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

2 thoughts on “Life After Murali

  1. andrewg, I forgot to mention the name but well spotted. I did wonder if pitches are any sort of excuse for not producing more seamers. Given that India and Pakistan both produce a good number of high quality seam and swing bowlers, I discounted that theory but maybe something is different in Sri Lanka.

  2. very interesting indeed. fascinating analysis and good to see some praise for good old Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas. it’s a pretty fine performance to lug that name about, bowl predominantly on sub-continental tracks, and yet still come up with a test average under 30 runs per wicket.

    Warne and McGrath, Murali and Vaas. A very timely comparison, thanks very much!

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