Sri Lanka: No Country for Fast Men

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Where does India clearly hold the upper hand against Sri Lanka in Test cricket?

Yes, that was a trick question. The answer is fast-bowling.

You may wonder, you may laugh and you may sneer at me but there is no denying India currently has greater depth in her fast-bowling stocks than us.

India is not a traditional fast-bowling nation unlike her neighbour, Pakistan. In fact India have one of the worst fast bowling attacks in the world. Their fast bowlers, military medium at best, have been the source of ridicule for many experts, both proper and armchair alike.

However, our fast bowling is even worse than India.

Forget Malinga. He is a genuine strike bowler and he would have made our test bowling more potent but he retired and is not available for selection in the longest form of the game anymore. There is no point talking about him.

So who are we left with?

Shaminda Eranga, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Chanaka Welagedara, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dhammika Prasad and Thisara Perera.

Of the above pace bowlers who do you think could pick up 3-4 wickets per test (2 wickets per innings), let alone run through whole sides.


Only Chanaka Welagedara has taken a 5-fer. And that too only twice.

Kulasekara’s average is the best and it is a not-very-impressive 35.

Sri Lanka’s fast bowling severely lags behind other nations and I have stats to prove it. I have decided to leave out results before the 1996 World Cup because we only became a force after winning the world cup.

The overall bowling figures for pace bowlers in Test cricket grouped by team in home, away and neutral matches

In terms of bowling average (38.29) we are ranked 9th out of the ten test teams. Considering Bangladesh only started playing tests in 2000 we are, in a way, the worst. Even Zimbabwe is ranked higher than us. In terms of wickets taken we are the 8th out of 10 teams*. Ditto fast bowling strike rate.

*Wickets taken depends on the number of matches played and therefore cannot be used as a reliable indicator.

If we now break down the stats for home and away matches:

Bowling figures for pace bowlers in Test Cricket at home venues

A slight improvement in the rankings (7th) which goes to show our fast bowling is a bit more potent at home. However, an average of 33.43 with the top teams barring India enjoying a healthy lead against us is nothing to bleat home about (excuse the pun). India are worse than Zimbabwe but the difference is only marginal.

In terms of wickets taken and strike rate we are the 6th. Wickets taken do not count for much (see above) but our strike rate is better than India and West Indies which is something I am pleased about.

Bowling figures for pace bowlers in Test Cricket at away and neutral venues

Now comes my (and presumably many Lankan fans’) bugbear – our fast bowling abroad. Prepare yourself to shudder at what’s coming up next.

We are ranked 9th in terms of average (43.58). Even Zimbabwe enjoys a healthy lead against us. India are comfortably in 5th place. So much so for India’s fast bowlers performing poorly abroad. They are actually better than New Zealand and West Indies. Remember, the time period I have chosen includes the playing careers of Ambrose and Walsh. It goes to show how much the Windies are in decline but that’s beside the point.

We are ranked 8th in terms of wickets taken and strike rate. Only Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are below us. Zimbabwe may well have beaten us provided they did not go through a period of self-isolation and their subsequent dearth of test cricket.

So there you are, a brief article on the strength of (or lack of?) our fast-bowling unit both at home and away.

Our fast bowlers are OK at home but still not good enough to win us matches. Our spinners win matches for us at home and our fast men provide a decent supporting role. Our fast-bowlers are a middling lot here and considering the tough conditions it is commendable.

It’s a totally different story abroad. Our fast-bowlers are reduced to nothing more than glorified bowling machines. We still expect our spinners to win us matches in conditions often tailor made for fast men. Our fast bowlers only bowl until the opposition is bundled out by our spinners (less likely) or until the opposition declare after having feasted on us (more likely). Only the fast bowling attack of Bangladesh is ranked lower.

The same story can be said of our fast bowling overall. Stats do not lie and it can be clearly seen only Bangladesh has a fast bowling unit less potent than us.

It is generally thought that bowlers, especially fast bowlers, win you test matches. Without them any team would struggle to hold their own in any form of cricket.

In addition to the wicket taking ability of fast bowlers there is the added effect of their presence on team morale. A team with a battery of good fast bowlers has a positive outcome on its batsmen and raises the team’s energy during fielding.

So what does our cricket team's future look like? Very bleak I suppose. Our continued over-reliance on spinners looks likely to continue and there are no fast bowling gems waiting to be unearthed.

There is a lack of fast bowling talent coming through schools and the only medium pacers plying their trade in club cricket are past their sell by date or they are batsmen who can simply bowl a bit.

SLC are not helping matters either by encouraging tracks that take spin from day one.

There are no fast bowling academies or a fast bowling coach or a pool of budding fast bowlers waiting eagerly to be unleashed on batsmen.

There is no incentive to be a Sri Lankan fast bowler when conditions are tailor made for spinners. Fast bowlers have to work hard and are at high risk of injury.

It makes sense why no one wants to be the next Chaminda Vaas. You would be all alone without support and its bloody hard work.

Under the circumstances, it looks like our fast bowling, and in turn our overall team results will continue in their downward trajectory. We will never be a strong force in test cricket. A bleak future awaits us unless change is brought about by SLC at grassroot levels soon.


Anonymous's picture

Yes India have better fast bowlers. Our fellows are always injured and cant play at any great length. But not only fast bowling but all aspects are on the decline because of government meddling.

UppercuT's picture
Member since:
19 October 2011
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2 years 5 weeks

@Anonymous, like 30run-an-over Sharma?? :D))))))))))))))))))

Anonymous's picture

Your right about one thing stats do not lie. All of these domestic bowlers statistically are better than the current Sri Lankan fast bowling attack(In first class matches). Who are not even given Sri lankan A matches let alone international cricket. We have a huge problem not selecting young fast bowlers like Kasun Madushanka early. (Example Mohammed Shami(india) in all comparison is exactly like Kasun Madushanka)

Dinesh Daminda
Kasun Madushanka
Saliya Saman
Hasantha Fernando
Chaminda Vidanapathirana
Chaminda Bandara

This honestly is more than enough quality domestic bowlers in my opinion, and there are many other young fast bowlers which are building a solid reputation.

Charith jayampathi
Imran Khan
Nilanka Premaratne
Vimukthi Perera

Onlinepoet2000's picture
Member since:
19 December 2013
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1 year 43 weeks

Anonymous - thanks for your contribution.

You have mentioned enough players to start building a fast bowling pool. They may not be the finished product quite yet but can be developed into decent fast bowlers.

To me, Kasun Madushanka seems the best out of the lot in terms of stats. However, from what I've heard, Charith Jayampathi and Imran Khan are good prospects as well.

We did have several fast bowlers plying their trade in FC cricket in the 90s. But due to a lack of oppurtunities and non-selection we saw them fade away.

The current trend of preparing spinning tracks has discouraged budding kids to become pacemen.

(Last edited by Onlinepoet2000 on December 30, 2013 - 22:56)
Stormy's picture
Member since:
15 January 2011
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3 days 23 hours

Great read and solid facts to support the point. If there was ever any doubt I think this article puts to rest the fact SL have a huge problem with fast bowlers but its nothing new. As pointed out by the writer the wickets in SL are not condusive for the trade at all but neither are they in India. Ok it's no surprise that India are able to unearth the odd Yadav or Shami from the sheer numbers, but the big difference to be me it the quality. If you take Shami, he swings the ball at 140+ and Yadav is (was) consistently over 140, cant remember the last SL fast bowler who matches this.

The glaring question is why does SL continue with the same fast bolwing coach for over 10 years (correct me if I am wrong but isnt Ramanayeke still the coach) claiming he is the best? What has he delivered and defenders will run to Vaas and Malinga. May be but that's a small return for a long time.

The best example SL can draw on is Philander who is, other than for amazing skills, 130+ pie thrower. This guy has no pace or bounce but seam presentation is the key. He has developed this skill over years of bowling on decent wickets. If SL continues to throw up spinning tracks with no specilsed skills to develop the pace bowlers, I am afraid as the writer states, the future is bleak.

Onlinepoet2000's picture
Member since:
19 December 2013
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1 year 43 weeks

@ Stormy - thank you for the wonderful comment. Much appreciated.

I guess with India there are better facilities available. They have the MRF pace academy and whole army of coaches to guide young fast bowlers. We in Sri Lanka lack that infrastructure.

Ramanayake is long gone. Vaas is our current fast bowling coach and, as he has shown over the years, is working hard with our current crop of fast bowlers, leaving aside one man who has grown too big for his boots.

Philander has got a near perfect wrist position and he has immaculate control over his line and length. Apparently, this is enough to take wickets at an astonishing rate at Test level.

Sakala Bujang's picture
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8 April 2011
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27 weeks 3 days

To be fair there are 10+ Indians per Sri Lankan in the world so naturally they will have deeper and better bowling stocks. What has always been our strength is creating gems out of the few bowlers we have, like Murali Vaas Malinga etc.

Kulasekara has not been used that much is tests, and is much more potent as a ODI bowler.

The recent Pakistan test has looked decent for Lakmal and Eranga, and they both bowl at a decent pace; the rest of the series should accurately show Sri Lanka's pace condition.

delan82's picture
Member since:
18 October 2009
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1 hour 48 min

The first place to start in terms of unearthing future pacemen is the wickets. Flat batting tracks will put off people wanting to bowl fast, and those that do will probably have their confidence destroyed early on.
We need pitches that give a fair contest between bat and ball.

The next thing is fitness. They don't need to be gym fit, rather cricket fit. They need to go bowl lots of deliveries in nets and games and build up stamina especially in the longer formats to survive. This may mean limiting amount of T20 cricket so they don't get comfortable with only bowling 4 overs per game!

The next would be is let bowlers use their natural actions and run-ups, provided of course that it is within legal limits in the game. Over coaching will kill off more bowlers.

Overseas stints with youth teams, A teams, or even better a overseas season in places like UK, NZ, Aus, SA will help them better hone their skills. It doesn't necessarily have to be with the top teams/leagues.

Obviously if they have an extra skill ie raw pace, ability to swing the ball etc it will help immensely. I guess if they want to learn how to bowl on our wickets they should look at Pakistani greats Wasim and Waqar, or even our own Vaas. Where the ball is getting roughed up if they can learn the art of reverse swing they can be successful.

I don't think India's current pace attack is all that flash. But the Academy has helped, along with an aggressive attitude.

Onlinepoet2000's picture
Member since:
19 December 2013
Last activity:
1 year 43 weeks

Thanks Sakala Bujang and Delan82 for your comments. I do agree with both of your comments. As the recently concluded Test matches against Pakistan show we have a few talented youngsters and we need to get the best out of them. Of course, change needs to happen at the grassroots as well. The SLC can start by encouraging the clubs to have pitches with something in it for the pacemen.

Onlinepoet2000's picture
Member since:
19 December 2013
Last activity:
1 year 43 weeks

Just a quick note to let you guys know that clicking on the 3 links in the article above will now include stats for Test matches which were played after I wrote my article and, therefore, the values don't correspond anymore. However, the points that I made about our poor fast bowling still stand.

On the flip side, the links that I provided could be used to keep track of our fast bowling.

Admins - can you please make this post a sticky?

(Last edited by Onlinepoet2000 on January 23, 2014 - 13:16)

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