Lack of Zing in Pace Attack Hurting Sri Lanka
It isn’t often that you have to change your entire fast bowling line-up after the first Test of a tour. Yet, that is exactly what Sri Lanka had to do in Australia after Lahiru Kumara, Dushmantha Chameera and Suranga Lakmal injured themselves post the first Test at Brisbane. In came debutant Chamika Karunaratne, Vishwa Fernando and Kasun Rajitha for Canberra.
The contrast between the two bowling line-ups was huge. While Australia’s two pacers – Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins accounted for 291 career wickets between them (in 69 Tests), Sri Lanka’s inexperienced fast bowlers (5 Tests) had combined to take 14 wickets between them.
Not surprising, Sri Lanka conceded a whopping 534 runs in the first innings in Canberra. That Australia’s batting has been susceptible and vulnerable of late further speaks of how poor this Sri Lankan performance was.
Sri Lanka have thrived on Lakmal’s experience and control but the others have hardly given him any support. Constant injuries have further dented their pace attack. In the series against Australia, Sri Lanka’s pacers took 15 wickets across the two Tests at an average of 45.2 whereas the Aussie seamers clocked an average of 13.4!
The massive difference in the second Test is understandable given the inexperience. But even in the first Test, which had Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara, Sri Lanka failed to come anywhere close to Australia’s pace bowling standards.
This isn't a trend from the ongoing series alone. Since 2017, the bowling average of the Sri Lankan pacers is the worst barring Bangladesh. They have taken 163 wickets in 27 Tests at an average of 38.55. The best teams on this list are South Africa (21.40) and West Indies (24.94) – such has been the stark contrast!
Individually, the Sri Lankan pacers have fared well below global standards which has led to a massive downfall in the team results, particularly given the number of away games they have played. Suranga Lakmal is the spearhead of the attack but there is a big disparity even between his numbers and the world norm in this period.
To compare this, we take the global average and strike rate (excluding Sri Lanka's) of pacers since 2017. We compare this to Sri Lanka's seamers and check the difference.
Even though Sri Lanka tried 11 seamers in these two years, only two have a positive strike rate difference (one largely due to a low sample size). Shockingly, all of them have a negative average difference. Among fast bowlers with more than 10 wickets, not one has an average of less than 30 in this time frame. Kumara has a positive strike rate difference, which is a positive, but unfortunately he is out due to injury for the upcoming South Africa tour.
The Lankans have made wholesale changes to their Test team for the tour. The new pace bowling trio retain their places and young seamer, Mohamad Shiraz, earned a maiden call-up.
To back-up their pacers, they needed a holding spinner and after Dilruwan Perera failed to live up to expectations, Lasith Embuldeniya and Milinda Siriwardana have come into the team.
The South African tour should give a fair indication of where Sri Lanka stand in terms of development of their new breed of fast bowlers.