ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday October 21, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 21

Rock the boat

This is another classic example of how we can bungle. Now the minister of Sport Gamini Lokuge has seen to it that even the big talking national selectors tow his line and imposed upon them to include the once deposed and then opted to stay out former national captain Marvan Atapattu in the final squad for the two Test tour of Australia next month.

One may argue that Atapattu was originally selected and then he on his own opted to stay out because of his differences with the chief selector Asantha de Mel. But, we are talking about a thirty seven year old man who played his last Test match against India way back in December 2005, where he scored 40 and 16 in a match that Sri Lanka lost by 259 runs at Ahamedabad.

Taking on Australia in Australia is like performing hara-kiri. They are the most professional lot of cricketers on this planet who always look out to perform at a level of high disciplined standards that they have set for themselves. For the Australians it’s either you keep to the set up norms or else pack your bags get out into the oblivion.

Coming back to Sri Lanka and its present pre-tour environment, it seems that the wheels of the vehicle were set in motion in different directions where the Minister of Sport, The Chief Selector and National Cricket Captain are concerned.

It all set in motion with Marvan Atapattu becoming the latest pecked cricketer who came out in the open and called out loud that the treatment meted out to him during the World Cup tour in the West Indies was unbecoming. Thereafter Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge made his intentions known about the inclusion of Marvan to the tour squad Down under. In retaliation, chief selector Asantha de Mel who is also an appointee of the Sports Minister said in no way is he going to take Marvan back to the squad and it was up to the minister to do so if he so desired. Reason given was that the incumbent skipper Mahela Jayawardena had complained to him that Marvan was no team man and he had to be spoken to prior to any decisions being taken. Then the national cricket captain, who is a creation of the national cricket selector/s, comes in and publicly announces that the chief selector has been uttering a load of bull and he never had an issue with Marvan what-so-ever. This is a typical case of the head, chest and the feet of the same body trying to run in three different directions at the same time.

Nevertheless if this episode was not mishandled from the very beginning things may have read just a bit differently at this juncture.

However now Marvan has opted to dice at the deep end of the pool and it is up to him to swim and tell the rest of the world it is still in him and with his in born class he can overcome many obstacles set up in front of him. But, with a larder terribly short of international exposure right up there at the pedestal, some feel that he may have chosen to run up the wrong lane at the fork.

Then the question is where is he going to bat? As an opening batsman? There are three names already up there? In the Middle order? Thilan Samaraweera and Chamara Silva are regular middle order batsmen and lanky Jehan Mubarak is also there.

However if this tour ends up in another disaster there may be a few individuals who will be taken to task by the public and for their sake we hope they do well.

Tharanga and Sanath have not fared very well as opening batsmen in the test arena in the recent past - Pix by Saman Kariyawasam

Stats are stubborn
However are there some unanswered questions posed up there in the present context? Every one accepts the fact that a cricketer once in the side should be given a certain run to prove himself up there at the pedestal and another slight chance in the middle if he loses his focus for a short period. But, what they did with Upul Tharanga at the top during the World Cup or thereafter is very…very….. hard to condone. We all agree that he has the talent and the class, but, when you go on persisting with a player once he is out of form he tends lose confidence in himself more and more. There should be a cut-off point where you let go a player and nurture him very carefully till he gets back on track.

Look at the plight of Sri Lanka batting right there at the top. Both regular openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga have been struggling for runs. Tharanga in his last 18 innings has made 341 runs at an average of 18.94 and his highest score (during that period) of 72 coming against Pakistan in late 2005 at the SSC grounds. Then his next half century came four innings later against England in Birmingham in 2006 when he made 52 in the second test. Since then Tharanga has failed score a fifty in the next twelve innings that followed.

At the other end Jayasuriya in his last ten matches in Test cricket also has a total of 308 runs with the highest score of 73 runs made against South Africa in the second Test at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium with an average of 19.25. In the 33 innings taken into account (Tharanga 18 and Jayasuriya 15) they have totalled 641 runs sharing a total of three half centuries between them. On the other hand the Australian opener Mathew Hayden in his last ten innings in his last ten visits to the crease has accumulated 751 runs with a highest score of 153 along with another century and three fifties at an average of 44.17.

The above is just an indication that the two established openers Tharanga and Jayasuriya who are on tour have not done justice to Sri Lanka cricket in the recent past especially where Test cricket is concerned.

Michael Van Dort has not played division one international cricket since his last Test innings against Bangladesh.

When the top is not solid and the rot starts seeping in the ill effects cascade down the line. It is only there that a bat of the calibre of Sangakkara who is experiencing a rough patch is burdened with extra pressure to stem further erosion and also perform at the required level.

In a scenario of this nature who becomes the fall guy? For instance T.M. Dilshan who was forced to give it a miss has scored 468 runs in his last ten innings at an average of 33.42 with four half centuries including one against Bangladesh during the first Test match in June. But, he is dropped for a Test tour for some mistakes that he made while playing Limited overs cricket.

In bowling also Sri Lanka have a problem with the current form of young Lasith Malinga who has not been bowling at his best in recent times. There is a certain school of thought that puts it down to factors other than on field activities, while others say that he is not going flat out on docile Sri Lankan wickets to avert injury. However the stubborn truth is that if he performs in his present form in Australia the pack of Kangaroos will definitely murder him. Especially against England in the five ODI’s played he bowled 39 overs for 192 runs and bagged six wickets at a costly average of 32.00 and bowling at 4.92 runs per over.

Besides Malinga the rest of the gang looks okay. However when the man who needs only nine wickets to cut his own niche in history – Muttiah Muralitharan joins the rest, Sri Lankan bowling will be more balanced, but on Australian wickets what predictions can we guarantee?.

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