Losing, like winning, can be a habit, and Sri Lanka paid the price for conservatism with the ball as Deepak Chahar and Bhunveshwar Kumar helped India snatch victory from the jaws of defeat to seal a series win. India looked down and out at 193/7, but Chahar and Bhuvneshwar had other ideas.
Minod Bhanuka showcases his white-ball potential
On Sunday, everything about Minod Bhanuka cried ‘quintessential Test batsman’ - a calm outlook, still head, orthodox and almost-perfect technique, sweet timing and no shots played out of anger. The problem was, though, his strike rate and approach too mirrored that of a Test opener. His first 19 balls yielded just 4 runs, and despite the Indian new-ball bowlers producing pedestrian spells, Bhanuka showed no intent to score, batting as if he was seeing the first hour out. He did pick up pace eventually, with his last 25 balls yielding 23 runs, but you wondered if he was, in a way, not making the most out of the field restrictions.
The Bhanuka that took to the field today, though, seemed unrecognizable. He showed intent as early as his second ball - slapped one straight to cover - and got going off his fifth ball, dispatching a loosener off his pads. There was a marked improvement in his approach, and this was epitomized by the aerial heave he played off Bhuvneshwar in the fifth over. By the end of the 15th ball he faced, Bhanuka had struck as many boundaries as he did during his 44-ball stay in the first ODI. He looked to be ultra-positive against the spinners too, dancing down and whacking Chahal’s second ball over the head of mid-off, while also using his feet off Kuldeep’s first ball.
Ironically it was this ultra-positivity that brought about Bhanuka’s demise, with him chipping an innocuous, loopy full-toss to the hands of short mid-wicket, but by then he’d already shown enough to warrant a good run up the order. Not only was his intent laudable, he also learnt from the mistakes he committed on debut, refusing to let the bowlers tie him down.
Perhaps too much is being read into a regulation knock, but surely Sri Lanka have no option but to cling on to any positive they get from this series?
Sri Lanka fail to utilize Wanindu Hasaranga’s proficiency against spin - again
Wanindu Hasaranga’s surprise - but deserved - promotion to No.5 in the first ODI against England gave one the impression that Sri Lanka had finally learned from their mistakes, but how the management have treated him across these first two ODIs serves as a proof for the fact that they’re still a long way away from getting the best out of him.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement by any means to claim that Hasaranga is the best player of spin in this side. Thus far in ODIs in 2021, the right-hander has scored 111 runs off spinners in just 101 balls, at a strike rate of 109, while being dismissed just twice. Against England, batting higher up the order, he counterpunched the leg-spin of Adil Rashid, while, before that, he handled the finger spinners of Bangladesh with relative ease too, taking 38 off the 32 balls he faced against them while being dismissed just once. Yet so far in this series, across two innings, he’s just faced 5 balls off the slower bowlers. And of those 5, two were dispatched to the boundary.
Given how much the middle-order struggled against the spinners in the first ODI, there was an opportunity today for the Lankans to send Hasaranga up the order and counterattack, not least to give India something new to think about. Particularly when Avishka Fernando perished, a Hasaranga promotion could have helped Sri Lanka re-inject some lost momentum. Yet he walked into bat only in the 36th over, by which time India had already got through 21 overs of spin.
In Hasaranga, Sri Lanka have a genuinely exciting, world-class white-ball talent, but Mickey Arthur & Co. are not tapping into his full potential by holding him back with the bat.
Time to attack Prithvi Shaw with…..spin?
Let’s be honest. When Prithvi Shaw smashed back-to-back-to-back boundaries off Rajitha’s first over, we all expected an encore. We assumed that, like the first ODI, he was going to take the poor Lankan seamers to the cleaners. But then something interesting happened. Shanka went the out-of-the-box route and introduced Hasaranga. Shaw, on his day, can smash spinners to smithereens, but the opener’s rashness against the off-spin of Dhananjay de Silva in the first ODI prompted the move. And the Lankan skipper was duly rewarded for the smart move, as Shaw perished to Hasaranga, attempting to drive a googly that breached the inside edge of his bat.
It is almost certain now that the Lankans would open with spin come the third ODI, but could this be a ploy all teams could potentially adhere to, against Shaw? A quick look at the numbers tell us that Shaw has averaged a mere 19.2 against leg-spinners (8 dismissals) in the IPL, his second-lowest against any bowler type (first being left-arm seamers). Interestingly, his third-lowest average in the IPL has also come against bowlers who turn the ball away, left-arm spinners, with him averaging just 22.0 against SLA. Perhaps the sample size is still small, but it is certainly a gamble teams could try taking.
Opening with spinners is uncommon in ODIs, but it won’t be alien by any means. Famously in the 2019 World Cup, both South Africa and Pakistan opened with leg-spinners against England, and were rewarded for the gamble. Bairstow and Roy - two players of the Shaw mould - fell to Imran Tahir and Shadab Khan respectively, underpinning why pace off the ball might be a viable tactic against those who like to explode up-front.
A new, mini-challenge for Shaw to overcome then.