Sri Lanka: What Dilshan Did Right

A skipper must be prepared to plant some seeds (by spending time with his players after hours) if he wants to reap rewards on the field and become a respected leader. Once he acquires that status he’ll well on the way to becoming a good captain.” Ian Chappell on Captaincy

Cricket’s rich history is littered with great men and great captains, who naturally understood the role and the demands of leadership. Yet flip the coin over and there on the other side are the nearly men, who despite quite lofty status never quite managed to find the role to their liking. Sadly for Tillakaratne Dilshan, history will remember him firmly as the latter.

Dilshan seldom seemed an obvious fit for captaincy-especially following in the footsteps of two of Sri Lanka’s most successful leaders, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkarra. Where both players epitomised a calm, cerebral approach to leadership, from the outset Dilshan appeared to offer something altogether different, perhaps relying more on a sense of ingénue over method.

Sadly hindsight tells us something different. Dilshan’s creative streak struggled to inspire his team, his leadership qualities struggled to shine through and his contributions with both bat and ball became diminished as the burden of responsibility seemed to weigh him down. Under his tenure his team struggled, winning just one Test match but losing every series they played, while even worse their form in one day internationals-where they reached the World Cup in 2011-they lost every series they played under him.

Though Dilshan was also an unlucky captain. He inherited a team which was patently in decline-losing Murali was always going to take getting over-but for the first time in nearly two decades their bowling lacked an edge and their batting line-up, Sangakkara apart, struggled as a unit. That was just on-the-field, off it the team had to contend with political interference, players going unpaid , two coaching changes and a series of administrative cock-ups-things any team would struggle with.

But for all his failings as a captain, the latter days of Dilshan’s regime showcased what has been one of the few positives of his time in charge-the emergence of Sri Lanka’s next generation.

His final match saw a fine cameo from 22-year old Lahiru Thirimanne who hit 69 off 63 balls and debutant Sachithra Senanayake smashed a match-winning six with his first scoring shot in ODI cricket-not to mention grabbing his first wicket too. The previous match had seen 22-year old all-rounder Thisara Perera lead his side home, a player who has featured prominently under Dilshan.

Then there is the most exciting of all Sri Lanka’s young players, Dinesh Chandimal, who played a prominent role in Dilshan’s only Test win with two 50s on debut, and whose potent mix of composure and technique suggest a long and prolific international career lies ahead. Add in the likes of Shaminda Eranga, Seekuge Prasanna and Dimuth Karunaratne, all of whom have made their international debuts under Dilshan, and suddenly Sri Lanka’s pool of emerging talent starts to look far deeper than in the days pre-Dilshan.

As Dilshan himself noted in his final interview prior to his departure:

“In the last few series I gave the opportunity to youngsters, especially in this series, and we saw them doing it [well] for Sri Lanka. I am really happy to do that and to see that they grabbed the opportunities and performed under pressure. I believe in my youngsters, that’s the future for Sri Lanka.”

Despite all his failings during his tenure as captain, this could just be the silver lining to Dilshan’s reign. The experiences and opportunities provided to the young Sri Lankans, not to mention the confidence he had in them at such an early stage of their careers could ultimately dividends sooner rather than later and help Sri Lanka move forward once again.

As Chappell points out above, good captains plant seeds to reap the rewards in the end. Dilshan may not have made a good captain, but the seeds he has planted may yet bear fruit in the years ahead. Sri Lanka may yet be grateful for the small part he played in helping them build once more.

Steven Finn: England’s fast learner

Steven Finn: England's youngest since Botham

Sir Ian Botham doesn’t appear to be a man concerned too much about records and reputations, and given his reputation as an England supporter he will no doubt have been as pleased as anyone to see one of his longer standing records disappear to Steven Finn.

33 years have passed since Botham became the youngest England bowler to 50 Test wickets, but with the wicket of Prasanna Jayawardene, Finn at the age of 22 years and 63 days overtook Sir Ian which is no bad thing for a young man in the early stages of his career. It rounded off a fairly up and down match for Finn, one which started poorly with the ball as he continually sprayed the ball down the leg side and struggled to find his length-frequently bowling either too short or too full.

England’s bowlers were poor but Finn in particular struggled more than Chris Tremlett or Stuart Broad to cope on a ground he should know well and often provided Matt Prior with more of a challenge than either Tillakaratne Dilshan or Tharanga Paranavitana as he continually found himself diving towards his leg stump.

Yet to his credit, Finn managed to turn things around albeit slowly but surely. On the third day he began to locate a far more consistent line and length, as David Saker discussed at the close of play, and then today he began to threaten consistently-including sending shudders through Lakmal’s helmet with a bouncer aimed at his head. All the while he maintained his happy knack for taking wickets, four of the top six in fact, to finish with match figures of 4-108 which hardly reflect his early struggles.

This exemplified two of Finn’s finest qualities-firstly the knack for taking wickets consistently and secondly his ability to learn quickly and adapt to a situation. Against Bangladesh he was rushed into the team quickly and found himself forced to cope on dead subcontinent wickets-something which impressed the England management. Then against Australia he found himself being challenged by Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin in Brisbane but bounced back to take a six-wicket haul. He’s even managed to stop falling down in his delivery stride, adapting his run-up to generate more pace and stop him falling away as he delivers the ball.

Sure he still has plenty of work to do, as his problems in the first innings showed, but Finn has already shown himself to be a fast learner. If he carries on like this then perhaps today’s record could be the first of many for a young man going places fast.

England vs Sri Lanka: An Australian kind of victory

At the start of the fifth day England were not supposed to win their Test against Sri Lanka, the rain was falling, the leader of their bowling attack was injured and frankly time was running out. Yet the fact they did it, maintaining their winning momentum from the Ashes, and took all ten Sri Lankan wickets in 24.4 overs was a remarkable achievement and one which kicked a key summer for this team into gear.

For whatever the criticisms of the Sri Lankan batting, which was always likely to struggle if Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene failed to fire, plenty of credit is due to England. Their bowlers followed up on the fine work of their batting line-up (three centurions-one with a daddy hundred, another with a grand-daddy) and exerted the kind of pressure which Sri Lanka’s bowlers failed to build up.

The steepling bounce and consistent length of Chris Tremlett was complimented by some wonderfully skillful spin bowling from Graeme Swann and a more consistent showing from Stuart Broad who was far more consistent with line and length second time round. There was no way out for the Sri Lankan batsmen, choked by the relentless pressure of England’s bowlers and the scoreboard and match situation. They had no hope of victory, and England exerting pressure, took the draw out of the equation.

It was a victory which had shades of the kind of disintegration which Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting practised at their height of dominance. Time after time, Australia’s stellar batting line-up would rack up substantial scores and then with the seam of Glenn McGrath, the pace of Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee and then the spin of Shane Warne. Ponting once remarked ahead of an Ashes tour: “Mental disintegration? That’s what it’s all about, really, trying to keep England under pressure from ball one of the series until the series ends. That’s what our whole cricket theme, if you like, is based on.”

For Andrew Strauss and the veterans of England’s 2006/2007 Ashes tour this will have brought back shades of their own collapse in Adelaide when Warne got into their minds and turned a seemingly inevitable situation around. Just as England then seemed destined for defeat once the collapse began, so Sri Lanka seemed destined for defeat here-the hunted had become the hunter.