Sri Lanka go into today's second Test against Pakistan in Colombo emerging from a long shadow, while Pakistan go into it having been cast back into one. The hosts at the Sinhalese Sports Club, who are 1-0 up after a thumping 209-run win in the first Test at Galle, are beginning at last to emerge from their decades-long dependence on Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan. For Pakistan, the re-emergence of Salman Butt and Danish Kaneria is a grim reminder of the stupidity and malfeasance that has troubled them so long.
To the good news first. Sri Lanka won that first Test not only because of Kumar Sangakkara's exquisite 199 not out – during which, incidentally, he became the fastest man to 2,000 Test runs against one side, achieving in 26 innings what it took Brian Lara (with the help of two world records) and Sunil Gavaskar 28 innings to do against England – but because they took 20 wickets. There was a time in the not too distant past when it looked like they might struggle to do that ever again.
When Muralitharan retired from the Test arena, there was genuine hope that Ajantha Mendis, the spinner whose debut series against India was such a revelation, could fill his shoes. Similarly, the swift, round-arm slingers of Lasith Malinga looked a worthy substitute for Vaas. But Malinga retired from Tests not long after because of persistent injury, and Mendis, worked out by batsmen who studied videos of him and decided to play with a straight bat, has disappointed. Sri Lanka failed to win a single one of the 15 Tests after Murali's retirement, losing five and drawing 10 – a clear sign of their lack of bowling firepower.
That is why Rangana Herath has been such a boon for them. Just as Stuart MacGill might have played twice as many Tests were it not for Shane Warne being around, so Herath could hardly get a game because of Murali. But in 2009, while playing club cricket, he was summoned to the Sri Lanka side for a home series against Pakistan, when Murali was injured, and took 15 wickets. Today he is the spearhead of the Sri Lankan attack and probably the most effective slow left-armer in the Test arena.
Sri Lanka's other strongest bowling asset, left-arm quick Chanaka Welegedara, has been ruled out of this series by a shoulder injury; but his replacements, Nuwan Pradeep and Nuwan Kulasekara, have both improved of late; and the 27-year-old off-spinner Suraj Randiv, who took seven wickets in Galle, has shortened his delivery stride and so developed a loop that the Pakistanis struggled with. Some mixture of the above ingredients should give Sri Lanka a solid long-term solution to the vacancies left by Vaas and Muralitharan.
For Pakistan, however, the progress made under the captain, Misbah ul-Haq, and coach, Dav Whatmore, looks increasingly like a case of one step forward, two steps back. Misbah, whose captaincy has generally been inspirational, foolishly got himself banned from the Galle Test because of a slow over rate. Butt, who was last week deported to Pakistan after serving seven months of a two-and-a-half-year sentence for his involvement in the no-ball scam of 2010, continues to protest his innocence.
And Kaneria, who has now been given a life ban for his sinister grooming of Essex team-mate Mervyn Westfield, is doing precisely the same, in defiance of all evidence. While these unprincipled buffoons have a platform, and the support of Pakistan's deluded fans, it will be very hard for their national side to change the culture which has caused so much needlessly wasted potential.