Thus far in the Test, Sri Lanka’s spinners have possibly been outperformed by England’s. That is suggested by the statistics – England’s spinners have taken their wickets at 18.5 apiece, while Sri Lanka’s average 42.25 in the Test. But it is also the opinion of Sri Lanka’s own spin bowling coach, Piyal Wijetunge.
The reason, he feels, is that Sri Lanka’s slow bowlers did not adapt well to their own surface. England’s spinners, meanwhile, were more disciplined and patient.
Asked if England’s slow bowlers had bowled better, Wijetunge replied: “You can’t say they didn’t. What we are used to here in Galle was to come and take a lot of wickets, so that was the mindset. But what we saw from the England spinners is that they bowled to one pattern right through. They let the batsmen make the mistake.
“In this match that worked for them. But what we are used to in Sri Lanka is to get wickets, because the conditions support us. In looking for those wickets, rather than doing a holding job, maybe there were errors. We didn’t move from that attacking mindset.”
One bowler who attacked and did so fruitlessly for large chunks of the first and second innings was Akila Dananjaya, whose returns from the Test were 2 for 183. What’s worse for Sri Lanka is that he went at more than 4.7 runs an over. These are worrying figures for a bowler who will be expected to take a greater share of the bowling burden in Pallekele, with Rangana Herath now having hung up his bowling spikes.
“We see some X-factor in Akila, and that’s the reason for bringing him into the side and playing him alongside another offspinner – Akila is not just an offspinner for us,” Wijetunge said. “Credit to the English batsmen they handled the spinners well. Akila had one of his off days, and he didn’t bowl that well. I’m sure he’s going to come back well in the next game.”
On who else might comprise the Sri Lanka spin attack in that next match, Wijetunge also dropped a hint. If the hosts play three spinners again – though they may feel two seamers are preferable on a Pallekele surface that generally aids quick bowling – left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara is first in line to take Herath’s place in the side.
A prolific wicket-taker at first-class level, Pushpakumara is reputed as a crafty line-and-length left-arm orthodox operator in the mould of Herath. But he had not impressed in his two Test outing so far, averaging 47.5 against India last year.
He is preferred, though, to left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan, who has frequently been expensive in Tests.
“Dilruwan Perera is going to take the lead in the spin attack going forward, but from the next game onwards we might go with Malinda Pushpakumara to take Rangana’s place,” Wijetunge said.
“At the moment, Sandakan is in a particular stage, and we’re doing some developments with him. If we need to bring him into this series, he’s at a place where we can do that. But to improve his quality as a spinner, we’re doing some adjustments with him. After we do that, I think we should be able to regularly bring him into the XI.”