Notwithstanding the pokerfaced developments in the general governance of the game, Lankan cricket shone like a beacon in World cricket until the last fortnight.
It was not so long ago that Sri Lanka zoomed into the Asia Cup final and won it without much hesitation and then followed it up by gobbling up the plucky Indians in the Test series and narrowly going down in the ODI series.
Until then Lankan cricket looked as good as any other in the World and were a member of that elite group in every sense.
At the same time I remember a year ago Sri Lanka took a Lankan ‘A’ side to Zimbabwe under the leadership of the then out of form T.M. Dilshan who took the opportunity with both hands and batted his way back into the national side. In that tour too the Lankan ‘A’ team players won with consummate ease, but the difference was that like true professionals they scored heavily and always looked the better side by miles rather than mere centimeters.
For instance Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene managed to score just 19 runs in four innings at 4.75 per inning with a highest score of fifteen runs in the five-match ODI series. But a few games prior to that this very same man was the best in the Lankan ranks to finish with an average of 46.2. This clearly depicts the Jayewardene’s present batting predicament is a short one and he would comeback to his true form with a few mental adjustments.
However what caused Jayewardene’s mental stress is also a small matter which is worth probing. Generally the high chairs of the governing body of the game lets their national captain run the mile, in spite of a few hiccups that he may come across from time to time. The best example is how the Indian Cricket hierarchy stood by their skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni when he had a difference of opinion with the national selectors that saw its way into the media. In the aftermath the BCCI handled the issue very professionally and advised the people concerned to be vigilant when they come across situations that nature.
Ironically here in south of the Palk Strait the people in power at times choose to pick on the cricketers on certain issues that could be resolved in some other forum but tend to set upon their lap dogs at them when things go radically wrong through sheer bad handling. The result of such developments could be devastating to some individuals. Then the aura of uncertainty and stress that builds up could result in a drop in personal performance. Besides that personal problems of an individual could be overcome with the remedial applications and one should probe into to see what ailed Sri Lanka cricket during this tour.Firstly, there were three notable absentees in this line up. They are namely – Sanath Jayasuriya, Chaminda Vaas and T.M. Dilshan. One could not blame the national selectors for taking such a stance for the plain and simple reason of “The changes will have to happen one day”.
However things went horribly wrong with the experiments.
At the top neither of the opening batsmen Upul Tharanga or Mahela Udawatte batted even with semblance of any confidence. Even in Sri Lanka you come across many slow low dead tracks that you have to wait for the ball. But, despite the skills and the potetial that they possess, they were more concerned in consolidating their slot in the line up and one of them would have to make way upon the arrival of Sanath Jayasuriya.
Here the ideal situation should have that both openers taking the opportunity and put enough runs on the board against their names and for the country posing a real problem for the return of Jayasuriya. But, that was not to be. Now even at the age of thirty nine Jayasuriya knows he can dictate terms.
The demise of the top two and struggling skipper at number four early in the innings in turn put added problems on the shoulders of Kumar Sangakkara. In the first game Sangakkara batted with a lot of confidence and to a lesser degree in the second. But, when he saw the domino collapsing round him in the rest of the innings he batted under severe pressure – just to keep himself intact to avert a complete disaster. The reason the trusted number five Chamara Kapugedera a batsman with immense potential failed to live up to expectations once again.
Unexpectedly the only middle order inning came from outside. That too came in the very last game. The composure that Thilina Kandamby (a batsman whom some of the top match management is reluctant to try out even after the selectors have put him into the final squad) batted with in his only inning was commendable. Walking in at 3 for 28, the way Kandamby batted was commendable. At times it gave a glimpse of the way Arjuna Ranatunga in his days at the crease used to get about things. He comes in as a player who should get very close scrutiny. He has it in him.
Another player who impressed was young Angelo Mathew. If given the correct guidance he too has the potential of remaining at the top.
In batting, now that Jayasuriya is there, once again the mean Sri Lankan look should be back in the fold.
Veteran Chaminda Vaas now must be a very relaxed man. This tour proved that Sri Lanka really missed the initial Vaas burst at the top. Even the Zimbabwe top order took the Lankan seam attack by the scruff and belted it at will in the initial overs. Both Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda showed no respect to the Lankan seam attack nor did they deservedly command any.
Zimbabweans on their part did not know how to finish a game in their favour. If not the final result would have read somewhat different.
This 5-0 win maybe one of the worst that any the team would have achieved when they beat another by a margin so big.
So, next to Bangladesh along with another go at the Zimbabweans and the Lankans are expected to overcome the challenges posed here with ease. However a performance akin to the Zimbabwean ordeal would spell disaster even though Bangladesh too have inculcated the habit of losing more than winning.
Maybe by that time most of the dark clouds looming above Lankan cricket would have passed on and the cricketers will only have the task of performing at the middle.