Sri Lanka's surprising WTC run

They didn't make the final, but being in the conversation was a huge win.

I need to start by saying I made a mistake recently. In fact, I think I did it a few times. I kept saying that Sri Lanka had an easy run in the World Test championship this year.

I don’t know how I got it confused. But I know why the details weren’t massively in my head, because Sri Lanka as a Test team haven’t been relevant. To cover all the teams, you generally have to look at someone doing something noteworthy. Teams slipping and sliding, or being good, goofy or even just interesting. But I think post Dickwella being suspended for life and then playing eight minutes later, I just kinda turned the lights out on Sri Lanka and the red ball.

But a commenter let me know that actually despite me spending weeks coming up with my World Test Championship, not only was I wrong when I said Sri Lanka had an easy run, it was exactly the opposite.

Here is what I said about them:

Sri Lanka has the second-hardest draw, and they don’t have a great batting or bowling lineup right now. Maybe not even a competent one in either. That isn’t going to help when they go up against the first, second, third and fifth-ranked teams. Hard to see them doing well at all.

I had them as fighting to not finish last, so to go from that, to a chance of making the finals and even in their second last game almost stealing a game from the defending champions away is a pretty big deal.

When you look at their place on the final table, it doesn’t look as pretty. But it was a weird cycle. New Zealand fell apart, Pakistan never started, and England changed everything too late. And so it is South Africa who is third on the table despite not making a run. They also could have done better when you consider Dean Elgar made a terrible decision at the toss that cost them a win against England.

And it was Sri Lanka and South Africa kind of fighting for the highest non-finals shot before Sri Lanka lost the close one against New Zealand, and then got smacked around in the second match.

But coming into this last Test, it is worth looking at all the stats of the two teams.

Because how they went about it was very different. South Africa were the second-best bowling team in the world, just behind India. They found wickets very easy to get. Sri Lanka were more middle of the road.

And when you look at individuals it’s even more obvious. Rabada took the second most wickets at a tick over 20. Their second-best was Jansen who had a similar average and took a lot of wickets as well. Not a single Sri Lankan bowler took over 40 wickets. Ramesh Mendis almost got there at a sub-30 average. And Prabath Jayasuriya took his victims very cheaply, but not many. Their bowling was shared around far more.

So when you look at the two teams when it comes to batting, South Africa goes up front to down back. I think we all get that, but Sri Lanka did not change that much. They stayed pretty much where they were.

When you dig down you see that they have the player with the highest batting average, Dinesh Chandimal. But they have three players on this list until you get to the one decent-scoring South African, Temba Bavuma. It’s a weird world when Dhanajaya de Silva averages more than Dean Elgar.

However, the truth is that Sri Lanka’s batting is more or less the same as last time. What changed was that their bowlers all chipped in. They really struggled in the last sucks to take any wickets.

Now, I made all this before New Zealand made 500 against them of course. But by that point, they were out of the picture anyone. And it doesn’t really change the pattern.

This is all the Sri Lankan bowlers in the first 11 matches of the WTC cycle, and you can see that outside Vishwa Fernando’s bad few games, everyone did ok. In fact, for the first 11 games of this cycle, he was the only bowler with a massively plus 40 bowling average, when in the period before that was their team mark. That is a remarkable turnaround. And to do it without a frontline star, but really more just a bunch of different kinds of bowlers chipping in.

Not one bowler played every match, in fact, DDS was the only guy to play in almost all the matches, and he’s really a fifth option, and yet he still managed to keep his average to around 40. This is a huge turnaround, but I can make it more fun.

Away from home, the Sri Lankan seamers have done well, taking most of the wickets and holding in with an average of 36. Which is high for this era, but not too bad overall. Especially as they don’t get much practice at home.

And at home, well they have seven wickets in this WTC cycle. Compared to their spinners taking 97. Yes, this is ridiculous. So what Sri Lanka have done really is make sure their seam doesn’t let them down as much as before, when they allow to bowl it. But their ability to find so many spinners through losses of form and injury has been incredible.

And if you go through their records, there are some impressive wins in here. They beat West Indies back to back, didn’t lose a Test in Bangladesh, but most importantly drew series against Australia and Pakistan. In my original notes, I had the West Indies wins marked in, but I had them losing a Test in Bangladesh (perhaps even two) and losing to Pakistan and Australia. You can see that outside of India humping them, they have been pretty good in every series they have played. This is why many of us thought they could steal a Test in New Zealand. Which they almost did.

They are still not the complete package, but coming into this last Test, this was their average per wicket. The two finalists - and clearly the best sides - are way out in front. But Sri Lanka was third, with slightly positive runs per wicket. Obviously, New Zealand changed that. But it shows either way that Sri Lanka were very much in the conversation.

Last cycle they weren’t even invited to the party.

Now I started off by saying how wrong I was. Let me finish with that as well. So far I have picked three of the four finalists. And soon I will be trying to work out the next WTC finalists. India was always a fairly safe bet, so I don’t give myself much credit for this. Pakistan losing a Test to Sri Lanka and West Indies early on ruined their chances. But it was really their disastrous home schedule against Australia, England and New Zealand that ruined everything. They couldn’t even steal a pity win. But the biggest error I made was at the other end, I had Sri Lanka dead last.

Ofcourse, they earned that, by coming second last in the previous edition. To go from that to a chance of the final is quite the turnaround. And unlike what often happens in WTC, this wasn’t about their schedule. They had a tough run, and they stood up.

They may not have made the final, but they were good, and it wasn’t a mistake.