- 6, 6-3 as he set sights on a possible fifth straight men’s singles title in the final which will be played on Sunday (17). Dissanayake has won four consecutive men’s singles national titles since 2016.
Yasitha de Silva, who was eliminated in the semi-finals by Heera Ashiq at the last edition, made sure that teenage heroics of Chathurya Nilaweera would not stop his promising start this time around at the penultimate hurdle.
He scored 7-6, 6-3 to beat the 16- year-old, who was the youngest player in the last four stage. In the rounds of 32, 16 and quarter-finals, Dissanayake beat Harieshwar Parameshwaran (6-1, 6-4) Archana Lokuge (6-2, 6-2) and Kavisha Ratnayaka (6-2, 6-3) respectively.
De Silva meanwhile beat Dinusha Wijesuriya (7-5, 6-3), Prasanna Athauda (6-2, 6-0) and Dilvan Herath (6-2, 6-1) respectively before advancing beyond the semis. The 2020 men’s singles draw featured some 50 competitors.
A Sri Lanka Tennis Association official confirmed that both men’s and women’s singles finals will be played on Sunday.
The women’s semi- finals featuring Anika Seneviratne and Savini Jayasuriya and 14-year-old Hasali Gajaba and Janali Manamperi will be played today
England consolidate as Joe Root slams unbeaten 168
England captain Joe Root posted an unbeaten 168 in the opening Test match against Sri Lanka at the Galle International Stadium yesterday. (Pic by Thusith Wijedoru/ SLC)
Rex Clementine in Galle Fort
England made Sri Lanka pay a heavy price for their reckless batting by posting a commanding 320 in their first innings at stumps on a rain curtailed second day, the tourists already have a lead of 185 with six wickets in hand. Sri Lanka need lot of catching up to do and it is going to be real hard work for them to save the game.
The home team batsmen were casual in their approach as most of them were in T-20 mood and England captain Joe Root gave them a good example of how to consolidate and put pressure back on the bowlers.
Root very cleverly rotated the strike and used the sweep shot to good effect forcing the bowlers to alter their lengths. He survived a couple of close reviews and went onto dominate the bowling.
A couple of England batsmen have left an indelible mark while playing spin bowling in Sri Lanka and names such as Kevin Pietersesn (2012) and Graham Thorpe (2001) come to mind. Root will join that elite club given the ease with which he played the three spinners.
The Yorkshireman playing his 98th Test reached his 18th hundred and the third against Sri Lanka with a single off Dilruwan Perera to short fine leg. His 168 not out is now the highest score by an Englishman in Sri Lanka with the previous best being Pietersen’s 151 at P. Sara Oval.
Root faced 254 balls for his 168 not out and hit 12 fours. The hallmark of his knock was the patience he showed applying himself to settle in. As the day progressed there were loose balls now and there and the batsman was quick to pounce on them.
Daniel Lawrence on debut was dropped three times and eventually his luck ran out on 73 when Kusal Mendis took the catch at forward short leg.
Left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya finished with three wickets but Wanindu Hasaranga from whom much was expected was a disappointment. The leg-spinner gave away too many bad balls. Playing at his home ground, the former Richmond College player was expected to have an impact but Hasaranga was the least effective bowler.
There will be an early start today with play getting underway at 9:45 am. A total of 98 overs are scheduled to be bowled but there’s also prediction for rain after lunch.
Sri Lanka 135
(Dinesh Chandimal 28, Angelo Mathews 27; Dom Bess 5-30, Stuart Broad 3-20) trail England 320/4 (Joe Root 168*, Dan Lawrence 73; Lasith Embuldeniya 3-131) by 185 runs.
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