Mayhem it was

The exceptional variety in the Lankan pace attack coupled with Muttiah Muralitharan’s tantalising spin hounded the Bangladesh batsmen.

Muttiah Muralitharan scalped his 700th Test wicket, runs flowed from Kumara Sangakkara’s blade and Sri Lanka beat Bangladesh 3-0 for a comprehensive Test series triumph.

Outclassed, Bangladesh did not have the answers to questions from a formidable side, particularly at home. Bangladesh is evolving as a one-day unit, but is far from a settled and cohesive Test side.

Muralitharan took full toll, with his unique brand of off-spin, the doosras, the leg-breaks, the top-spinners and the arm ball. The Bangladesh batsmen had little clue as the ball deceived them in the air, turned and jumped, and, eventually, spelt their doom.

Muralitharan’s 26 victims in the series included 12 in the final Test, and his last scalp, Syed Rasel, was his wicket number 700. Once again, he did considerable damage on day one — the hallmark of a quality spinner — of all three Tests. He does not rely on the surface’s wear and tear.

Few present-day spinners use the crease as cleverly or explore the angles as creatively as Muralitharan does. His quicker delivery from round the wicket — it invariably pitches in line and skids through straight — poses a severe test to the batsmen. Interestingly, his wicket No. 700 arrived at his home ground. The bright-eyed Kandy boy, who began his cricketing journey as a medium pacer before a shrewd coach switched him to spin, is now the most destructive contemporary spinner in Tests.

Muralitharan is just eight short of Shane Warne’s world Test record. Warne’s 708 wickets consumed 145 Tests, Muralitharan’s 700 have come in 113. However, an incisive Aussie pace pack cut into Warne’s tally of wickets and he has bowled a lot more outside the sub-continent.

This said, Muralitharan, to his credit, has claimed 55 wickets in 11 Tests against Australia (ave. 31.41), 67 in 15 Tests against India (32.47) and 79 in 14 Tests against Pakistan (23.31); the batsmen from these countries, generally, are fine players of spin. The Lankan’s 268 wickets in 49 away Tests at 24.89 are telling figures.

The off-spinning wizard has surmounted several hurdles in his illustrious career — from his bowling action being questioned to fighting injuries — and his stirring tale represents a triumph of the spirit. Years have rolled by — he is now 35 — but he has retained his hunger for wickets.

Muralitharan wins duels, bowling with a unique wrist action; the resolution on the ball gets it to dip in the air, hiss off the pitch. In fact, it is this combination of a flexible wrist and supple and strong fingers that allows him to give the ball a rip, compounding problems for the batsmen; it is hard to pick him.

Muralitharan enjoys his bowling and this means he seldom tires. He strikes with his bewildering variety, and even on those rare days when success proves elusive, he would wait before moving in for the kill.

In fact, former Sri Lankan coach Dav Whatmore picked Muralitharan’s patience as his greatest attribute. “He comes back so well in his subsequent spells. You can never ever count him out in an innings. He can run through at any stage.”

Whatmore’s words reveal two aspects of Muralitharan’s bowling: 1. His bewildering array of tricks; 2. His remarkable consistency that allows him to create the pressure and then strike at any stage of the innings.

It is his admirable mix of a bag of tricks and stunning control over line and length, not to speak of subtle variations in trajectory depending on the pitch and the batsman facing him, that make Muralitharan such a formidable force.

The exceptional variety in the Lankan pace attack — Lasith Malinga’s sling-arm methods, Chaminda Vaas’ controlled left-arm swing and seam, and Dilhara Fernando’s fast and direct bowling — coupled with Muralitharan’s tantalising spin hounded the Bangladesh batsmen.

The Lankan bowlers, effectively, finished the match on the first day of all Tests. Bangladesh was bundled out for 89 at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground, shot out for 62 at the P. Saravanamuthu Stadium, and dismissed for 131 at the Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy. After that it was one-way traffic.

Kumara Sangakkara dominated at the pivotal No. 3 position. The Sri Lankan think-tank has done well to relieve Sangakkara of wicket-keeping duty in Tests; a job with the big gloves and a top-order slot could have made severe demands on the mind and body and Sangakkara is too valuable a batsman to be burdened with the task of keeping wickets in Tests. The Lankans have groomed Prasanna Jayawardene in Tests; apart from keeping well, the youngster also made a hundred in the series.

Sangakkara is now only the sixth batsman in Test history to score back-to-back double hundreds. Among the current batsmen, he, with six, has the most number of double centuries.

Sangakkara’s footwork was precise and he picked the gaps with consummate ease. His batting revolves on strong basics and his stroke-play stems from a sound defence.

Bangladesh has reasonable pacemen in Mashrafe Mortaza and Shahadat Hossain, but Sangakkara handled them with care and panache like a No. 3 should. He consolidated on starts, and his innings building skills came to the fore. His 428 runs in the series came at an incredible average of 428.

The manner in which Sangakkara employed the sweep shot to disrupt the rhythm of the spinners showed his versatility. He has 3169 runs in 38 home Tests at 59.79 and 2323 runs in 29 away Tests at 48.39. He promises much more.

Opener Michael Vandort and skipper Mahela Jayawardene also made hundreds in the series, not to speak of the old warrior Chaminda Vaas, who registered the first century of his career. Jayawardene timed the ball well. His sense of timing while leading the side was impeccable too.

The lack of variety in the Bangladesh bowling hurt the side, while its batsmen did not quite apply themselves. Young skipper Mohammad Ashraful made a brave hundred in the second Test, and there were useful knocks from Javed Omar, Rajin Saleh, Mushfiqur Rahim (a very promising player) and Shahriar Nafees. Collectively, the Bangladesh batting failed.

The lack of runs from the experienced Habibul Bashar was disturbing. Bangladesh’s interim coach Shaun Williams admitted, “We don’t have enough to challenge a top-shelf Test team. Sri Lanka allowed us nothing and that’s what you expect from a top quality team.”

Bangladesh has quite a way to travel in Tests.

Come November and Sri Lanka faces a stiffer Test challenge in Australia. Muralitharan has the opportunity to become Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker in the Warne country.

The Scores Third Test, Kandy, July 11-14, 2007. Sri Lanka won by an innings and 193 runs.

Bangladesh 131 (S. Nafees 29, M. Ashraful 26, M. Muralitharan six for 28) and 176 (Nafees 64, Muralitharan six for 54) lost to Sri Lanka 500 for four declared (M. Vandort 43, K. Sangakkara 222 not out, M. Jayawardene 165, C. Silva 25, S. Rasel three for 104).

Second Test, Colombo, July 3-5, 2007. Sri Lanka won by an innings and 90 runs.

Bangladesh 62 (L. Malinga four for 25, Muralitharan four for 14) and 299 (J. Omar 28, Ashraful 129 not out, M. Rahim 80, C. Vaas four for 55, D. Fernando three for 60) lost to Sri Lanka 451 for six declared (M. Warnapura 82, Sangakkara 200 not out, M. Jayawardene 49, C. Silva 33, Vaas 30 not out).

First Test, Colombo, June 25-28, 2007. Sri Lanka won by an innings and 234 runs.

Bangladesh 89 (D. Fernando three for 33, Muralitharan five for 15) and 254 (Omar 62, Nafees 38, R. Saleh 51, Ashraful 37, L. Malinga four for 80, Muralitharan four for 87) lost to Sri Lanka 577 for six declared (Vandort 117, M. Jayawardene 127, T. Dilshan 79, P. Jayawardene 120 not out, Vaas 100 not out).

A Special Correspondent