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Match Analysis

Disciplined Sri Lanka reap rewards for investment in fast bowling

Sri Lanka have churned out a stock of quality seamers over the last few years, and they have come to the fore on this Bangladesh tour

Asitha Fernando celebrates a wicket  •  AFP/Getty Images

Asitha Fernando celebrates a wicket  •  AFP/Getty Images

Are we in a golden age of South Asian seam bowling?
While the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami take up most of the headline space, and Pakistan have always been a hotbed for fiery fast bowling, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have struggled rather more in the pace department, with the likes of Chaminda Vaas, Lasith Malinga and Mustafizur Rahman outliers more than signs of any real consistent production line.
So when in the first Test in Sylhet both these traditionally spin-reliant sides fielded three-pronged seam attacks, it was certainly a moment to sit up and take notice. But despite pace accounting for 31 of the 40 wickets to fall during that Test, the expectation coming into the second Test in Chattogram was that both sides would revert to more spin-leaning attacks.
That much was true for Bangladesh at least; with Shakib Al Hasan back in the side, they wasted little time in swapping him in for the fiery Nahid Rana, who had impressed in Sylhet with his pace. Sri Lanka, though, flew in Asitha Fernando and made a like-for-like change with the injured Kasun Rajitha.
Of the two strategies, it was Sri Lanka's that sparked more questions. This was after all a surface where the top three all-time wicket-takers were spinners, and one that was much drier and devoid of the live grass seen in Sylhet.
These concerns were amplified when grip and turn was seen as early as day one. And while spin has admittedly been more difficult to contend with as this Test has worn on, it's the seamers who have done the majority of the damage.
Fifteen wickets fell on day three, 13 of them to pace. Asitha, Vishwa Fernando and Lahiru Kumara shared eight wickets between them as Bangladesh were bundled out for 178, and then the Bangladesh seamers returned the favour by taking out six Sri Lankan batters before the close of play. In all, 45 of the 56 wickets to fall in this series have been taken by seamers - and all on surfaces that have traditionally been dominated by spin.
"If you take the bowlers from both teams, they bowled really well," Dharshana Gamage, Sri Lanka's fast-bowling coach, said. "They just kept in the right areas over long periods of time. But having a plan and executing it are two very different propositions."
Since Chris Silverwood took over as Sri Lanka's head coach in 2022, his insistence on a seam-focused attack has permeated right through the Sri Lankan developmental system, which has since churned out a stock of quality seamers. And while Sri Lanka still rely heavily on spin to shoulder much of the wicket-taking burden in home Tests - particularly in Galle - their seamers have nonetheless been taking more of a foothold lately. Among the primary areas being worked on has been the discipline to bowl to set fields.
"In Test cricket we always plan around keeping our discipline," Gamage said. "Before even planning for the batters, we focus on keeping discipline in the bowling, how to set a field and bowl according to that consistently. If you look at both these Tests, the seamers adapted to their tasks quickly. Before coming into the game also, much of the preparation centred around working within a disciplined framework."
Bangladesh's seamers in the first innings highlighted the pitfalls of failing in this area, where their inability to stick to nagging lines and lengths for long periods alleviated the pressure on the Sri Lankan batters. In their second go around, though, both Khaled Ahmed and Mahmud Hasan, perhaps taking cues from their Lankan counterparts, were persistent in the channel outside off stump and were duly rewarded, with each of the six Lankan wickets to fall on day three coming from deliveries in that region.
According to Bangladesh opener Zakir Hasan, who was dismissed courtesy one that jagged back sharply from a hard length, the steadily deteriorating conditions in general - there was a strong breeze blowing across the pitch for most of the day - had helped both sets of seamers.
"I think our bowlers got help from the wind," Zakir said. "It provided for extra movement. They were 80-odd for six at one stage. Both sides got this help from the wind."
Zakir also had encouraging words for debutant Mahmud, who is on the verge of a maiden five-for having ended the day on figures of 4 for 51.
"He bowled very well. It was his debut match. You all saw how much movement he got. It looked good that he bowled in the right areas."
Mahmud is Bangladesh's second pace-bowling debutant in as many Tests, after Nahid Rana, and both have shown extreme promise in their brief outings so far. Sri Lanka have been on the same path but for longer, and are now reaping the rewards on a more consistent basis. All in all, it's a good time to be a South Asian fast bowler.

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