Suranga Lakmal Retires as Sri Lanka’s Invisible Workhorse

Suranga Lakmal Retires after a decade of leading Sri Lanka’s pace attack.

A solid career as a pace bowler in Sri Lanka is tough, and Suranga Lakmal has seen why. Barring Chaminda Vaas, there aren’t too many names that come to mind when one thinks of pacers from Sri Lanka, for Test Cricket. They prepare pitches suitable for a spin, and pace bowling is just for the new ball and to give rest to the spin bowlers.

Suranga Lakmal has been around for thirteen years, starting when the likes of Sangakkara and Jayawardene were going strong, and he still remains unnoticed at times. A look at his stats may be a reason why Lakmal falls under the radar. In 69 Tests, Suranga Lakmal has an average of 36. It is often forgotten that he has led Sri Lanka in five Tests as well, but didn’t bowl himself much due to the conditions.

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After being a sideshow to the likes of Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal finally came into the spotlight in 2018.  A bowler, who is invisible in the side finally came out in South Africa first. His bowling in South Africa, and on later overseas tours was brilliant over the last four years.

Suranga Lakmal has 109 wickets in 86 ODIs.

Suranga Lakmal has enough pace and movement to compete, but his character never made him seem like a bowler who could dominate batters. He doesn’t resort to banter like other aggressive pacers and is very silent after delivering the ball. His silence and brilliance are what helped in the last cycle of overseas tours.

In 2019, Sri Lanka became the first Asian team to win a Test series in South Africa, a triumph that is probably their best so far. During the series, Lakmal kept applying pressure, bowling nagging lines, creating pressure and restricting runs. He helped the other pacers get wickets, but never searched for a strong spell of his own. Even in Sri Lanka, Suranga Lakmal helped the Sri Lanka bowlers pick up wickets from the other end, as Lakmal prevented runs from being scored easily.

His numbers overseas are next to brilliant. Suranga Lakmal has a five-wicket haul in some of the most iconic venues in the World. He picked up a five-wicket haul at the Gabba, Port Elizabeth, North Sound, and Christchurch, while also taking a four-wicket haul in Kolkata. He was Sri Lanka’s man overseas, taking wickets at an average under 30, and transforming into a new bowler after 2018.

His numbers after 2018 are a reason why his career is often looked into as a career of two halves. The first saw Lakmal as a bowler who played to support the spinners, while the second half saw him fight for wickets, and put immense pressure on batting sides.

While Suranga Lakmal has faced a lot of unlucky moments as a Sri Lankan spinner, the biggest misfortune for him is the lack of support. Very rarely did Lakmal have a pacer who could partner him for a long period of time. There has been a lot of names in the last decade, but neither could hang around. Nuwan Pradeep kept picking up hamstring injuries, Dhammika Prasad’s shoulder and Shamindu Eranga’s elbow affected their growth while Lahiru Kumara is struggling with injuries himself.

Suranga Lakmal is a part of a rare group of fast bowlers to lead their team in Test Cricket.

If any of the mentioned players could stick around, Sri Lanka may have given some importance to their pace attack, preparing faster pitches. Instead, Suranga Lakmal was left to bowl on surfaces that keep very low and slow. Suranga Lakmal’s last Test is a pink ball Test, and he may get some more assistance in his final Test, but going by the first day, the track seems pretty slow, negating his pace and swing movement.

He is a very skillful bowler and has led the pace attack for over a decade, but the time has come for Suranga Lakmal to move on, and for Sri Lanka to find a new pacer, who can be a part of the side consistently. He will be going for some county Cricket after retirement, but for now, Sri Lankan fans can hope for some more hard work, visible invisibility, and magical deliveries to shock batters, as Lakmal finishes his last spell in Sri Lankan Cricket, as a player.