Praises Thirimanne for his commitment, hints at a hard call on Kusal Mendis
The quick turnaround from a South Africa series may have led to the rapid Sri Lanka collapse on day one, which went on to define the Test. This was the reading of coach Mickey Arthur, who said that Sri Lanka’s 135 all out may have been a result of forgetting the batting tempo that is required on local surfaces.
Due to the pandemic, Sri Lanka have not played at home since August 2019. Their recent Tests in South Africa were their first in the format in over 10 months, and having left South Africa on January 8, the team had only about five days in which to prepare for the first Test against England.
Before the series, regular captain Dimuth Karunaratne (who was ruled out of this Test through injury) had said that returning to play in Sri Lanka should not pose major problems to players who have played in such conditions all their lives. But after the Test, Arthur believed Sri Lanka’s batsmen had not quite made the adjustment.
Although Sri Lanka lost both South Africa Tests comfortably, they were never skittled for as low as 135. They did, however, recover in Galle to post 359 in the second innings.
“The first innings was very poor – it was an unacceptable batting performance,” Arthur said. “I’m not one to ever look for excuses, but it was like we were batting at the Wanderers and Centurion in terms of tempo. We hadn’t changed our tempo to bat in the subcontinent – coming back and batting in Sri Lanka, where it’s all about patience, trusting your technique, wearing the opposition down and grinding away.
“We got that in the second innings after we had a long, hard chat after day one, and we spoke about how we’re going to make it better. And the guys responded nicely in the second innings. But it was too late. Even if we get 220 in the first innings, we would have kept ourselves massively in the game. That was disappointing. But we’ve put it right in the second innings.”
Arthur was full of praise for Sri Lanka’s centurion in that second dig – Lahiru Thirimanne, whose 111 helped ensure England would at least have to bat again, where an innings defeat once seemed possible.
It was only Thirimanne’s second ton in 72 innings, however, and he had been severely criticised for his long-term failures. Arthur had some insight as to why Thirimanne continued to be selected in the years between those tons (the first century had come in 2013).
“I’ve heard all the rhetoric that’s gone with Lahiru Thirimanne, but since I’ve worked with him, all I’ve seen is a player that works incredibly hard at his game,” Arthur said. “He’s a player that’s got a really good technique. I don’t know what’s done before.
“I can only talk about what I’ve seen. We took him to South Africa befause we felt as a reserve batsman, he was a player that played fast bowling well. I thought he played the quicks well at the Wanderers. [He got 17 and 31 in that game.]
“We want him to turn those 30s into hundreds, and he came out here and he proved his worth. He’s a very hard-working, likeable team member to see him get a hundred for me was really nice. Just rewards for a lot of effort that he’s put in with his batting.”
Kusal Mendis, meanwhile, may be left out for the second Test, after collecting his fourth consecutive Test duck in the first innings of the first Test, before making just 15 in the second dig.
“I’ll keep reaffirming I think Kusal Mendis is a wonderful player,” Arthur said. “I think Mendis will score a lot of runs in the future, for Sri Lanka. But he’s been under pressure – of course he has. We spoke long and hard about him playing this Test match.
“We thought coming back into local, familiar conditions might trigger it for him. That’s a discussion we’ll have in the next day or two. But he is under pressure. It’s how you come out of that that’s the key. As a leadership group we’ll sit down and make that decision in the next day or two.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf