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SL look for pace boost in third Test

Ishant Sharma’s performance on the fourth day at Galle sent a serious message across to the Lanka team that it certainly helps to have a bowler of genuine pace, reports Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Aug 05, 2008 01:20 IST
Anand Vasu

Ishant Sharma’s performance on the fourth day at Galle sent a serious message across to the Sri Lankan team. Champion spinners or not, it certainly helps to have a bowler of genuine pace, on any kind of pitch. Sri Lanka relied on Muttiah Muralitharan to do a lot of bowling in each innings, and Chaminda Vaas has provided an ideal foil.

Vaas’s workload has been light in this series with Murali and Ajantha Mendis sharing the burden. But when a partnership was developing, as in Galle, and the spinners needed rest, Vaas showed that he was still a master of home conditions. Although pace has long deserted him, the wily left-armer has developed an arsenal of subtle variations and uses his experience to land the ball consistently in areas that ask questions of the batsmen. His dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar in both innings just proved that Vaas still has it in him to contribute valuably.

But Vaas alone can hardly push India’s batsmen on the back foot. With Lasith Malinga injuring himself just before this series, Sri Lanka suffered a serious setback. Malinga, bowling with his unorthodox action and unusual angle of delivery, was a tough customer to handle in the best of times. With Dilhara Fernando also pulling up short in the fitness department, Sri Lanka have struggled to find a partner for Vaas.

In Galle, pace proved to be the difference between the two attacks. While Mendis claimed 10 wickets, Harbhajan matched him. It was the fact that Zaheer Khan and Ishant consistently sent the ball across at 135 kmh or more, compared to the much more sedate 120-125 that Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekara managed, that set the attacks apart.

While Kulasekara has shown that he can bowl a steady line and length and get the new ball to move both in the air and off the pitch, he has been unable to rise to the challenge once the shine comes off the ball.

Speaking at the end of the second Test, Mahela Jayawardene admitted that the selectors and the think-tank would have to address the issue of pace. With the pitch at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo reputed to be one of the quickest in Sri Lanka — and that’s not really saying much, for the island is not host to too many quick pitches — Sri Lanka might well leave out Kulasekara. Their search for alternatives is unlikely to go beyond Thilan Thushara, the left-arm seamer who is in the squad, and Dammika Prasad, who has been in the news ever since he impressed in the tour match against the Indians preceding the series.

With the series wide open once more, and India's quick men showing just how decisive early wickets can be, Sri Lanka can't afford to lie back and leave all the wicket-taking to Mendis and Murali. The hunt for a pace option is on.