x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Turn of fortunes for Sri Lanka after Muralitharan era

Before Muralitharan made his debut in 1992, Sri Lanka had won just two Tests. Over a 132-Test career, in which he took 795 wickets, he contributed to 54 wins.

It is a trivia question that might stump even the most knowledgeable cricket fan. What was special about the first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Faisalabad in October 2004, a game that the visitors won by 201 runs?

Of the 18 successes that Sri Lanka have registered overseas in three decades of Test cricket, it remains the only one not to feature Muttiah Muralitharan on the scorecard.

It was Madame de Pompadour, mistress to France's King Louis XV, who was credited with the words: "Apres nous, le deluge [After us, the deluge]."

Change the "us" to "me", and it could easily be attributed to Murali. No individual in the game's history has had such an impact on his team's fortunes.

Before Muralitharan made his debut in 1992, Sri Lanka had won just two Tests. Over a 132-Test career in which he took 795 wickets - five were against Australia for the International Cricket Council World XI in 2005 - he contributed to 54 wins. In those triumphs, he took a staggering 438 wickets at 16.18.

Over the past two decades, Sri Lanka have won just five times without him. Since his exit against India in Galle last year, they have lost three Tests and drawn six. In the 10 games post-Muralitharan, including the ongoing Test against Australia, they have not even had a sniff of success.

A look at Sri Lanka's wicket-takers' list shows why. Chaminda Vaas, distant second to Muralitharan with 355 wickets, played his last Test more than two years ago. Lasith Malinga will not play in whites again after a short 30-Test career that saw him take 101 wickets.

Of those still active, the infuriatingly inconsistent Dilhara Fernando (94) and the steady Rangana Herath (92) may surpass Malinga's tally without getting anywhere close to Vaas.

With Ajantha Mendis not risked on an arid pitch in Galle, Sri Lanka have been comprehensively out bowled by a side in which three of the front line bowlers - Ryan Harris, Trent Copeland and Nathan Lyon - have 11 caps between them.

Sri Lanka's struggles without Muralitharan bring to mind New Zealand woes after Richard Hadlee's retirement.

Before his debut in February 1973, New Zealand had won just seven Tests while losing 46. Over the course of his 86-game odyssey, there were 22 wins and 28 losses.

In the decade after he retired in July 1990, they managed just 15 wins while losing 34 times. But the team that Hadlee left behind was in much better shape than Sri Lanka are now.

Danny Morrison would finish with 160 wickets, while Simon Doull and Dion Nash both fell just short of 100 wickets while averaging in the low 30s.

But for a spate of injuries, Chris Cairns would have taken far more than 218 wickets. An outstanding strike rate of 53 tells you just how good he was when he managed to be on the park. Then, there is Daniel Vettori, who made his debut in 1997, and is still going strong 344 wickets later.

Sri Lanka's problems extend to the batting as well.

So much still rests on Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Thilan Samaraweera turns 35 next week, and has made only one of his 12 centuries outside Asia.

Tillakaratne Dilshan waxes and wanes like a poor man's Virender Sehwag. Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne wait in the wings, but as with other youngsters across the region, it remains to be seen whether they have either the temperament or technique for Test cricket.

Most of all though, like India, Sri Lanka must pray for a bowler or two.

There will never be another Muralitharan, but unless the void he and Vaas have left behind is partially filled, the slide down the rankings will only continue.

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