The Kusal Perera’s epic is a ray of hope for Sri Lanka

Kusal Perera’s heroics should inspire and help to script a turnaround in Sri Lankan cricket……

Neither it was Virat Kohli nor Joe Root nor was it Kane Williamson at Durban, but someone named Kusal Perera script a Brian-Lara-like-epic against a ferocious bowling attack which included Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier and Vernon Philander. When the ninth wicket fell at 226, yet another defeat awaited for Sri Lanka, who last won a Test almost six months back against the same opposition at home. But since then, nothing has gone right for Sri Lanka.

When Perera glided Rabada towards third man for a boundary, he was not out on 153 – coincidentally it was the same score, which Lara notched up on that eventful afternoon twenty years against Australia. Like that third Test at Bridgetown Barbados, Perera’s knock was a one-man-show in a nerve-shredding run chase. He had to accumulate enormous self-belief within himself and exhibit courage when Sri Lanka still needed 78 more runs with just one wicket in hand.

 In Vishwa Fernando, he found a great partner, who could just provide Perera the ideal support to steer the ship home. Fernando left, at times, showed guts to play-and-defend some of the scorching deliveries from Steyn and Rabada and ducked against the short-pitched stuffs, which possessed enough venom to put chills down the spine of even the best batsmen. But courage and determination have a different value. It helps to travel through black waters under the toughest circumstances.

With Perera batting with so much confidence and bravery, obviously, Fernando would not let his partner down by committing something silly. Fernando dished out a defiant resistance and in my opinion, that six not out would remain one of the finest supportive-innings in the history of Test cricket.

Meanwhile, Steyn and Rabada’s speed started to increase speed. Rabada at times clocked around 150 kmph and Steyn 140 kmph. Both of them increased the heat, but the Gods of cricket did not want a tragic hero to born in Durban. The day had to belong to a hero and the hero of the day was Perera, whose career was jeopardized by injuries and inconsistencies.

Perera’s and his 153 – a score, which was scored by Billy Murdoch at the Oval in 1880, Lara at Barbados in 1999, Allan Border at Lahore in 1982-83, Neil Harvey in his debut Test in 1948 at Melbourne, Mark Waugh in 1998 at Bengaluru – his first Test ton in India, Sachin Tendulkar at Adelaide in 2008, Cheteshwar Pujara at Johannesburg in 2013 and Graham Gooch in 1981 against West Indies at Kingston.  So far, there have been 32 instances of a batsman making 153 in a Test innings. Well, it seems, this 153 is meant to be associated with great batsmen and great knocks or also may help to change the fortunes of a cricket team.

For the last six or seven months, Sri Lankan cricket has gone through terrible times. While the on-field performances remained frustrating, off the field, it was chaotic as well. Allegations of corruption, strained-relationship with the head coach and officials, the musical chair regarding captaincy, indiscipline among the players and pathetic defeats in each match overshadowed the glorious past of Sri Lankan cricket.

The whole team had been suffering from a lack of self-belief and confidence. It needed someone to step up and instill that lost confidence and boost morale. Through Perera’s match-winning knock, Sri Lanka have found a way to script a turnaround.

Even Sri Lanka’s history suggests, such heroics have always proved to be instrumental in shaping up Sri Lankan cricket.

In the second Test at Faisalabad against Pakistan in 1995, Hashan Tillakaratne notched up 115 runs and lifted Sri Lanka up from 33 for 4 in first innings and in the second Aravinda de Silva scored 105 to help Sri Lanka take a healthy lead, who were trailing by 118 runs. Pakistan failed to chase 252 runs and Sri Lanka won a Test in Pakistan for the first time and ultimately went on to win the series. It heralded a new era in Sri Lankan cricket, who became World Champions next year.  

In 2006, Sri Lankan cricket were experiencing a lean-patch early on. During England tour, the going was tough and Mahela Jayawardene stepped up to script a fighting hundred at Lord’s, which boosted the Lankan morale, who left the English shores after levelling the Test series and winning the 5-match One-day International (ODI) series in style.  Sri Lanka would experience an absolute purple patch in the next couple of years.

Seven years ago in Durban, A Thilan Samaraweera and Kumar Sangakkara hundred would inspire the Lankans to win a Test in South Africa for the first time. Mind you, after the World Cup 2011, Sri Lankan cricket was experiencing a similar sort of ugly lean-patch under Tillakaratne Dilshan. Each match was a bad experience and it seemed, Sri Lanka have lost their way in the post-Murali-and-Vaas era. They lost the first Test in Centurion badly, but bounced back in second and fought hard in the third.

The whole team landed home with their heads high and in the next couple of years, Sri Lanka would experience a fantastic phase.

Such brilliant phases after a brief lean-patch have always started through gutsy knocks under pressure since 1995 and Perera’s 153 can inspire to commence yet another turnaround.

Cricket can’t afford to witness Sri Lankan cricket team in such bad shape.       

Note: This article has been published at Cricketsoccer on 18/02/2019 The Kusal Perera’s epic is a ray of hope for Sri Lanka

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Faisal Caesar 

Bangladesh missed Rubel Hossain

It is not understandable why someone like Rubel Hossain was not included in first two ODIs….

 There was nothing new and exciting in Christchurch, but it was the repeat of Napier. Martin Guptill smashed a ton, Bangladesh batting struggled and that man Mohammad Mithun stepped up to give the visitors some sort of respectability,  who were reeling at 93 for 5 and this time around, Mithun had Sabbir Rahman by his side to do the repair work. At least Sabbir’s 43 would shut the mouth of his critics for a while. And, as usual, Bangladesh bowling remained below-par.

The difference has been, New Zealand chased the target quicker than Napier without breaking enough sweat.

Bangladesh bowlers were so easy to play.

Still, they seemed to be hungover by the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).

How could such a substandard Twenty20 League be the ideal platform for the preparation of New Zealand tour I fail to understand! Even the head coach and captain endorsed the same thought, but still, why was it necessary to arrange such a pathetic tournament each and every year, which gives Bangladesh cricket nothing, but a flurry of substandard cricket, flawed television coverage, comical local hosts and commentators.     

Bangladesh batting and bowling have been badly affected by BPL, but the trend of modern day expert is, they don’t wish to speak about the bad-effects of Twenty20 Leagues despite realizing its adverse effects.  Cash is so powerful; it can shut anyone’s mouth, except few. And those who speak don’t receive importance from others and their words fell in deaf ears. But one should not stop, but continue speaking about hard-hitting facts.

The Bangladesh skipper, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza yet again emphasized on improving the batting of Tigers, but I always failed to understand, why he skips the bowling sector, which has failed to back the fighting efforts of batters. Again, it was not understandable why such a slowish bowler like Mohammad Saifuddin share the new ball with Mashrafe! Is Saifuddin part of any so-called quota system in Bangladesh cricket? His lollypop-bowling can be suitable in BPL, but surely not in Napier and Christchurch.

Going by the logic of Mashrafe, if Bangladesh batsmen posted something around 270-300-plus runs, they might have given Kiwis a run for their money, but Mashrafe forgot, with such a toothless bowling attack, even a total of 400 runs is not secured enough.

Where is Rubel Hossain?

Why Rubel Hossain is not given the preference ahead of Saifuddin?

It is not known whether Rubel is unfit or not, but if he is picked in the squad then surely he is there because of being fit and ready to bowl.

At Napier and Christchurch, Bangladesh missed the pace and agility of Rubel. Rubel is a skiddy customer and on any tracks, he can prove handy. He pitches the ball on an attacking length and with the old ball he has the ability to dish out the contrast swing and bang on the Yorkers straight into the blockhole. In the 50-over format, Rubel has delivered Bangladesh the goods whenever it was needed.

Meanwhile, against New Zealand, Rubel’s record is very impressive. In the 50-over formats, Rubel has bagged 21 wickets at an average and strike rate of 26.14 and 30.24 respectively. His best bowling figures of 6 for 26 and his only hat-trick in ODIs are also against the same opponent.

How could ignore such a bowler who not only has the experience, but possesses a very good record against New Zealand?

In New Zealand, any visiting teams from subcontinent would require pace and skill to strike gold in Test and ODIs. If anyone wishes to fetch wickets by relying on spinners then he must be as high-class Shane Warne and the masters of modern day cricket: Yuzuvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.  Bangladesh do have a class act like Shakib Al Hasan, but unfortunately, he is absent due to injuries and for which, Rubel factor was much needed to give decisive breakthroughs and pile up the pressure.

Sadly, Bangladesh think tank thought otherwise. They decided to stick to Saifuddin.

Obviously, everyone deserves another chance to prove his worth, but one has to be stupid of high pedigree to ignore someone like Rubel.  

Note: This article has been published at Cricketsoccer on 16/02/2018 Bangladesh missed Rubel Hossain

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Faisal Caesar 

Bangladesh bowling needs to improve

Mohammad Mithun led the fight with bat to help Bangladesh earn respectability, but the bowlers failed to back Mithun’s brilliant knock…….

“It was tough. We were struggling with the bat, lost too many wickets at the start. They bowled well but we lost too many. There are no excuses. We need a week to adjust to the conditions, but I don't want to make any excuses. We will give our best in the next game. I think batting is a concern, but at the same time the bowling also needs some work. We did not bowl badly today but 232 is hard to defend”

That’s what Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, the Bangladesh captain uttered after end of first one-day international (ODI) match at McLean Park, Napier. He emphasized on the importance of an improved batting, but he forgot one more important thing to emphasize and which was the toothless bowling of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s story in New Zealand, be it in an ODI or Test, has never been chummy. Since Bangladesh and New Zealand started to tour each other way back in 2001-02 seasons, it had been the Kiwis who had the last laugh at their own backyard. Until that tour in 2017, Bangladesh hardly had any sweet memories to relish in New Zealand. And for which, a tour to New Zealand has always remained one of the least expected ones for Bangladesh fans.

But in 2017, Bangladesh showed the character to fight despite losing the Test and ODI series and Bangladesh’s recent improvement in both formats of game has instilled a positive expectation in the hearts of Bangladesh critics and fans. Especially in limited-overs format, Bangladesh have a very balanced unit, who can deliver the best even under trying circumstances.

On this tour, they may not have the services of the best all-rounder in the world in ODIs, but obviously, in recent past Bangladesh have proved, even without the presence of the dynamic Shakib Al Hasan; they can survive the scare of best oppositions in world cricket. And thus, the Shakib-factor may not have loomed large in the minds of Bangla boys when they faced the Kiwis on a sun-kissed day at Napier.    

But like the past, Bangladesh made a shaky start after deciding to bat first.

The ball swung. The ball came to the batsmen at pace and the ball bounced.

Bangladesh’s top-order melted in no time as six wickets fell for 94 runs.

The successes in the last couple of years have helped to develop a fighting spirit within the boys and the boys understand how to read the situation and play accordingly when they come under pressure. The perfect example is Mohammad Mithun, who stepped up yet again under pressure to stabilize the tattered innings of Bangladesh. He motored the innings beautifully with Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Mohammad Saifuddin to drag Bangladesh out of the mud.

The total of Bangladesh was competitive in my opinion, but to back that total, they did not bowl the way they should have – the bowling of Bangladesh lacked the cutting edge.

I failed to understand why Saifuddin was preferred over Mustafizur Rahman to share the new ball. Mustafiz is a complete package both with the old and new ball. He can be a handy customer when the matter is about giving breakthroughs with the new ball. But astonishingly, Saifuddin was preferred.

Saifuddin might be regarded as an all-rounder in Bangladesh, but in comparison to batting, his bowling is too mediocre. You can’t expect a slow medium-pacer to rise and shine in New Zealand. His match figures of 43 runs from 7 overs at an economy rate of 6.14 indicate how he released the pressure from another end when Mashrafe was trying to create the same with tighter lines.

With due respect to Saifuddin’s abilities, someone like Rubel Hossain could have given Bangladesh the much needed value at Napier. Rubel is such a skiddy customer, who has added a lot of dynamism in Bangladesh bowling attack on many occasions. Most importantly, Rubel’s pace and Yorkers can never be ignored.

Miraz, Mahmudullah Riyad and Sabbir Rahman tried to fill the gap of Shakib, but leaked five runs an over.

New Zealand coasted home safely without any pressure.

Again, in my opinion, the Bangladesh bowling attack was found to be hungover by Bangladesh Premier League.

How can you dismiss the batsmen with a Twenty20 line-and-length?  

The length of Bangladesh bowlers was much more on the half-volley and shorter side, while the line erred consistently. It’s hard to expect breakthroughs if the line-and-length consistently remains undisciplined and bowling lacks variety in flight.

Overall, the Bangladesh bowling needs a huge improvement alongside batting and it would be better if Bangladesh seek for the right combination ahead of second ODI.

Note: This article has been published at Cricketsoccer on 13/02/2019 Bangladesh bowling needs to improve

Thank You
Faisal Caesar 

Mark ‘Express’ Wood rocks West Indies

Mark Wood’s spell on second day led to a sensational West Indian batting collapse and might have revived Wood’s Test career……

One of the most exciting things for me to follow, during the Ashes 2015 in England, was an English bowler named Mark Wood. Neither did he give the impression of something special nor did he fit the prototype of a modern English pacer. But his deceptive pace, which clocked around 85 mph on average, caught my attention. He used to deliver from wide of the crease and brought the ball back-in-to the batters at pace. The Australian batters were pressurized by the Wood gave away wickets to big guns.

But after that eventful Ashes campaign, Wood would be an inconsistent campaigner. Lean-patches and injuries would create hurdles in his career. He did get his opportunities to cash in, but sadly, that deceptive pace was not evident. For every team, pace bowlers are an asset. Apart from skill and experience, the value of a pacer gives a team the extra-value. A genuinely quick bowler can not only trigger the fear-factor in the minds of a batting unit, but also can script a collapse from nowhere.  Keeping this in mind, England looked forward to Wood since that Ashes campaign, but he failed to unleash the magic.   

England lacked temperament and an x-factor in the bowling unit throughout the Test series in West Indies. While the hosts peppered the visitors with speed and barrage of short-pitch bowling, the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad or Ben Stokes; just could not deliver the balls at pace – well too much to expect from the old warhorses, though!

England decided to give Wood yet another opportunity. Even his best of fans would not expect anything special from Wood, but would invest faith in the experienced campaigners for the goods.

Shannon Gabriel bowled fast, really fast in the morning session. The ball reached towards the English batsmen like cannonballs. Immediately, it resulted in a collapse – England lost their last six wickets for 46 runs. On this track at Saint Lucia, 277 is still a very competitive total. Even though the kind of start West Indies openers gave to their team, it seemed, England might have to grind under the hot sun yet again.

John Campbell shunned the idea of defensive display and started to play his shots. There were some crispy strokes, but it increased the chances of playing false strokes. Kraigg Brathwaite dropped the anchor as usual, but Campbell’s fluency was contagious – it prompted Brathwaite to attempt a un-Brathwaite stroke against the run of play. He decided to smack Moeen Ali by attempting a Twenty20-shot, which went high up in the air as James Anderson grabbed the catch in the deep.    

Then it was time for restless Campbell to depart, who was not sure how to play an Ali-delivery, which pitched full in-and-around leg stump and was trapped lbw.

The kind of discipline West Indies displayed throughout the series was absent. Perhaps, a bit of over-confidence overshadowed the solid temperament shown at Barbados and Antigua.

A devastating spell to relish

Wood started to bowl.

The run-up was smooth but not thrilling to watch. The jump at the popping crease before delivering the ball did not attract anyone, but as soon as he delivered the ball, he commanded each and everyone’s attention.  Each and every delivery had a touch of hostility as they were delivered with pace – pace, the much needed pace, which England missed in West Indies.

According to Cricviz, “Wood took two wickets in his first over, did not concede a run until his 13th ball and didn’t drop below 140kph until his 34th. This was the Mark Wood that people were calling for when they talked of England’s lack of pace during the Ashes; quick, hostile and taking wickets”.

The deliveries to dismiss Shai Hope and Roston Chase clocked around 94.6 mph, while Darren Bravo’s guts were melted by with balls, which thudded into his body and prompted him to play a meek-shot. The dangerous Shimron Hetmyer was undone by a lifter and then, Alzarri Joseph and Gabriel got the taste of their own medicine.

Wood, who replaced Olly Stone, grabbed five wickets for 41 runs in his 8.2-over spell. It was his maiden 5-wicket haul in his 13th Test.

In Antigua Wood said, “I would never give up hope of playing Test cricket. Growing up it’s the pinnacle”. Certainly, he never gave up. Despite back and ankle problems, he kept on working hard and waited for the ultimate opportunity to prove his worth again. And also, in life, you need a slice of luck. Had Stone not been injured, Wood might have to warm the bench at Saint Lucia as well.  

“There have been some horrible dark days with injury and things, with confidence and self-belief. I thought in my mind I was an England player but I hadn’t shown it. But today I feel like I have. The feeling of five was brilliant. The lads knew what it meant to me and I was emotional in the dressing room. It was a relief and I am so happy”, Wood said after the match.

 The tour to UAE with the England Lions really helped Wood to rediscover his potential as a menacing fast bowler, who would come on and bowl in short but hostile spells. Obviously, Trevor Bayliss had to step up and make one of his students to realise his true potentials.

“Trevor challenged me to go and show I was a step above the lads in the Lions and really set the bar high. In most the games I feel I did that and proved I was an international class bowler," Wood said.

“I felt I was actually here on merit. I felt because I'd done well there [in UAE] it merited my spot being here and this time I wasn't picked on potential, I deserved it”.

Hard work pays off and Wood is just another example, but to prolong the duration of your success one needs to understand the mantra of achieving consistency. Wood needs to be consistent to secure his place in England’s Test team. Otherwise, the accolades would disappear quickly like the morning mist.

Note: This article has been published at Cricketsoccer on 11/02/2019 Mark ‘Express’ Wood rocks West Indies

Thank You
Faisal Caesar 

England show resolve, at last

Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler rescue England on Day 1……

I always wish that a West Indies return to glory days will take place at Sabina Park at Jamaica, one of the most historic and famous stadiums in cricket history. It had been the venue where West Indies lost their throne to Australia. No Kingdom lasts forever. No ruler rules for eternity. The dominance of West Indies had to come to an end. For the fans, it was unexpected as they were not habituated to it. But it happened at Sabina Park in 1995 and since then, I firmly believed, Sabina Park should be the ideal place for the revival of Caribbean cricket.

But Saint Lucia has earned the honours of hosting Test matches these days at a regular interval. Historically, this venue does not have an enriched Test history like Sabina Park. Nor do they have iconic players like other islands of West Indies. They do have someone named Darren Sammy, but he is just a famous showman in shorter-format of the game.  On July 21, 2016, Saint Lucia Cricket Stadium was renamed as the Darren Sammy Cricket Ground after Darren Sammy helped West Indies to lift the World Twenty20 in 2016.

I could not understand how a Test venue could hold the name of a cricketer, who is not much interested to feature in Test cricket. In fact, he is not a quality Test cricketer. Nevertheless, Saint Lucia is a very beautiful stadium. One can enjoy the best of facilities in this stadium, which was built in 2002. And, it is the venue for the third Test between West Indies and England as well. The West Indies would lift the Wisden Trophy on this venue and not Jamaica as already, they have sealed the series by 2-0.

Also read: Why England batsmen should adopt composure rather than aggression in St. Lucia

But this Test is supposed to be a test of character for England batsmen. Since the first Test commenced at Bridge Town Barbados, the adventurous batting of England came under serious criticisms. On testing tracks, neither attack not counterattack would bore enough fruits until and unless, you show enough resolve. The kind of bowling England faced in previous two Test matches; it required the highest quality of technique and temperament, which England lacked.

England included Keaton Jennings instead of Ben Foakes, the man who had a very impressive start to his Test career and seems to have a very good technique. But Jennings was favoured, which was baffling. Jennings wanted to make his opportunity count. His intention to occupy the crease was never solid, but shaky. Finally his painful stay came to an end – a loose drive against Keemo Paul, the replacement of Jason Holder, cut short Jennings’ 43-ball 8 runs. How long England will persist with Jennings remains a moot question!

As time progressed, 30 for 1 became 69 for 3 and then 107 for 4. Joe Root was Alzarri Jaoseph’s bunny again while the rest of top order failed to convert their starts into big ones. In fact, the kind of attacking line-and-length Paul, Shannon Gabriel, Joseph and Roach were bowling, the English top order batters did not have the right approach to counter such.

Thankfully, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler – two of the most attacking batsmen in world cricket these days, decided to curb their natural stroke-making-intent and drop down the anchor. And it paid off.

They scripted the longest and most important partnership of this tour on Day 1. A defiant 124-run stand for fifth wicket arrested a collapse. Even though their innings was not chanceless – Buttler dropped at 0 and Stokes walked towards the dressing room before being recalled after Joseph was seen to have overstepped – but their resolve sucked the energy out of West Indies bowling.

According to Cricviz, “Buttler judged the West Indies bowlers’ lengths exceptionally, opting to not attack a single ball pitching between 6.7, and 8.5m – the in-between length that has caused England batsmen so many problems in the series up to now. Stokes had an even bigger zone of reticence, not attacking anything between 5.7m and 8.8m”.

Later on the day, while speaking to media, Stokes said, “I actually looked at some footage of me at Lord's (vs New Zealand in 2015) this morning. I've been thinking about going back to that technique: straightening my feet up and batting with an off stump guard. I've been working with Mark Ramprakash [the batting coach] on it for the last couple of days”.

“I was just trying to find some levelness: not being too aggressive, but not being too defensive. I thought I had been a bit stuck over the last couple of months. Watching myself at Lord's did me the world of good”.

England finally realized the importance of exhibiting resolve and composure according to demand of situation and England fans would expect a similar sort of approach on Day 2 as well. 

Note: This article has been published at Cricketsoccer on 10/02/2019 England show resolve, at last

Thank You
Faisal Caesar