In the midst of a frustratingly prolonged transitional phase, Sri Lanka pulled off a stunning victory against the Aussies last week at Pallekele, thanks mainly to the heroics of 21-year-old Kusal Mendis.
If not for his age defying the super natural innings in the 2nd essay, Sri Lanka would have been in an all familiar dire straits one more time this year.
If anything could camouflage the Lankan troubles, then nothing like a Test victory but Mathews would want to address them at the earliest rather than allowing the bag of problems to grow heavier so much that it wouldn’t be feasible to carry it any longer. Out of the many ‘to be covered’ areas of concern, the frequent failures of the Lankan opening pair is the one which needs some immediate attention.
Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva opened together for Sri Lanka for the 1st time in 2013 against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi. Since then the pair has come out together to start the proceedings for Lanka in nine out of the 12 Test series, home and away. So, if anything, the selectors have reposed their faith on this pair for quite a period now, but disappointingly the results that have come out aren’t entirely positive.
Kaushal Silva averages 30 with two scores of hundred after having played 28 matches whereas Karunaratne averages 33 with three centuries in his 29 matches. Big scores have eluded this pair, runs have come at concise periods, and consistency is a far forgotten factor.
Karunaratne’s last century, 186 against West Indies at Galle, came last October. Since then, in his 14 innings, he has scored only 2 half centuries, including six single digit scores. Kaushal Silva’s last century, 125 against Pakistan at Galle, came last June. In the 21 innings since then, he has managed only 4 scores of half century.
The pair has opened in 36 innings over the last three years for Sri Lanka, crossing the century stand only three times, two of which came in the 1st seven innings. After their 85 run stand against the Kiwis at Hagely Oval in 2014, in the 21 innings since then they have put on a partnership of 50 or more only twice, and in 14 of those 21 innings the partnership has been lesser than 20 runs!
Mathews and selectors have persisted with this pair for very long now, either there aren’t any to choose from or they believe the pair is good enough to come good eventually. Whatever the reason, the poor form of openers is hurting Sri Lanka.
To fill the void left behind by Mahela and Sanga, Lanka has tried out many options in the middle order. From Jehan Mubarak to Thirimanne to Chandimal to Kusal Mendis, quite a few of them have come and gone but Lanka is yet to have a settled middle order still. It was during this period the opening pair wasn’t tinkered with and was given a longer run to establish itself but sadly for Mathews they have failed far too many times for his liking.
Apart from Pakistan and probably West Indies for that matter, all of the top Test playing nations have had at least one of their opening batsmen in form at any point in time even as the search for a solid pair continues for most of the nations. Sri Lanka is the only other team in which openers haven’t contributed enough to make life easy for the middle order.
In the 2nd innings at Pallekele, Kusal Perera came in the place of Karunaratne to open. The move failed but it could be the sign of things to come. Kusal Perera is an interesting choice, for he is an attacking batsman unlike both Silva and Karunaratne, and needless to say most of the nations nowadays prefer to have one opening batsman who could take the game to the opposition.
Is Kusal Perera Sri Lanka’s answer to the opening problem or are they going to persist with the tried and tested pair of Silva and Karunaratne? Galle will answer.
Stats Source: howstat.com.au