SWOT analysis of the Sri Lankan team ahead of the Test series against India
Sri Lanka and India would be locking horns in Tests for the first time in 5 years as the two young teams are actively attempting to settle down in world cricket.
The three Test matches would be played in two cities and three different stadiums. The series kicks off in Galle followed by games in P Sara Oval and Sinhalese Sports Club.
Here is the analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the Sri Lankan team.
The strength of the team is obviously their batting. With Sangakkara, despite having a poor show against Pakistan, batting at number three; and Angelo Mathews shielding the middle order, the team depends a lot on their batting to win Tests. The opening pair of Kaushal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne is settled and both of them notched up hundreds in the recently concluded series against Pakistan.
Chandimal has been a revelation in the lower order, playing important innings along with Angelo Mathews to see through tribulations.
Upul Tharanga’s sedate aggression has proven to take pressure of everyone batting around him and Jehan Mubarak’s inclusion atones for Mahela’s experience in the middle order.
The gaping hole in Sri Lanka’s armor has been their tactics. Four times in 18 months they have lost Test matches they should have won. They lost to Pakistan who chased down 302 in two sessions in 2013, followed by a defeat in the hands of the New Zealanders after having them 5 down with a measly lead of 24 runs.
In the recently concluded series against Pakistan, Sri Lanka had Pakistan 5 down for just 90 runs. Yet, they managed to lose that match. In Pallekele, the team failed to defend 377 even after having the visitors 2 down for literally nothing on the board.
Mathews certainly misses the astute chaperoning of Mahela, and his penchant to take a safety-first approach has hindered Sri Lanka’s wicket taking ability, even that of the spinners.
With a ruthless captain in charge at the other end, this laid-back attitude can haunt Sri Lanka and might catalyze their own downfall. Despite scathing criticisms from various quarters, Mathews seems incorrigible in his preposterous game plan even though he has no results to back it.
For a blooming team, the opportunities are always many. The young rookie spinner, Tharindu Kaushal had a baptism by fire when he was clouted by Brendon McCullum in Christchurch. But he came back well, and picked up a fifer against Pakistan to help his team win the second Test match. But in the Third test, his waywardness resulted in Pakistan chasing down 377.
With Rangana Herath in the side, it will be a big opportunity for him to learn the trade of spin bowling under the veteran’s auspices. Moreover, he will also have the chance of cementing his spot as the second best spinner in the XI.
Lahiru Thirimanne, despite his form in the shorter formats, has had a rough Test career. His already low average hits rock bottom if his century against Bangladesh and a ninety against Australia are excluded. Having faced a rampant pace bowling attack against Pakistan, Thirimanne would look to consolidate his position in the team against a comparatively less severe pace attack.
This series also dishes out opportunities to both Jehan Mubarak and Upul Tharanga. Indifferent form with the bat saw Tharanga losing his spot in the ODI lineup, but a good outing for him would see him as Sri Lanka’s new number three, at least for some time.
After the trial with Kithuruwan Vithanage not yielding results in the affirmative, Jehan Mubarak has the chance of making his umpteenth comeback into the team a permanent settlement. Chamara Kapugedera grabbed his chances with both hands in the T20 series, and Mubarak can draw inspiration from it.
India’s batting used to be the perennial customary threat for the oppositions in the sub-continent, but with their 5 bowler tactic, their batting has become their weakness.
Playing five bowlers mean that India would play only 6 batsmen, and the poor form of Wriddhiman Saha leaves them literally with five specialist batsmen. Murali Vijay has been ruled out of the first Test; and with the volatile number three position and Virat Kohli’s poor run of form, this Indian batting outfit is the weakest that has hit the Lankan shores.
Hence, India’s tactics are centered on their spin bowling, and this is where Sri Lanka find their biggest threat. Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh, though both off spinners, don’t bowl with tactics very alike.
In the series against Bangladesh, Ashwin bowled to a wicket taking field trying to land the ball around middle stump and spin it past the bat. He bowled sharp and his bowling was quick-witted and gripping. Harbhajan, on the other hand bowled to a run-saving field. He was slower and was looping the ball, luring batsmen into false drives.
In the Pakistan series, the Lankan batsmen showed their aversion to run saving fields, and the bowling of the Turbanator might help Ashwin sift wickets at the other end.
Besides, Kohli’s ruthlessness in captaincy has already handed over a humiliation to the island nation in 2014, with the Lankan meekly surrendering and his hot, fiery captaincy might be too hot for the ice cold Angelo Mathews to handle.
India would definitely start off as favorites and the series is most likely to be a one-sided affair, in contrary to the popular hope for a closely fought series. If the far-fetched dream of Mathews striding down the right path materializes, then this series would turn out to be a contest to savor; a contest that could be more absorbing than the recent Ashes.