By Richard Browne
Dilshan’s honeymoon as brief as it was is well and truly over. Seemingly hindered by having two superstar ex captains swirling around him, a distinct lack of help off the pitch with a dearth of adequate back room staff and a horrible loss of form on it has turned what the bookies had down as a good odds home win into a baptism of fire for Dilshan.
On top of this the furore about the Galle pitch refuses to go away, with the ICC awaiting a response from the SCB about the preparation of the square, which looked like a desert in the middle of an oasis. Both teams agreed that the wicket started too dry, TV companies were no doubt angered about the blank screen time, but in terms of spectator entertainment what a treat.
Throughout the history of cricket major law changes have virtually all been made in favour of the batsmen. The front foot no ball came about because bowlers were dragging their foot miles down the pitch, meaning the batsmen had less time. Two fielders only are allowed behind leg because in 1950’s English county cricket bowlers were bowling a tight leg stump line with a packed cordon of close leg side fielders, which greatly reduced the batsmen’s shot choices and it must be added viewing pleasure. The list goes on, but the point is bowlers have the harder job and it always appears to be made more difficult.
Variety is the source of an enjoyable life and the same goes for cricket pitches. The world is full of batsmen who can hit through the line with confidence on a true wicket. Strips such as Galle allowed technically sound players the chance to showcase the full range of their skills. It is little surprise that Hussey and Jayawardene were the stand out batsmen.
Hussey spent an eternity playing first class cricket in England and Australia due to the stunning depth of Australian cricket in the Warne years. Away from the generally true Test playing surfaces, Hussey had to learn to play in all the varied conditions that first class cricket brings. In short Hussey was able to adapt to the conditions.
Adaptability used to be a crucial part of a batsmen’s armoury. Each country had its own pitch peculiarities and these had to be dealt with. This is going out of the game rapidly and it’s poorer for it. Perth for bounce, Wanderers for pace and Edgebaston maybe for swing, still have unique signatures, but where are the subcontinent turners, that used to give touring batsmen nightmares?
It appears tucked away in the grainy memory bank. The change in wickets in this part of the world has very probably had just a big effect subconsciously on the decline in the popularity of Test cricket as any other developments in the game. It is not only short changing the spectator but the class batsmen as well.
The ability to play very late with soft hands is rarely required, especially not on the opening days of a Test. Watching Mahela in Galle was a treat, a chance for him to show that in the cluttered ranks of modern batsmen averaging over 50 in the era of the inflated run, he has the technique and mental strength to prosper. It is also noteworthy that Mahela learnt his trade in the days before 20/20. It is hard to imagine one of the new Indian 20/20 superstars playing such an innings.
If Test cricket is going to prosper there has to be more help for the bowlers. Galle was maybe a tad too much in their favour, but bowler friendly wickets have to be encouraged by the ICC. Claims of home bias are of course true. Sri Lanka cannot have predicted that their experienced (in home conditions) attack would be out bowled by a rookie, unheard of and unheralded Australian off spinner. However all countries prepare wickets or at least used to, to suit their strengths and this is one of the great delights of the longer form of the game.
Cricket has evolved more than any other game from its origins in early Victorian England. For the first eighty odd years of Test cricket matches were played on uncovered wickets, giving the game a greater empathy with the elements. It also sometimes meant bowlers had everything their own way, something that is almost distinct now. When a wicket does come along that helps them, this happens.
Being a master of a bad wicket is surely a prerequisite for batting greatness? Old timers make an argument for Hobbs being a better batsmen than Bradman because of his skill on a wet wicket. Drawing a similar equation now between say Tendulker and Kallis is nigh upon impossible, because they are so scarcely tested on them. The game is poorer for it and the cream is increasingly being prevented from organically going to the top.
Another factor to consider in the ICC’s disgust over the pitch is batsmen danger. Sanga got a brute of a ball from Watson that jumped at his head from a length, but no one was seriously hurt and with the masses of protective gear available to the modern player, danger is an element that has become of dwindling concern to the modern batsmen. The rise and rise of the batting tail ender can also be accredited to this as well, meaning bowlers have yet another headache to deal with.
The preparation of wickets will be a long way from Dilshan’s mind at the moment though. Of the same generation of Sanga and Mahela if not a later developer, Dilshan is looking and captaining the side like a man in agreement with the SLC’s assessment of him being the bronze medal holder in the current Parthenon of Lankan cricketers. After a bright start in England personally and the three most fruitful years of the career with his bat, the jury is out to see if the film star, turned talent judge turned cricket captain can cut the grade. Some runs would be a good starting point.