Sri Lanka’s chances in the World Test Championship
Sri Lanka’s Kusal Perera celebrates after leading the team to a famous victory over South Africa in a nail-biting conclusion to the first Test on 16 February 2019 (© Anesh Debiky/AFP/Getty Images).
The newest entrant to Test cricket Ireland had a magical first day in their maiden Test against the inventors of the game, at the Home of Cricket recently. Calling all the shots at the end of the second day, they needed just 182 for what might have been the greatest upset in the history of Test cricket. It was not to be, as on the third morning, they succumbed to 38 and lost by 143 runs! Despite the predictability of the outcome, the Irish did frightened England. Though Ireland will not feature in the inaugural World Test Championship that commenced last month, can their performance inspire Sri Lanka to another fairy-tale finish?
Sri Lanka boasts a credible Test record leading to the World Test Championship, surprisingly rosier than their white-ball cricket. Having played twenty-two Tests across nine series’ in two years; seven away and two at home, they broke even, winning and losing eight Tests each. Strikingly, six of the wins were away from home.
Sri Lanka will play six series in the inaugural Test Championship, comprising thirteen Test matches in all. At the time of publication of this article, they would have played their first series against New Zealand last month. Sri Lanka will host two others: Bangladesh and England. Their away series’ are against Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies. Other than the Bangladesh series which will consist of three games, the rest will be of a two-match duration each.
Currently sixth in Test Rankings, Sri Lanka in their last series surpassed all expectations and whitewashed third-ranked South Africa, thus becoming the first Asian side to win a Test series in that country.
Sri Lanka also whitewashed Pakistan in 2017 and inflict the first series defeat at their adopted home of UAE.
In the following year, Sri Lanka were the first Asian team to win a Test in Barbados. Had they not wasted two hours protesting a ball-tampering charge in the previous Test, they may have been series winners against the West Indies.
Sri Lanka’s best Test performances have been against Bangladesh; of the twenty matches played so far, the scorecard shows sixteen wins against a solitary loss.
Sri Lanka’s 0-3 loss against England in 2018 could have easily been a 2-1 victory, if not for the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip. Two games that were in their grasp were lost by 57 and 42 runs, accentuated by a spate of missed chances.
Similarly in 2018, following an honourable draw in the first Test against New Zealand, and having them reeling at six for 64 at the start of the second, Sri Lanka let the game slip away and managed to lose that match.
In this edition of the Test Championship, Sri Lanka will not be pitted against two cricketing giants, India and Australia. It maybe because a “weaker” Sri Lanka wouldn’t do justice to their financial potential. They may have done Sri Lanka a favour, since Sri Lanka have a poor Test record against both; with a winning percentage of only 15.9% and 12.9% respectively.
Sri Lanka’s Achilles’ heel since 2015 has been awful fielding, which has shown positive signs of improvement in the recent past. It’s an age-old cliché but cricket is still a game of glorious uncertainties. Having said that, will Sri Lanka’s most recent encounters with the scheduled opponents be a barometer of their success at the championship?
Off-field upheavals have been part and parcel of the island’s cricket for over two decades. As in the past, if the players can put those distractions aside and genuinely commit themselves; come 2021, it’s not beyond for all Sri Lankans to stand up and say in unison, “We are the champions” … (pause) …, “again!”
A revised version of this article appeared on the September 2019 issue of the LIVING magazine.