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Building the Blocks in the Wall
16 Mar 2006
By: George Roberts


Having thrown the bulk of their resources into a futile effort to wrestle the VB Series off the Australians, a fatigued Sri Lanka side shed their crack but exhausted troops for the tour of Bangladesh, enlisting several fresh recruits. Predictable, if not decisive, victories followed, and the newcomers were blooded. Meanwhile the home team showed notable signs of improved application and professionalism, with only a few, if costly, impulsive mistakes condemning them to what appear to be two heavy losses.

In Kazi Shahadat Hossain they have found a devastating, aggressive fast bowler, capable of extracted real pace from docile Bangladeshi pitches. In both Tests he caused several batsmen trouble, and provided a ruthless, clinical tail-end destroyer.

The very fact that the opposition tail is now being exposed show just how greatly Bangladesh have come on recently, even in the last twelve months. In both Tests in England last May they took just six wickets, barely gaining access to the middle-order, let alone the rabbits at the base of the scorecard. Now with Mashrafe Mortaza, who was absent throughout the series with injury, and Shahadat they have a potent pace attack ? with enough pace to match both of their Asian rivals, Sri Lanka and India. Syed Rasel, whilst not as explosive as Shahadat, or as effective, did however play a steady, reliable support role, and should also be useful on greener pitches overseas.

With one young star confirming his potential, another finally began to fulfil it. Since Mohammad Ashraful's debut century against Sri Lanka in 2001, his trademark innings of audacity and youthful innocence had blended into a succession of miserable failures. Even after his heroics in the 2005 NatWest Series, Ashraful had been unable to recapture his magical form until several months after, enduring a miserable domestic season. But against Sri Lanka he flourished, and the boundaries gushed off his favourite adversary, Muttiah Muralitharan. For one glorious moment in Chittagong, Ashraful appeared to have compounded his talent into the possibility of a Bangladeshi win.

However the careless mistakes and inappropriate shots of yesteryear cost them dearly. In the second innings of both Tests the home batsmen were steamrollered mercilessly by Muralitharan, the Sri Lankans stung into action following a sizeable Bangladesh score in the first innings. Nafees Iqbal, although undoubtedly talented, must curb his aggression and pre-meditated shots - no decent Test opener cautiously builds an innings before throwing away his good work with a wild slog-sweep.

Sri Lanka arrived with few players boasting substantial international experience, but were nonetheless expected too crush the Tigers, and that they did. Despite never scaling the run-scoring peaks associated with Bangladesh, runs flowed from several batsmen. Upul Tharanga, a rapidly improving opener, struck 297 runs in the series; more than double that of his nearest colleague, and in all five batsmen struck fifties. With the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu fading into the background, Sri Lanka must continue to press for the future, whilst accommodating the aging, yet still powerful, dinosaurs.

And here lies the most fundamental problem: why change when the veterans are still consistently churning out the runs and wickets? Muralitharan can still bowl 30 overs in a day and effortlessly grab a five-for, so despite his age, how can BCCSL justify not selecting him? In Malinga Bandara, an ever-confident legspinner, they have a suitable, if not perfect, replacement. Bandara must continue to play for Sri Lanka: even abroad, even on green or placid wickets. He must gain vital experience and bowl alongside Muralitharan, in order to be still in the frame as the prime Sri Lankan spinner when the master craftsman retires. The tour of Bangladesh has given many young prospects a glimpse at future success. It is not Atapattu, nor Jayasuriya, nor Muralitharan who will lead Sri Lanka to another world title in 2011. Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Dilshan, Tharanga, Bandara must stand up, and force the aching heroes from the fore: the world is their battlefield now.

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