COLOMBO: Five things we learned from Sri Lanka’s first series whitewash against Australia after the hosts won the third and final Test in Colombo.
— Future’s bright for Sri Lankan cricket
Sri Lanka’s youngsters belied expectations with a string of match-winning performances against a side who came into the series as world number one. After a poor tour of England, players such as Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva and Lakshan Sandakan came of age back home. A maiden century from Mendis and the debutant Sandakan’s seven wickets in the match laid the platform for victory in the opener in Pallekele. The 24-year-old de Silva scored a century in the final Test in Colombo to help clinch the whitewash. Their emergence is a huge boost for a team that had been struggling to come to terms with the retirements of star batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene and reverses their slide down the rankings.
– No end to Aussie batsmen’s Asia woes
The Australian batsmen’s inability to handle spin on Asian tracks was once again exposed. After being whitewashed by India and Pakistan, it was the third time in a row that the Australians lost all their Tests in an away series against teams from the sub-continent. Skipper Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh did manage to score hundreds in Colombo but the batting unit failed to deliver as a whole in Galle and Pallekele where they managed a solitary half-century between them. Australia gave themselves a fortnight to acclimatise to local conditions and Smith was at a loss to explain why the batsmen’s woes. “Can’t fault the prep, got here early, worked as hard as we can,” he said after suffering his first series defeat as captain. “It’s a hard one to grasp really… What we are doing isn’t working.”
— Class-act Starc is a cut above
If one player can return home with their head held high, it’s Mitchell Starc. The left-arm speedster claimed 24 wickets at an average of just over 15, including three five-wicket hauls, on pitches that gave no help to pace bowlers. Starc, who had only just recovered from an ankle injury, showed admirable stamina in the draining mid-summer temperatures. Now the undisputed leader of Australia’s attack, Starc claimed his 100th Test wicket in the second Test in Galle. Coach Darren Lehmann’s pre-series prediction that Starc can join Glenn McGrath, Dennis Lillee, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee in the 300 wicket club now looks prescient.
— A wizard can only work so much magic
Sri Lanka spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan’s agreement to act as a consultant to the Australian bowlers was seen as a major coup and caused some alarm among his former employers. But the advice from the most succesful bowler in Test match history had only a limited impact on the Australian spinners who were outclassed by their Sri Lankan counterparts, as well as by Starc. Nathan Lyon bowled his heart out but his 16 wickets cost nearly 32 runs apiece. Jon Holland managed just five wickets in his two Tests while Steve O’Keefe — who looked good in the warm-ups — took just three scalps in the opener before flying home with a pulled hamstring. “Simply because I coach, they can’t win. It’s a process and you need to master that process over a long period of time,” Muralitharan told AFP after the first Test.
— Herath needs to hang on
While Sri Lanka’s batsmen began to show that Sangakkara and Jayawardene are not entirely irreplaceable, the selectors must be praying Rangana Herath hangs on a bit longer. The 38-year-old has already retired from T20s and ODIs but remained skipper Angelo Mathews go-to man throughout the series. His 28 wickets came at an average of just 12.75, including a hat-trick in the second Test. Sri Lanka’s next assignment is at the end of the year in South Africa when Herath could overtake Chaminda Vaas as his country’s second highest wicket-taker. Sri Lanka’s South African coach Graham Ford will be doing all he can to persuade Herath to stay on. “He just shows so much guts and fight. And for an older guy to show that, it just ignites the fight within the younger group,” said Ford.