For the longest time Sri Lanka has been the poster child for the future of Test cricket. A shining example of how a nation could be taken and, with the right sort of guidance and a decade or so of patience, not only be moulded into a competitive Test nation, but one that has already provided some of the game’s greats. It’s a shining example for those who argue that such minnows as Bangladesh and India could, if given enough time and support, one day become competent Test adversaries for the old guard to test their mettle against.
Alas, but no more. Sri Lanka’s status as a Test playing nation looks now to exist on paper only. In 2013 they will barely play any Test match cricket at all. This isn’t due to some obscure application of the Future Tours program; Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lankan Cricket Board in particular, seemingly don’t see their future participation in Test cricket as a high priority. The interest, and money, is in the shorter forms of the game. With the current Sri Lankan outfit sharply declining into yet another team that can only perform well on home pitches, the future of Sri Lankan Test cricket looks bleak.
Which isn’t to say that it’s all doom and gloom: 2012 wasn’t a bad year, all things considered. A home series win against Pakistan was complimented by drawn series against England and New Zealand. The tour of Australia is still in progress, but can already be written off as a catastrophe even if Sri Lanka do manage to win the Third Test. Those home performances were strong, if not completely comprehensive. Time and again Rangana Herath proved to be the key. He was the only really consistent performer for Sri Lanka, with the rest of the bowlers veering between erratic and completely ineffective.
It was much the same story with the batsmen. Kumar Sangakkara was either knocked over for less than five, or he scored 190 odd. Unfortunately for a team that relies on him for the bulk of their runs, the former was by the far more frequent scenario. Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan also provided occasional support, but again not as consistently as would have been hoped. Perhaps it’s a function of the changing nature of pitches in Sri Lanka, but the mammoth totals of the recent past seem beyond this current side. Which when coupled with the relative barrenness of their bowling ranks, shorn of the likes of Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, spells trouble.
In the limited overs formats though Sri Lanka were largely excellent. As by far the best fielding outfit in Asia they are always competitive, and their bowling line-up is far better suited to the shorter formats, particularly when Malinga returns. They would naturally be disappointed with losing the T20 World Cup Final, particularly since the game appeared to be theirs to win half way through the West Indian innings. Nearly as disappointed as everyone else was to be subjected to Chris Gayle et al dancing Gangnam style at the game’s conclusion. Similarly not making the final of the Asian Cup must have rankled, particularly after their strong form in the preceding Commonwealth Bank series in Australia, where they looked to have by far a more balanced team than either their Australian or Indian opponents.
Which must have been nice for the Sri Lankan Board, but nobody else really cares how well Sri Lanka play in limited overs cricket, it’s in Test match cricket where we want to see them competing. Unfortunately for the immediate future at least, we won’t get the chance.