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Sri Lanka’s lack of intent coming back to haunt them time and again

Sri Lanka has lost matches by playing defensively. By being aggressive, they have nothing to lose.

Australians were allowed to freely raid the Sri Lankan citadel, the guards of which have forgotten how to fight. 

The slew of excuses Sri Lanka was content in giving match after match in England as they crumbled for scores that would have made even a gully batsmen fancy their chances with the willow at the international level . There was no respite to their poor showing even in their first match at home in 2016 as they, not so surprisingly capitulated to the Australians for a yet another cringe-worthy score.

The team and the management have always tried to find faults outside the system while being completely oblivious to the antique and rusty interior. In England, the weather and the conditions bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s excuse-spewing machine whereas umpires found themselves in the firing line towards the end of the Test series.

However, none of those excuses can help Sri Lanka save face in this Test. Perhaps, they should follow the cue the board president had given them on the eve of the test match- blame Muttiah Muralitharan for their mercurial batting.

Honing in even under no pressure

In a Test match in New Zealand, Sri Lanka batted out more overs than New Zealand in the first innings, yet they ended up conceding a first innings lead to the home side. Their defensive, over-cautious ploy has not only disabled their ability to score more runs but it also has allowed the opposition bowlers to attack them without much challenge.

Also read: Ryan Harris wants Australia to intimidate Sri Lanka with verbal pressure

In England, the Sri Lankan management spoke of how the batsmen should have left the ball, but little attention was paid on pushing the English bowlers out of their comfort zone. It took the team a while to realize that the best way to disavow the English bowlers wickets was to go after them.

At times, such is the negativity the team is engrossed in that even bad balls are met with royal respect. The team often is obsessed about damage control that they don’t actually deliberate about how to inflict damage on the oppositions.

Defensive mindset let Australia dictate the terms

Mitchell Starc
Mitchell Starc made the most on his return to the Test arena

The surface at Pallekele was bland and had no actual demons. However, the Australian bowlers were not ready to switch to run saving mode and wait for things to happen. Instead, they desperately pulled out all stops to force the play on the Sri Lankan batsmen.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood altered their length continuously not allowing the Sri Lankan batsman to settle down. Steve Smith astutely kept altering the field proactively, throwing different challenges at the batsmen.

On the other hand, the Sri Lankan batsmen allowed the Australians to do whatever they wanted to do and made no attempts to disrupt their plans. Kaushal Silva received a bout of short-pitched bowling before being sucked into playing at a ball outside off.  

Also read: Josh Hazelwood believes Sri Lanka's innings debacle will have long-lasting impact 

Angelo Mathews was monotonous with his footwork trying to play the left arm spinner off the front foot and lobbed one to the lone slip to a ball at which he should have gone back. Hazelwood meanwhile surprised Dinesh Chandimal with a very full ball and had him caught behind.

Sri Lanka’s defensiveness with the bat helped Australia attack them even more and the visitors took the upper hand even before the first wicket fell. Trying to frustrate the raging Australian bowlers with a defensive ploy is like trying to douse a wildfire by urinating on it.

The lessons were there within the game

Dhananjaya de Silva.jpg
Dhananjaya de Silva gave a good account of himself on his Test debut

It is not a mere coincidence that the top three highest scorers in the Sri Lankan innings were all bellicose in their innings. Dhananjaya de Silva, on debut, came down the pitch and lofted Steven O’Keefe for a straight six and then the spinner was forced to shorten his length. 

The debutant was the most proactive of all Sri Lankan batsmen as he used his feet effectively against the spinners. His innings provided Sri Lanka a rare passage of play during which a Sri Lankan actually forced the Australians to bowl to his strengths.

Kusal Perera was belligerent and Lakshan Sandakan played lusty shots for his 19 whereas Dinesh Chandimal played out 54 balls but never looked settled. Perhaps, the batsmen should realize settling against the ruthless Australian bowlers is out of the equation and the only way they can counter them is to score some runs against them. 

After all, it is the runs that are going to decide the outcome of a match and not the amount of time spent in the middle.

Sri Lanka needs to set their own tempo

Feasibly, had the Sri Lankan batsmen tried to play a few more shots, then the Australian bowlers may have been forced to flinch a wee bit but their cautious approach only abetted the Australian’s aggression. 

Aggression doesn’t always mean trying to hit every ball to the boundary. It is about showing some intent which can range from adjusting the guard to using the feet, neither of which most of the Sri Lankan batsmen attempted to do.

Sri Lankan batsmen could afford to take a leaf out of the book of both Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja. Steve Smith used his feet liberally against the spinners and Khawaja used the depth of the crease and the sluggishness of the pitch to milk the spinners.

Lack of agression could only lead to another defeat

Despite knowing that picking up wickets is the only way Sri Lanka can come back in the match, the Sri Lankan captain slowly resorted to his habitual defensive field setting allowing the Australian batsmen too many easy singles. 

The body language of the fielders too was lackadaisical in the face of Sri Lanka picking up two early wickets.

Instead of trying to exert pressure on the visitors, Mathews was content on bowling himself at the Australian batsmen even though Sri Lanka were playing four spinners. 

Also read: Angelo Mathews rues lack of bowling talent

The lack of willingness to take risks has been Sri Lanka’s undoing for some time and even while knowing very well that getting into run saving mode will in no way help Sri Lanka claw back, Sri Lanka not trying to pick up wickets, which is a result of the unfounded and deep rooted carcinogenic wariness, shows that there is a clear dearth of good cricketing brains in the team management.

Sri Lankans must realize that there is no way that they are going to wake up from this nightmare and hence, they should learn that the best way to survive it is to confront it. The team has already lost many matches ignominiously with their circumspection and what do they have to lose by taking a few risks? 

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