Henry Blofeld: Jayasuriya the haunted head of a shadow team
Sunday 16 June 2002
It is, to say the least, bizarre that a side who came to England after winning their last nine Test matches should have made so little impact.
The Sri Lankans are always likely to make more of their own sunny conditions than England in a damp May and June, but none the less they are well worth watching.
It is not their fault that their first three-match Test series in England should have coincided with the tribal obsession into which football's World Cup has turned. For all that, one would have thought that a side containing the most fascinating contemporary bowler in Muttiah Muralitharan and batsmen of the calibre of Mahela Jayawardene, Srinath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva would still have packed in the crowds.
But after the first three days of the series at Lord's, when they tied England into knots, they have not lived up to their reputation. If Murali had been there to bowl at Lord's, the chances of England's batsmen saving the match would have been remote. If Sri Lanka had left Lord's one up, the confidence they would have gained would almost certainly have changed everything.
Victory then would have lifted the spirits and helped their captain, Jayasuriya, who has been lamentably short of runs, which has a debilitating effect on any side – think of England when Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton went through lean patches.
Jayasuriya's batting has been so important to Sri Lanka historically, for he has scored his runs at such a pace at the start of the innings and thereby given bowling sides a big punch in the solar plexus immediately after the first bell from which they have often not recovered. His lack of runs in this series has therefore been a double blow, and now he has been forced to suffer the indignity of dropping himself down the order to number six.
The result of this is that Jayasuriya may have a job to hold on to the captaincy unless his side win the triangular one-day tournament. Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are strong candidates for the succession, although it would be asking an awful lot of Sangakkara, who is only 24 and has also to keep wicket. Russel Arnold has been mentioned as well as a possible successor.
As often happens with touring sides who are down on their luck, discontent has taken hold, and this has not been helped by the management. This party has been presided over by the over-officious Chandra Schaffter, who has a mercurial temperament, a modest cricketing background, is over 70 and treats his charges like schoolchildren. Nothing is calculated to disrupt a dressing room faster. It was therefore not a shock when he was dismissed yesterday.
With all this going on, it is hardly surprising that the Sri Lankans are not at the moment doing themselves justice, and the sad follow- through is that they have found themselves playing to houses which are often less than half-full. Even the Australians at their best would not have deflected the attention from Beckham and Co, but perhaps they would have prompted cricket's faithful to make a stronger point against the constant encroachment of football upon the cricket season.
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