From almost forfeiting the match to almost winning it: Sri Lanka's missed opportunity
There is no doubt that Sri Lankan cricket has had a tough time in the recent past. However, things seem to be improving. Ever since that India series at home where they lost every game of every format (losing 9-0), they’ve improved quite a bit.
They beat Pakistan 2-0 in the Test series in UAE, something that no other team has managed to do in the last 10 years (since UAE has become Pakistan’s home base). They did lose to India once again in India but it was only 1-0 and they managed to draw two games in the Test series. They thrashed India in an ODI at Dharamsala as well. Chandika Hathurusingha, a very well renowned coach who had a successful tenure with Bangladesh was appointed as the head coach. He has come in and had a good influence on the players. They’ve beaten Bangladesh in Bangladesh (in Tests and T20Is).
A lot of good things were coming together for Sri Lankan cricket. New players were standing up in difficult times and experienced players coming stepping up as well. But this West Indies tour will leave their fans and the cricketing world with a bad taste for the near future at least.
Before this tour, Sri Lanka had last played a Test series (or a Test match) back in March 2008 when Mahela Jayawardene-led side drew 1-1 against Chris Gayle’s Windies. It had been 10 long years and the two sides had undergone massive changes. If Sri Lanka had their own problems, West Indies also were in a tussle with off-field and on-field battles. While star players had differences with the board, their performances on the field weren’t inspiring either. Since the start of 2013, they had just 3 series victories and those came against Zimbabwe (twice) and Bangladesh (once). In between, they did beat against England in England and Pakistan in Pakistan but they lost those series’. Hence, inconsistency has been one of their biggest problems.
Hence, it was a battle between two teams that were trying to gain some sort of momentum, consistency and limelight.
Sri Lanka began the Test series on a very good note. After losing the toss and asked to field in Port of Spain, they reduced the hosts to 147/5. But a brilliant century from Shane Dowrich and vital contributions from the lower order took West Indies to 414. Sri Lanka then failed twice with the bat as they slumped to a 226-run defeat handing West Indies a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Despite the loss in that first Test Sri Lanka had quite a few positives. Lahiru Kumara and Suranga Lakmal were brilliant, Kusal Mendis stepped up with a brilliant ton in the fourth innings.
Come the second Test at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, Gros Islet in St Lucia, there was some engrossing cricket played throughout the test match but sadly it might not be remembered for it as it was one of the sad days in cricket as former cricketer and current commentator Ian Bishop put it on air on the third morning “Another sad day for Test match game”.
Sri Lanka started in a similar way like the Windies did in the first Test. Win the toss, bat first and then lose wickets at regular intervals. But the only difference being the lower order contribution. Dinesh Chandimal scored a fantastic ton but the lower order couldn’t support their skipper enough as the visitors bundled out for 253 on Day 1. Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach bowled fiery spells as they shared 9 wickets.
On the second day, only 42.3 overs were bowled as rain washed out most part of the day. But West Indies were slowing taking control of the Test match as they reached 123/2 at the end of Day 2.
Day Three: Sri Lanka’s protest and fightback after a two-hour delay
The series was going about quietly before all the drama and action unfolded on the third day of the second Test. After more than half the overs were lost on the second day due to rain, there was positive news first up on the third day as it was bright and sunny in the morning.
However, the umpires Ian Gould and Aleem Dar decided to change the ball at the start of the day as they were unhappy with the way Sri Lanka handled the ball. They constantly kept a check on the ball during the dying stages of the second day and in fact, they also checked Dhananjaya de Silva's hands. But the decision to change the red cherry didn’t bode well with the Sri Lankan team. Hence, the visitors didn’t take the field. There was a constant chat between the umpires, match referee and the Sri Lankan dressing room.
There were a couple of announcements of playing resuming and the overnight West Indian batsmen (Devon Smith and Shai Hope) and the umpires also walked out to the middle a couple of times but those instances went down the drain as the Sri Lankan team and the management were adamant on their stance.
The match referee Javagal Srinath kept oscillating to and fro to the Sri Lankan dressing room. He was seen having constant chats with the coach Chandika Hathurusingha and skipper Dinesh Chandimal. In the middle of all these heated conversations, West Indies were awarded five penalty runs and the ball was changed! Meanwhile, there was also a charge laid against the Sri Lankan team for altering the conditions of the ball.
Things were so extreme that the Chandimal was having a conversation on the phone on the boundary line (which was of course interrupted by Srinath as he is not allowed to do that). There was confusion all over as the Sri Lankans seemed quite adamant. There was some sort of misunderstanding and miscommunication about the five-run penalty as well which forced Chandimal to lead his troops back to the pavilion the second time the play was scheduled to start.
The crowd that gathered on a sunny Sunday morning were eagerly waiting for the cricketing action to kick off. But, it was turning into one of the most bizarre cricketing Sundays that the cricketing world had witnessed in a long time. The Chandimal-led side were so angry and upset that they were ready to forfeit the game.
Finally, after two hours of quarrel, debate and heated discussions (where the Sri Lankan team almost forfeit the match), play began. A fired up Sri Lankan outfit took field as the three pacers Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara and Kasun Rajitha bowled their hearts out and restricted the Windies to just 300. The hosts crumbled against the second new ball count as they lost their last just 6 wickets for just 59 runs. The pace trio bagged nine wickets in the innings and kept the Windies’ lead down to just 47.
Day Four: Sri Lanka continue to fight hard
In the second innings, Sri Lanka were in dire straits once again as they had lost 4 wickets while wiping off the deficit. At 48/4, Kusal Mendis (who was scored a fourth innings ton in the first Test) joined hands with first innings centurion and skipper Dinesh Chandimal to defy the Windies pace attack which was breathing fire.
Shannon Gabriel, in particular, looked threatening every time he came onto bowl. The two batsmen stitched an excellent 117-run partnership to resurrect the innings somewhat. Chandimal got out on 39 but Mendis continued batting and was dismissed 13 short of another memorable fighting ton.
Things once again looked bleak for the visitors at 199/6. They had a lead of just 152 runs and Gabriel and Roach were on fire. But Roshen Silva and Niroshan Dickwella batted wonderfully to take Sri Lanka to some sort of respectability. Silva batted patiently while Dickwella counter-attacked in a way only he can. The latter scored 62 in just 70 deliveries while the former, playing his 5th Test match made 48. The Sri Lankan innings stretched to the fifth morning and ended 342.
Day Five: Sri Lanka make West Indies sweat but the hosts escape with a draw
West Indies needed 296 to win. They had done it before. They had chased down 322 on the final day at Leeds against a good England attack. But this track at St. Lucia had a little more wear and tear than the one at Leeds. Hence, the final day was set for a perfect finish.
Once again, the Sri Lankan team was all charged up and the fast bowlers ran in and troubled the Windies batsmen. West Indies were 8/2 in the 4th over and Shai Hope who was the hero in that win in England walked out to bat. Kraigg Braithwaite was batting at the other end and the two started batting patiently.
They were trying to see off the initial burst from the pacers but Hope retired hurt after a rising delivery from Kumara hit him on the ribs. The Windies then lost a couple more wickets (that of Roston Chase and Shane Dowrich) and at 64/4 Sri Lanka would’ve entertained hopes of a famous win.
But Shai Hope walked out to bat once again after being cleared by the physio and shared a crucial 53-run partnership with Braithwaite but more importantly batted for 27 overs before he was the fifth wicket to fall. Skipper Jason Holder joined the Barbados opener and saw off the next six overs before bad light and rain brought an ended to an action-packed Test match.
At the start of Day 4, Sri Lankan skipper Dinesh Chandimal was accused of altering the condition of the ball and hence, charged for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct (Level 2.2.9). The match referee Javagal Srinath accused him of applying an artificial substance on the ball while shining it.
However, he pleaded ‘not guilty’ and there was a formal hearing at the end of the Test match. Srinath found Chandimal guilty and subsequently was handed a one-Test ban and fined 100% match fees. And Chandimal who was brilliant with the bat in this game, his performance might be hidden under this ball-tampering controversy.
Sri Lanka’s missed opportunity
All this apart, concentrating on cricket alone, if Sri Lanka look back at the events that unfolded, they might be ruing that it was a missed opportunity to level the series. Those two hours that they protested against the umpires and the match referee might have cost them vital time in the Test match. Rain did
Had they not protest (and dare I say, wasted) those couple of hours, the result might have been a lot different. Some might argue with the fact that West Indies, might have chased it down, but with the way things were going on in the chase, it did seem those two hours might’ve been enough for Sri Lanka to bowl the hosts out.
Rain did play spoilsport but those two hours where there was no play, the sun was out and shining brightly.
So, a big opportunity lost as Sri Lanka head into the third Test which is a day-night encounter. They might be with or without their talismanic skipper Dinesh Chandimal who has protested against the charge laid on him.
But they can now only draw the series and the chance of winning their maiden series in the Caribbean has gone for a toss.