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.”
Rilee Rossouw’s 61 guides Riders home in 195 chase
Rangpur Riders 195 for 6 (Rossouw 61, de Villiers 34, Taskin 4-42) beat Sylhet Sixers 194 for 4 (Sabbir 85, Pooran 47*, Mashrafe 2-31) by four wickets
How the game played out
Rilee Rossouw‘s fourth fifty of the BPL season powered Rangpur Riders through the second-highest successful chase in the competition’s history. Farhad Reza’s unbeaten 18 off six balls completed the final-over win for the defending champions’ star-studded team.
Rossouw, whose 35-ball 61 contained nine fours and two sixes, added 63 for the second wicket Alex Hales and 67 for the third with AB de Villiers, who contributed a 21-ball 34 on his BPL debut.
Sabbir and Nicholas Pooran blast 61 runs in the last four overs of Sixers’ innings despite Shafiul Islam conceding only nine in the last over.
Taskin removes Rossouw and de Villiers in the 14th over, after their third-wicket stand had put Riders in control of the chase.
Sandeep Lamicchane concedes only three runs in the 16th over, leaving Riders needing 42 off 24.
Taskin takes two more in the 18th, leaving Riders needing 24 off 12, but Farhad and Mashrafe Mortaza finish the job with three fours and a six between them. Riders win with three balls to spare.
Star of the day
Sabbir scored his first fifty in ten BPL innings, his last half-century coming during the 2017-18 edition. He paced his innings well, picking the right moments to attack and pushing the ball around for ones and twos in between.
The big miss
Rossouw survived three dropped chances and a sure-shot run-out within the first 5.5 overs of the Riders’ chase. Wicketkeeper Jakir Ali dropped him twice on 1 and 12 before a direct hit would have had Rossouw short by a big margin, when he was on 16. Two balls later, Pooran dropped Rossouw’s bunt towards mid-on, and the ball went all the way to the boundary.
Where the teams stand
Both teams started the match with four points from six games. Riders have now climbed into the top three with six points.
Seamers to the fore as West Indies put up their Dukes
England coach Trevor Bayliss hopes the use of a specially designed Dukes ball “plays into our hands” in the Test series against West Indies.
The ball, adapted to cope with abrasive Caribbean surfaces, appears to stay hard and swing for longer. England had their first look at it during the warm-up games at the 3Ws Oval and enjoyed it to the extent that they claimed 30 wickets in two days. Their swing bowlers appeared to find movement almost all day.
The use of the ball could become controversial by the end of the series. ESPNcricinfo understands that the former West Indies coaching regime, headed by Stuart Law and Nic Pothas, were keen to use a Kookaburra ball in this series on the basis that England have a history of struggling to gain much movement with it. They were also keen to play on slower, lower surfaces, such as in Guyana, in the hope of negating England’s seamers and exploiting a perceived weakness in their batting.
But Johnny Grave, the CWI chief executive, decided on a different approach. He reasoned that the newly adapted Dukes ball, specially designed for use in the Caribbean after consultation between the manufacturer and CWI officials, would provide faster-moving, more entertaining cricket and avoid some of the attritional encounters seen between these sides in recent years.
With several thousand England supporters expected in the Caribbean over the coming weeks, providing that attractive cricket – or at least cricket where the bowlers are in the game more often than has sometimes been the case in the past – has been prioritised.
At the same time, groundstaff have been instructed to prepare pitches with some pace and life. With the England attack containing James Anderson and Stuart Broad – two men with 998 Test wickets between them – that would appear to be a gutsy move, though Grave would argue West Indies have a potent fast bowling attack of their own and that it is vital to provide a spectacle if supporters of either side are to be encouraged to attend.
Last year, West Indies played five Tests at home, using a batch of Dukes balls. Seam bowling was dominant in series against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, with Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder taking 28 wickets apiece at averages of 15.64 and 12.00 respectively.
“The boys say the ball is still swinging late in the innings,” Bayliss said after England’s warm-up games in Barbados. “We have swing bowlers in our group, so hopefully that plays into our hands. It means it will move longer when we bat too, though, so we will have to be aware of that.”
Partly as a result of the ball, England are prepared to field an attack containing just one spinner. As things stand, that is expected to be Moeen Ali, with three seamers, Anderson, Broad and Sam Curran, forming the basis of the attack alongside seam-bowling allrounder Ben Stokes.
They will not take a first look at the surface at the Kensington Oval until Monday, however, so are prepared to draft a second spinner – almost certainly the left-armer Jack Leach – into the side instead of Curran if it looks as if there will be less help for the seamers than anticipated.
“We’re pretty close to deciding our team,” Bayliss said. “We’re probably down to a 12, but we’ll wait until we get to the Test ground to see the conditions. It will either be two spinners and two quicks plus Stokes, or one spinner and three quicks, plus Stokes.”
West Indies named spinners Roston Chase and Jomel Warrican in their squad but are currently expected to play only one of them in an attack containing four seamers. They, too, however could change their mind after looking at the pitch.
As things stand, it appears the first day of the series at the Kensington Oval will be a complete sell-out. Cricket in the Caribbean – everywhere, really – faces some challenges. But the decline in its popularity is often overplayed.
Next England coach will support, suggests Trevor Bayliss
Trevor Bayliss has hinted he would recommend splitting the England coaching job in the future. Bayliss’ contract as head coach expires at the end of September and he has made it clear he has no intention of seeking an extension. Instead, he is likely to pursue a future as a freelance coach on short-term deals offered by competitions such as the Big Bash League and The Hundred.
After four years in the England job, however, he is well-placed to advise on the pitfalls of the role. In that time, he has missed just one tour; a short, limited-overs trip to the Caribbean that was instead overseen by Paul Farbrace. And, having held a meeting with Ashley Giles, the new managing director of England men’s cricket, shortly before departing, it seems Bayliss stressed the difficulties of a role that entails the best part of 300 days a year in hotel rooms.
As a result, it seems he would recommend either splitting the role into two, with a limited-overs coach and a Test coach both answering to Giles, or appointing one head coach with several deputies who could take charge of some series.
“It’s very difficult,” Bayliss said. “I said to Giles the other day that if they go with one coach then it might help to have two or three assistants underneath. It could be that they take charge in some more series. Then the head coach gets a break and it gives experience to two or three homegrown coaches.”
Part of the issue with the role as it stands at present is that it may deter some of the better candidates from applying. While it is a prestigious, well-paid job, it has also become so all-encompassing that it could take the incumbent away from their family for longer than they feel is acceptable. In the winter of 2019-20, for example, England face tours to New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka, which could see those involved on the road for around five months.
Whatever happens next, Bayliss knows he faces an action-packed final nine months in the job. With a World Cup starting in June and an Ashes series to follow, he also knows his legacy as England coach will be decided by it.
“It probably couldn’t get any bigger,” he said. “Especially happening at home and within a few months. That brings pressure, but one thing we have been working towards is playing under some pressure. When we get to the big stage it is out of our hands, it’s down to the guys to perform on the day. I don’t think we could have done too much more.
“Some of the results and the way they have begun to play suggests we are heading in the right direction. There’s no secret we’ve been looking to fill a few spots in the Test side permanently and hopefully some are close to being filled.”
While much of England’s strategy over the last few years has been geared towards success in the World Cup – a tournament they have never won and which is seen as vital in engaging a new audience – Bayliss is reluctant to view it as any greater a priority than the Ashes.
“I’m not sure winning the World Cup would be more special,” he said. “There’s nothing like beating Australia in the Ashes, like we did in 2015. And having lost in Australia 12 months ago… it’s hard to pick between the Ashes and the World Cup. Hopefully we walk away with both trophies.”
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