Steve Smith has scored 20 on his IPL return as his Rajasthan Royals side lost by 14 runs to Kings XI Punjab in Jaipur.
The pride of the Lion was aroused and stirred into action as Sri Lanka rose from adversity to thrash South Africa in the Test series and then went down 2-3 in the one-dayers, before winning the solitary T20 game to re-establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in world cricket.
After months of turmoil since touring the Caribbean in a controversy ridden tour, the Lankans – without banned skipper Dinesh Chandimal, coach Chandika Hathurusinghe and manager Asanka Gurusinha – showed that there is pride and fight in the wounded Lions finding new direction and success despite the setbacks.
Few rated them a chance against the Proteas after their limited success in the West Indies. They gained plenty of publicity for the wrong reasons after ball tampering allegations against Chandimal and later dissent shown by team management which resulted in the ICC successfully charging and convicting them for bringing the game into disrepute.
But time and time again the Sri Lankans have proved that when the chips are down they have that uncanny inner strength to pick themselves off the mat and produce the unthinkable. They did this in a manner that bamboozled the visitors and had them in a spin literally and otherwise.
For a team in transition and seeking consistency among their young charges, Sri Lanka appear on track to climb back to the upper echelons of the game only if the continue to persist with some of the players who have shown genuine potential to be superstars of the future. Only continued exposure and patience can achieve that.
South Africa can blame themselves for their lack of preparation and planning in what to expect on slow turning sub-continental tracks. Their faith in their potent pace attack may have been justified to an extent as previously, a beaten Australia found out. But spin would ultimately rule in venues such as Galle which has a long history of successes and would be the deciding factor. Australian superstar Shane Warne would readily testify to this.
While Chandimal cooled his heels on the sidelines, Sri Lanka were able to unearth an astute leader in Suranga Lakmal, who is beginning to reveal himself as a quality seamer as well.
Lakmal showed exemplary decision making that saw the Islanders sweep aside South Africa’s feeble efforts with the bat as the Sri Lanka spinners wrought havoc to complete a memorable 2-0 victory in the Test series.
Dilruwan Perera bagged ten wickets and veteran Rangana Herath and Suranga Lakmal grabbed three each to be the tormentors of the South African rout in the first Test in Galle, condemning them to their lowest total, 73, since gaining re-admission to Test cricket.
It was almost comical to see established players of spin such as Hashim Amla, skipper Faf du Plessis and Quintin de Kock completely all at sea against the guiles of the Sri Lanka spinners as they floundered along with the rest of the team with almost no answer. Opener De Bruyn showed a degree of composure to be the only Proteas centurion in a losing cause in the second Test.
This was followed by a five-wicket haul by Dhananjaya De Silva and four by Dilruwan Perera in the first innings followed by a six-wicket romp by Herath which completed the Proteas whitewash at the SSC ground in Colombo.
Sri Lanka’s success was by no stretch of the imagination brought about solely by their spinners as their batsmen apart from Dimuth Karunaratne struggled for consistency. His 158 not out in the first innings followed by a useful 60 in the second was the key to their victory in Galle. He then made 85 in the Colombo Test to be named player-of-the-match twice and then player-of-the-series.
Dhananjaya De Silva, Angelo Matthews, Dhanushka Gunatilleke and Dilruwn Perera contributed in lesser fashion exposing Sri Lanka’s lack of consistency with the bat which will undoubtedly be the focus of coach Hathurusinghe on his return. Notable failures were Kusal Mendis and Roshen De Silva two immensely talented batsmen who failed to deliver scores of note.
Angelo Matthews was brought back to skipper the Lankans in the one-dayers in the absence of Chandimal but found no success as the smarting Proteas bounced back to take a series winning 3-0 lead before conceding the final two dead rubbers to the Lankans.
All in all, it was pleasing signs for Sri Lanka as they grind their way back as a respected force once more. Time and consistency will be the key as they forge ahead.