If you’re a fan of Sri Lankan cricket, you’d wish you just woke up and the year that went by was merely a bad dream. Unfortunately for you, it isn’t so, as the Sri Lankan team actually crashed and burned through one of the most rigorous periods in their history. Captains changed constantly, matches and series were lost, a lower-ranked side was allowed to create history, players went in and out of the side constantly, a selection panel resigned at the end of a home series defeat and some unsavoury bottle-throwing incident, before 2017 ended with a topsy-turvy tour of India that saw them eke out two draws on either side of their worst Test defeat, and also return with an unexpected ODI victory.
Timeline: Misery in South Africa continues (January-February): The change in calendar didn’t turn the tide for Sri Lanka against their far-superior hosts, as they followed up a defeat by 206 runs in the Boxing Day Test of the previous year in Port Elizabeth, with bigger ones in Cape Town and Johannesburg. In fast bowlers Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara, Sri Lanka found two positives in an otherwise abysmal series, where the top-six in the batting charts turned out to be South Africans. The inferior batting show cost Sri Lanka a series sweep, as they lost by 282 runs and, an innings and 118 runs. Angelo Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella fashioned T20I series win (2-1 in a three-match series) before South Africa hit back with a clean sweep of the five-match ODI series.
T20I joy in Australia (February): In a bizarrely scheduled T20I series in Australia, that went on till a day before the start of Australia’s Test series in India, Sri Lanka found some breathing space. They made most of the chance to play against an Australian T20I side bereft of stars like David Warner and Steve Smith – who were already in India for the Test series – and won the three-game series 2-1. Asela Gunaratne hit two half-centuries in as many run-chases – the second one a knock of 84 off just 46 balls.
A milestone gift to Bangladesh (March-April): Sri Lanka opted to be benevolent to their fellow Asian side Bangladesh, as they didn’t just invite them home, but also let them mark their 100th Test match with a victory. Kusal Mendis was talk of the town at the start of the series after he smashed 194 in the first Test, but Bangladesh bounced back and became only the fourth team to win their 100th Test match. Beyond the statistical brilliance, it was also a huge step forward for Bangladesh – who were already making giant strides at home. For Sri Lanka, this was only the start of a lengthy period of failure and disappointment to come.