Sri Lanka Fielders Drag Feet During Declaration Dance

December 29, 2016

Fielders loiter on the boundary prodding the turf with their boots, and, when the ball comes their way, almost fall over in surprise. Bowlers traipse in with a hodgepodge, hedging-your-bets field, no clear plan about where the ball should go, no visible intent, no zip off the pitch, or movement, or bounce and barely a whimper at the misfields, let alone an angry grunt.

The infielders watch balls scorch past, then fail to back up the return throws. Catchers spend hours caressingly shining the ball, then fend it fiercely away when the chance comes.

They've decided there's nothing in the pitch. They want their time in the field to end. Welcome to Sri Lanka's declaration dance.

To even call this a dance may be misleading since dances, in general, betoken some form of energy or fun. This from Sri Lanka had none of the greased joy of a baila gyration, or the high-society snobbery of a waltz. This was like watching one of those tortured sloth bears on an animal rescue ad. Day three moved so slowly it may as well have been in chains.

It was in the second and third sessions that Sri Lanka were effectively waterboarded for five consecutive hours, but even before then, strategic vexations had set in. Angelo Mathews brought himself on as first change in the morning, as he routinely does outside Asia. However, little in his Test-bowling history suggests he can be effective in that role.

See, Mathews is a prolific beater of edges, not a taker of them. In Tests, he is forever the bowler that looks like he could be handy, without ever actually turning out to be handy. It has been 30 overs now since he has last taken a wicket. The wicket before that had been 53 in the making. All up, that's 83 Test overs for a single breakthrough, even if he has been the most miserly bowler in most innings. Only 10 of those overs,came on the dustier tracks at home.

In the evening session, Mathews was seen warming up for another spell when Sri Lanka could have actually used his control to dry up runs, but this time, he was the man who looked like he should be bowling, without ever actually turning out to be bowling. The lunging and stretching turned out just to be part of the dance. They had a man who conceded only 10 runs from four overs early in the day, but instead Sri Lanka stuck with folks who finished with economy rates of 5.72, 5.69, 4.64, and 3.8. Fifty-seven runs were surrendered in the last 10 overs of the day.

Even on toilsome days, when a breakthrough comes, the best teams fence in the next batsman. They put chattering men around the bat, the bowlers lope in with extra pep, the pitch becomes their house and the new man an unwelcome stranger in it. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, were only too glad to treat Faf du Plessis to a spread field and a spread of modest bowling. After about 10 balls du Plessis had raided the fridge for beer, put his feet up on the coffee table, and was scratching his genitals with the TV remote. After 20 balls, he hadn't struck a boundary but was on 15. After 35, Sri Lanka had effectively vacated the premises and told him he was free to host his own friends, or a rager, or an orgy.

And where good teams might, on difficult days, stack the legside and send balls at the ribs, or pack the offside and angle balls right across the batsman, or try something innovative, anything with a little panache, Sri Lanka instead preferred to play without a pulse. Fields were indistinguishable from bowler to bowler. Rangana Herath had a man at slip, but so long did he persevere fruitlessly from around the wicket, the man might as well have been on the moon. At the end of the day, poor Suranga Lakmal fronted bravely for the media, and suggested Sri Lanka were still trying to win the match.

"We actually want to go after the target," Lakmal said. "We have two full days and we are well prepared. We are determined to chase even 500 runs. Any game can be changed. We need just two batsmen to get set and then even a 500 chase may not be tough."

The pitch, he said, had now started to favour batsmen. Only yesterday Sri Lanka were shot out for 205. At such time as South Africa decide to set Sri Lanka a target, it may turn out that the pitch has become good for bowling again.

The thing with the declaration dance, though, is that it rarely fails to be followed by the tragicomedy of collapse.


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