Samaraweera points to Sri Lanka's batting gains on day of losses

Trent Boult picked up six wickets in 15 deliveries in Christchurch to shoot Sri Lanka out
New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Christchurch, 2nd day December 27, 2018

Outgoing batting coach Thilan Samaraweera was disappointed at the manner in which Sri Lanka's middle order folded, exposing tail-enders to Trent Boult's high-quality swing bowling on day two at Hagley Oval.

But as he prepares to leave his post to make way for new batting coach Jon Lewis, he also reflected on what he felt was a moderately successful 13 months in the role. Samaraweera is essentially being demoted to the High Performance staff, having been the national team's batting coach since November last year. The decision to replace him came after Sri Lanka's 0-3 Test series result against England last month. But despite the losses, Samaraweera says, there are numbers which suggest that under him the Sri Lanka top order has made significant gains.

"I think if people think only about winning or losing, then I'm in trouble," he said. "But I feel this group is going in the right direction, because I can show stats on how we've improved one-day cricket, T20s and Tests. Kusal Mendis has made close to 1000 Test runs in the year. Nobody knows that. Dimuth Karunaratne is going really well. Angelo Mathews has been brilliant this year. Thisara Perera's batting has been good in one-day cricket as well."

"I don't know. People took that decision [to replace me], and that's up to them. But I feel this I took this batting group toward the right direction, and they are showing courage."

Samaraweera's claims do stand up to scrutiny. Mendis will likely finish as the year's second-highest scorer in Tests, with 956 runs at an average of 45.52. That average is second only to that of the year's best Test batsman Virat Kohli, from among the present top-five run-scorers in 2018*. Karunaratne, meanwhile, is the most prolific opener this year, and currently sits at sixth on the overall list, with 743 runs at an average of 49.53. Mathews, meanwhile, has scores of 83, 120 not out and 33 not out from the ongoing series against New Zealand.

Critics of Samaraweera may also point out, however, that Mendis had also experienced a haunting loss of one-day form through the course of this year, failing to reach fifty in 13 consecutive innings and registering five ducks in that time. Karunaratne's rise had begun before Samaraweera arrived on the scene - the opener having made 1000 Test runs in 2017. The coach himself admits that on the one-day front, Sri Lanka's batsmen have not produced big innings on his watch.

Samaraweera was pleased, however, that Mathews has seemingly arrested a slide toward mediocrity in Test cricket. He had averaged over 70 in 2013 and 2014, before failing to average 30 in 2016 and 2017. Despite modest returns in the mid-year series against West Indies and South Africa, Mathews' Test batting may have undergone something of a revival late in the year. He has been dismissed for less than 50 only three times in his previous nine Test innings.

"In the last year, I challenged Angelo and he responded really well. In 2013 and 2014 he had a tremendous two years, and then after that he went a little bit behind in 2016 and 17. I had an honest chat with him a couple of times and he responded really well. You have to give credit to him. He showed guts in Wellington. I've never seen him batting like that - he took so many bouncers to his body. Today also he batted really well."

On the collapse at the start of day two in Christchurch, Samaraweera rued the quick dismissals of Roshen Silva and Niroshan Dickwella - both caught at third slip. With Boult bowling as sublimely as that, the tail had no chance, Samaraweera said.

"Our thinking was to get through the first hour, hour-and-a-half," Samaraweera said. "It was overcast conditions, and when the sun comes out it becomes easier to bat. But then we lost our first two batters in the first 20 minutes, and after that it's very difficult to handle those new-ball bowlers.

"At the moment we are way behind the game, but after one over tomorrow the new ball will be due. We have to take two or three wickets early and then at least we can stay in the game. It'll depend on the first hour, how we use the new ball."

*Stats as on December 27, 2018

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