The negative brand of cricket played by Angelo Mathews and Co. on the final day of the third Test match against Pakistan, in hope that they could escape with a draw and a series victory, not only led to a Lankan loss in the particular match but also paved way for Pakistan levelling the series. This means that the hunt for an overseas Test series victory, that had started way back in 2000, is still on. The last time the Lankan ‘Tigers’ won an overseas Test series (excluding series in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) was in 1999-00 when they got the better of Pakistan 2-1.
Coming back to the third Test, the last of the series, at Sharjah, Sri Lanka were leading the series 1-0 and were looking for a historic series victory. But throughout the five days, their mindset was something like this – we have the lead, so lets not risk losing it, instead win the series 1-0 by shutting the door on Pakistan.
Their run rate was 2.48 in the 1st innings and, even worse, 2.10 in the 2nd one. They were leading by 220 runs at stumps on day 4 and everything looked in their favour. On the 5th day, the Lankan ‘Tigers’ were aggressive for the 1st 15 overs. After that, it seemed as if somebody took all the aggression away from the players.
They scored just 17 runs in the next 15 overs at an astonishing run rate of 1.13. Sri Lanka could have easily upped the tempo in search of some quick runs to increase the target, but they were happy to just kill time. Prasanna Jayawardene, who struck 4 boundaries in the 1st hour, had no boundaries to his name in the 2nd hour and was ultimately dismissed off the bowling of Saeed Ajmal. After the drinks break, which followed the dismissal of Mathews, there was this sudden change of attitude from the Sri Lankans.
The slow rate at which they scored meant that Pakistan needed to score at a run rate of 5.12 for the next two sessions. It can be said that Sri Lankans gave their heart and soul in helping Pakistan to win the match and level the series. After few swashbuckling strokes from the Pakistani openers, especially Ajmal Shahzad, Rangana Herath was introduced into the attack.
Everybody thought that the captain had introduced his strike bowler to pick up wickets but after few overs it was found that Herath’s job was just to stop boundaries. This made way for countless amounts of runs flowing in the form of ones, twos, and threes. Herath was continuously bowling on the leg stump with the man behind the stumps, Prasanna Jayawardene, standing outside the line of leg stump. That said a lot about the negative line of bowling Sri Lanka were happy with.
Instead of bowling on the off-stump channel with slips and other closing fielders, Rangana Herath, one of the world’s top spinners these days, was bowling with lots of protection on the fence. Even Marvan Attapattu gestured the young captain, from the dressing room, to bring some fielders into catching positions. All these tactics led Herath concede 100 runs in his 19 overs at an economy rate of 5.26 which is now the 5th highest, for a bowler in the 4th innings, in the history of test cricket.
The fast bowlers bowled some intentionally poorly directed bouncers, like the ones Harold Larwood bowled in the bodyline series, which clearly showed that they didn’t play in the spirit of the game. It went to a level that the umpires were forced to call ‘wide’ four to five times (twice during Herath’s bowling) and also warn the Lankan captain for employing such negative tactics.
After Sarfraz’s sizzling knock, which brought Pakistan back into the game, came to an end, Sri Lanka didn’t even show any intentions of attacking the new pair. It was more and more resembling the meaningless middle few overs of an ODI innings where the bowling team would be content with offering singles to long off and deep square leg regions. This defensive mindset backfired on them as Pakistan completed the historic run chase at a run rate of 5.25.
Towards the end of the day’s play, Mathews and Co. tried their best to convince the umpires to stop the game. Even the fielders gestured to show that they were not able to see the ball properly. But fortunately for Pakistan, the umpires did not fall for the trick.
All in all, it was a disgraceful performance by Sri Lanka who deserved to lose for employing such atrocious tactics. Full marks to Misbah and Co for taking the attack and making the Lankan ‘Tigers (?)’ regret having played the way they did.