For over a decade Suranga Lakmal has been Sri Lanka’s war horse who shouldered the burden of carrying its pace bowling on pitches-slow, bouncy and benign. Now, the right arm seamer bows out from the game in the same quietly dignified fashion in which he stayed all along. What’s left is one Test series against India for a shining 12- year-old long career to end gently.
So, at last Suranga Lakmal has had enough of breaking backs on subcontinental pitches; for over a decade he seldom hesitated to run in with full steam in hot, humid conditions on turning tracks, which do not encourage any youngsters. Yet, what stands out about this dignified cricketing hero from the island pearl is that he went about his cricket the way he is in real life- quiet and gentle. Such a leveler of sorts this era being cricket in the fast lane.
And at last, it could be said that the tireless workhorse that defined Sri Lankan fast bowling in the post-Kulasekara era looks exhausted. Though, it is a coincidence that Suranga Lakmal will be ending his career in India, where it all started. But that was many years ago, at a time where rage called the IPL was yet to take the game by a storm, a period of time where one knew nothing about the likes of a Shreyas Iyer, Keegan Petersen, Odean Smith and as seen recently, the Under-19 sensation called Brevis.
It was in 2009, when as a 22-year-old, Suranga Lakmal played his first One-day International at Nagpur’s VCA Stadium and here we are, twelve years’ hence. Shortly, in March he will retire as one of the senior statesmen of his country who has contributed immensely all these years.
Lakmal’s Test record is not exceptional; he has played 68 Tests and taken 168 wickets at an average of 36.28, not flattering by any means. He might not be considered as the best of his generation. Yet, the thing that will always stand out about the meticulous cricketer is that his bowling proved there was more to Sri Lankan pace cauldron than Lasith Malinga (with due respect and sincerity). That it wasn’t all about toe crushing yorkers and slinging fast deliveries; that in the longer format of the game, ever so heavy in taxing the physical limitations of fast bowlers, one needed men like Lakmal to steady the ship and build pressure on batsmen.
He was, in some sense, a glowing adjective of stamina, the desire to sweat it out in the most durable format of the game.
Whether you see Lakmal’s 2018 form in the Caribbean or the recent Test outings, his game was about soaking up the runs and driving batsmen to play the false shot, perhaps out of an onerous period of frustration since there weren’t many easy pickings with Lakmal darting in at batters.
However, there is more about Lakmal than numbers; he is Sri Lanka’s second highest wicket taker during this era (2010-2022) only behind than evergreen Rangana Herath. Post the India Test series, he would have played 70 Tests (if he plays both), which is only one less than Herath.
It shows his stamina and longevity in an era which has seen Sri Lanka’s cricket’s fortunes dwindled one year after the other.
Lakmal’s overall record is on the higher side because of the limited role that he had been required to play at home. In 27 Tests he has taken 38 wickets at home with an average of 47.52, but he bowled only 21 overs per Test in Sri Lanka, which shows the kind of attack that Sri Lanka prefer in home conditions. A comparison with his performance out of Sri Lanka clearly shows how much he could have achieved had he would have been used a lot better at home. In aways Tests Lakmal is the highest wicket taker in this span for Sri Lanka. He has taken 130 wickets in 41 Tests at an average of 33.
Lakmal’s longevity is admirable, for well over a decade, he has come to play the highest number of Tests among Sri Lankan pacers. The next best after him is Nuwan Pradeep (28 Tests) and Lahiru Kumara (23 Tests). His fitness standards have been very high, Lasith Mallinga gave up Test cricket only after five years while the careers of Dhammika Prasad, Nuwan Pradeep, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara have been affected by a constant spate of injuries.
Micky Arthur, the former Sri Lankan coach who seem to have brought the national team on track after five years (2015-2020) of low in 2021 appreciated Lakmal and is happy that he would be playing County cricket for Derbyshire.
“Suranga is among Sri Lanka’s all-time greats with the ball and it’s brilliant to be able to bring him to Derbyshire for the next two seasons,” stated Arthur.
While Sri Lanka have preferred Lakmal in long formats, but he also has 109 wickets in 86 One Day Internationals. Lakmal also has the privilege to captain Sri Lanka, having captained them in 5 Tests- winning 3 of them.
Suranga Lakmal will end up as fourth ever highest wicket taker in Sri Lanka’ Test cricket history, a list in which he is the second best in terms of fasts bowlers only behind great Chaminda Vaas. Probably, it’s fair to say that these are the perks of the game that the quiet hero of Sri Lankan cricket who often went uncelebrated will not pay much heed to.
Though where it stands at the moment, Lakmal’s exit for the Sri Lankan fans will be a concern as there is no one who can right away be termed as Lakmal’s successor, which is why it’s fair to say the value of an ace pacer would be understood once he walks away from the game.