Life After Murali

After having the best of the 1st Test against Sri Lanka, Pakistan has now convincingly won the 2nd Test.  This places Sri Lanka at serious risk of losing a second Test series, in close succession, against teams ranked below them.

I expect you don’t have to be Richie Benaud to work out why this might be.  I don’t wish to detract from Pakistan, for it is great to see them playing well but I think it is more than that.  Sri Lanka no longer has the services of the greatest off-spinner to ever live – Muttiah Muralitharan.  Just as Australia has struggled since losing Warne and McGrath, you would expect Sri Lanka to struggle.

Just how much they would and have struggled, is worth a closer look.  Murali played his last Test in July 2010.  This was the first Test of a three Test series against India, played in Galle.  That was the last Test match that Sri Lanka won.  Since then, they have played 13 Test, and lost four and drawn the balance.  Sri Lanka could only hold the West Indies to a 0-0 series, in Sri Lanka.

That is a sudden change in circumstance.  Australia did manage to muddle on for a season or two are Warne before going into free fall.  The problem for Sri Lankan cricket can possibly summed up in one word: depth.

While doing a piece on Sanath Jayasuriya some time ago, I was startled to note that at the time, he was the third highest wicket taker in Sri Lankan Test cricket, with 98 wickets from his occasional tweaking.  I just checked if this has changed, and it has, but only just.  He has been just shaded by Herath (103) and Malinga (101).  Just.

Just as Australia lost McGrath and Warne, who, when considered as a pair, were arguably the most important reason for Australia’s success in the Taylor, Waugh and Ponting years, Sri Lanka had a pair of bowlers that were head and shoulders above the rest.  When Sri Lanka lost Vaas in July 2009 and Murali a year later, they lost the only two world class bowlers their country had ever possessed. 

No wonder they can no longer win a Test match.  They still have some world class batsmen, especially in Sangakkara and Jayawardene, and thus they have been able to draw more than they are loosing.  In fact, Sangakkara single handedly saved the 1st Test against Pakistan.  However, these guys are not getting any younger – they are both in their 35th year and Sri Lanka can’t expect them to last more than 2-3 years more.

I wonder how is it that Sri Lanka has not produced more first rate bowlers.  I don’t even know how to assess what a fair number would be.  We should keep in mind that Sri Lanka has only had Test status since 1981 – 30 years.  They are still relative new comers on the world stage.

For comparison, in the last 30 years, Australia has produced 11 bowlers who have taken more than 100 wickets, to Sri Lanka’s four.  However, Australia’s next best (after Warne and McGrath) are Lee (310), McDermott (291) and Gillespie (257).  They make the likes of Sri Lanka’s next best – Herath and Malinga – pale into insignificance.   And then let me run a few more names past you: Hughes, Macgill, Johnson, Kasprowicz, Reid and Reiffel.  Paul Reiffel, who one can barley remember in the Australia tapestry, took 104 Test wickets – one more then Herath currently has to his name.

I acknowledge that it’s not a fair comparison.  You could not expect a fledging nation to start churning out champions at the same rate as a super power, from the moment they became a Test nation.  They would not have the infrastructure, heritage or depth to do so.  But on the other hand, the very fact that they were given Test status should imply that they had some infrastructure in place to start building a strong cricket team, with depth.  I find Sri Lanka’s lack of depth in the bowling stocks eye popping.

Sri Lanka has been competitive for many years.  They have had a strong batting line-up, a first rate seamer and a great spinner.  This has enabled them to succeed.  I suggest that this has masked a lack of depth for many years.  While these players prevailed, there was no need to scratch through the surface and reveal the dearth of back up.

Now Sri Lanka has to face the reality of life after Murali.  Perhaps the ICC should also face this reality.  They can start by repealing that diabolical 15 degree rule and allow the umpires to start calling chuckers again.

With Pakistan, it is never wise to count chickens, but it looks like Sri Lanka is going down for its fourth straight series.

Sri Lanka’s recent Test record

Opponent Opponent rank Venue Result Tests When
India 1 Sri Lanka 1-1 3* July-Aug 2010
West Indies 7 Sri Lanka 0-0 3 Nov-Dec 2010
England 2 England 0-1 3 May-Jun 2011
Australia 5 Sri Lanka 0-1 3 Aug-Sep 2011
Pakistan 6 UAE 0-1 3** Oct-Nov 2011

* Murali retired after the 1st test and played no further part in the series

** 3rd Test yet to be played

Most Test Wickets for Sri Lanka

Rank Name Mat Bls Wkt Avg S/R 5/10 BBi
1 M Muralitharan 132 43716 795 22.67 55.0 67/22 9-51
2 WPUJC Vaas 111 23438 355 29.58 66.0 12/2 7-71
3 HMRKB Herath 30 7378 103 35.15 71.6 6/0 7-157
4 SL Malinga 30 5209 101 33.15 51.6 3/0 5-50
5 ST Jayasuriya 110 8170 98 34.34 83.4 2/0 5-34
6 CRD Fernando 37 5689 94 36.97 60.5 3/0 5-42

 All statistics courtesy of HowzStat

Heroes to Zeros?

The champions of world cricket have just been rolled 5-0 in India. How the mighty have fallen. Does this ignominious series loss mean anything? Is it true that England are counting their lucky stars that there are no Tests, or am I just trying to wind the Pommies up?

We all know that this is 2011 and Test cricket and One Day cricket are two separate games. A nation’s Test team will often be made up of very different players, even the captain, to the ODI team. Indeed, as Australia tumbled down the Test rankings, they have managed to maintain their number one ranking in One Day cricket (even though they lost the last World Cup).

So, England can easily point out that they are, in fact, numero uno in the Test arena and nothing should be read into this series. An aberration, so to speak. That’s a fine point, but England did recently account for India 3-0 in the recent Nat West series, so this is a complete reversal. It should also be remembered that they were thinking of renaming that NatWest Trophy the “Duckworth Lewis Trophy” as all matches were affected by rain and either shortened before the match started, rained out or decided by the D/L method. So perhaps that series win was not quite so convincing.

Whatever the case, it was a dismal performance by England and they probably are glad they don’t have to front up in Tests. And that is a shame because while there is plenty of cricket being played around the globe, there isn’t too much to write about. England and India Tests in India, right now, would be fantastic.

Instead, we have rainy Tests between Bangladesh and the Windies. Yawn. A run fest in Dubai between Pakistan and Sri Lanka after a start that promised more. Zimbabwe did overhaul New Zealand’s score of 328 in a record (for them) chase but really, who cares? And Australia and South Africa are playing a rather uninspiring One Day series. Someone wake me on the 9th for the 1st Test, please. But what a disgrace that this is a two Test series between South Africa and Australia. Sangakkara was right when he recently pointed out that two Test series are an insult to the game.

The Rise and Rise of Cummins

Pat Cummins continued his meteoric rise and has been named in the Australian Test squad for South Africa.  Congratulations to him.  Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan and have known of him for years, and indeed he was in my daughter’s class through high school.  So, I’m glad for any success that comes his way.  It seems that he has been destined to play for Australia for many years.  Why on earth I did not get him to sign my program at the valedictory dinner (before he was even selected for NSW), I cannot figure.

I am a little concerned that Australian cricket does not rush him or over burden him with expectation.  He is just 18.  Incredibly, he holds a Cricket Australia contract even though he has played just three first class matches.  He really is a super star in the making but even so, the media interest is incredible.

Pat Cummins seems to be in the Cricinfo headlines every other day.  He is on the back page of the SMH today.  Google “Patrick Cummins” and you will rewarded with almost 7.5 million results!   Granted, that there will be a few Facebook pages of other “Pat Cummins” but you get the idea.   He even has a Wiki page with two paragraphs. 

I only hope it is not a case of too much too soon.  From what I can gather, Cummins is am unaffected, humble, teachable, good-natured kid who happens to be a fantastic athlete with extraordinary bowling talent.  I hope it stays that way and they over time, he is managed carefully and realises is potential.

I have to wonder (actually I have to admit that this is my cynical 17 year old daughter’s insight) if his rush to the forefront is a move by outgoing chief selector, Andrew Hilditch to say, “I’m the one who discovered Patrick Cummins.”  At least he can then say that he has done something useful.  At any rate, Pat will probably have to wait his time to play Tests.  He replaces Pattinson who didn’t actually play a Test in the recent tour of Sri Lanka.  But I think we may see Pat in the One Dayers.