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    Suranga Lakmal the bowler and batsman

    August 16, 2019

    GALLE, THURSDAY: If Sri Lanka is to turn the first cricket Test against New Zealand in their favour a lot will depend on Suranga Lakmal who is responsible so far for keeping his team in the game without allowing it to drift too much towards the opposition.

    When play began yesterday with New Zealand resuming at 203-5 and looking to build on it, it was Lakmal who shut the door on the visitors by sending back both overnight batsmen Ross Taylor and Mitchell Santner in his opening spell and then came back for a second spell to clean up the tail taking the last two wickets off successive deliveries to dismiss New Zealand for 249 and end with figures of 4 for 29 off 15.2 overs.

    Then when Sri Lanka suffered a sudden middle order slump sliding from 143-2 to 161-7 and were in danger of conceding a big first innings lead, Lakmal in the company of Niroshan Dickwella dug in to deprive the Black Caps of any further success by putting together a useful unbroken partnership of 66 for the eighth wicket that saw the home team end the second day at 227-7, 22 runs behind New Zealand.

    “Our first target is to see that we reach their total and then think beyond. After the two of us, there are bowlers coming into bat. Therefore, we need to get as many runs as possible. However, it's not easy to bat on this wicket because it turns a lot. Our main aim is to gain a lead,” said Lakmal at the end of the day.

    “Batting with Dikka he tells me many things but one cannot keep everything in mind. So I told him that I will take care of myself and stay without giving away my wicket, you better go for your shots and score, without taking a risk. That was the only possible thing at the time. That's how we built the partnership,” he said.

    Lakmal is renowned for his prowess with the new ball but of late he has also improved in his batting and has a Test highest score of 42.

    “So many people have told me that I can bat but I don’t apply myself to it. So during the last one and half years, I have been working with the batting coach and now I know I can contribute something to the team with the bat,” said Lakmal

    “Possibly, they'll take the new ball tomorrow morning. Therefore, it's a challenge for us to face it. If we can survive the first 10 overs, then it's easy to go on from there. Even facing Ajaz Patel, Dikka and I were telling each other that to play down the good ball and to score off the loose ones because, if you stick around without going for your shots, you might get out to a good ball,” he said.

    Lakmal who went wicketless on the first day picked up four of the five wickets to fall yesterday. “I was looking at how I was bowling and I realized that I was little too away from the line I should have been bowling. So I had a chat with the coach and set a plan in the morning. The wicket looked a bit slow and we thought of bowling at the stumps. That plan worked well in the morning session.”

    The four wickets he took yesterday brought him closer to the 150 Test wickets mark and Lakmal who presently has 141 wickets said, “I have done a lot of hard work and I am second only to Vaasy (Chaminda Vaas) among the fast bowlers. My aim is to get 200 to 250 wickets.”

    Having claimed the last two New Zealand wickets off successive balls Lakmal will be on a hat-trick when he bowls the first ball in the New Zealand second innings.

    New Zealand’s left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel who ended the second day taking five wickets for 76 said his success was all about rhythm.“As a spinner it’s all about rhythm. Once you get into that rhythm you can build on that and drag it out as much as possible,” said Patel.

    “On surfaces like this that offer you something, you’ve got to stay patient and ask good questions from the batsman. We know Sri Lankans are good players of spin, so you’ve got to respect that and make sure you put balls in good areas for long periods.

    “Once guys are set it can be difficult to get them out. Both teams had in-out fields once a partnership was set which means you had attacking options, but you were still covering the boundaries. I think you’ve got to keep hanging in and play the long game. Yes, there’s turn, but it’s slow turn. So once a batsman is set they can get an understanding of how much its going and what it’s doing.”

    Patel also had success against Pakistan in the UAE but he said the surfaces were different.

    “In the UAE there’s a lot more bounce. Over here there’s not so much bounce, so you try and keep the stumps in play. One of the greats, Rangana (Herath), who’s got 100 wickets out here - if you see the template that he set out when bowling on this wicket, he looked to attack the sticks and keep them in play the whole time, and allow the batters to make decisions around off stump,” Patel said.

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