x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dilshan's men to be taken seriously

Tillakaratne Dilshan is leading from the front and his Sri Lankan team are fighting for a spot among Test cricket's elite.

It has been a bizarre start to England's summer of Test cricket. For four days in Cardiff and the opening two days at Lord's, Sri Lanka have been more than a match for a heavily favoured England side.

That they are 1-0 down in the series can be attributed to 25 overs of batting so inept that any side would struggle to replicate it.

Chris Tremlett and his fellow bowlers were superb in a situation where 999 people out of 1,000 had a draw down as the only likely result, but they were helped by resistance so feeble that it brought back memories of the 1980s when Sri Lanka were newcomers to Test cricket and easy to beat away from home.

On the second afternoon at Lord's, it was back to the modern age, with Tillakaratne Dilshan, in particularly, showing just why no one takes Sri Lanka lightly anymore.

The same English attack that had cut a swathe through the line-up in Cardiff toiled 63 overs for one wicket.

Dilshan's belligerence was key to upsetting the English rhythm. England's Ashes success over Australia, as Kumar Sangakkara pointed out in an interview with The National before the series started, was built on discipline, with the bowlers applying relentless pressure from both ends.

It helped that not one Australian batsman was in the sort of form where they could set the tone as Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden once had.

Instead of slapping English bowlers around as they had done for a generation, Australia's batsmen were reduced to timidity.

Dilshan has never been timid. Sri Lankan cricket has a proud tradition when it comes to dashing batsmen. Mahadevan Sathasivam, who played in the 1940s and '50s, was admired by whoever he played against. Later, when Test status was attained, Roy Dias played with class and assurance.

Aravinda de Silva carried on that tradition, playing two of the finest innings seen in the final stages of the 1996 World Cup. There was also Sanath Jayasuriya, with a blacksmith's hammer style all of his own.

Dilshan can cause similar damage. In 2009, he pillaged attacks in every form of the game and that unfettered fluency was in evidence at times as he made his way on to the Lord's Honours Board.

England will need to reassess their plans for him, especially with the prospect of bowling to India's Virender Sehwag later in the summer.

Test cricket these days is so fascinating because of the absence of a team as dominant as the West Indies or Australia once were.

England were exceptional in wrapping up the first Test, as they were at key moments during the Ashes, but they're still a long way short of the teams that West Indian legend Clive Lloyd and Australia's Steve Waugh captained.

The same goes for the Indians who will take them on in July and August. Take out Zaheer Khan and the bowling line-up really won't have anyone hiding under a pillow.

As for South Africa, the other contenders to the throne that Australia abdicated, they just never seem to be able to put teams away.

Victory in Australia was followed by a home loss to the same opponents. Success in England (2008) could not be translated into a series win at home (2009/10).

And twice against India - away and then at home - they squandered a lead to square the series.

Like Ken Norton, the heavyweight boxer who once broke Muhammad Ali's jaw, they look very good without ever looking like champions.

Sri Lanka now have half a series to show that they belong in elite company. With Muttiah Muralitharan no longer around, and a limited pace attack, that won't be easy.