There was a time that Sri Lanka was way off in Test cricket in comparison to the others in the big league, but, were a bunch of gutsy cricketers who even could beat the World’s best on their given day.
They had their poise; they had their style but the only thing what they lacked at that time was the knowledge of how to perform consistently. At present all that is history and Lankan cricket has graduated into a recognised foe status where every opponent would think twice before they take any chances.
Last week, we had a chat about how Sri Lanka has grown in stature in the Test cricket arena and this is a critical analysis of where we are and what we seemingly lack in the ODI version of it.
More importantly why are we so concerned about the Lankan crisis in the shorter version of the game? The fact is that there is hardly any time left now for any serious u-turns. By January 1, 2011 Sri Lanka must be ready to host the Cricket’s pinnacle award – the World Cup which will take place in our own backyard.
The last time the ICC conducted this tournament in the Indian sub-continent, Sri Lanka cut through the entire cake without dropping a single game and finally crowned themselves as champions and beat favourites Australia in the final at Lahore in 1996. The strength in the outfit that ran away with the cup was its batting and especially the middle order. Number one, it was a time-tested unit. By 1996, almost the entire squad that took the field had represented the country on more than a hundred occasions.
|Pressure has piled on Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena in recent times and that has badly affected their performances.
A while before that the Lankan management took stock of one vital ingredient. At number three it was Asanka Gurusinha followed by Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama and Hashan Tillekeratne. That was as firm as any foundation could be. So they took a gamble with two of the free scoring batsmen and put them at the helm and gave them a blank cheque. “Go fire the opposition off its track and we the middle order will look after the rest of the matter thereafter.” To do that they groomed Sanath Jayasuriya and wicket-keeper batsman Romesh Kaluwitharana. And the rest is history.
Then Sri Lanka lived up to the newly acquired social status in the world of cricket and beat the West Indies, took the Singer World Series played in Sri Lanka, Singer Akai Cup in the UAE, Pepsi Independent Cup in India, The Pepsi Asia Cup , beat India and won the Wills Cup in Pakistan in just two years. For a team that rose from virtual obscurity to immediate stardom the rise was phenomenal.
So much so that Sri Lanka kept performing well in the big league till they ended up as runners-up to Australia at the 2006 World Cup in the West Indies. Until then Sri Lanka was doing well, but, it looks as if the tide has turned against Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the World Cup.
Someone who can take Sri Lanka
ODI cricket back to its winning ways
Incumbent runners-up 2006
Holders of the Asia Cup (2008)
Our requirement: A person who can fulfil the requirements given below
Since the Caribbean success Sri Lanka has been able to take home only one meaningful ODI Cup in the guise of the latest version of the Asia Cup that was played in Pakistan. Besides that they have beaten Bangladesh 3-0 at home and Zimbabwe 5-0 away. However the win against Zimbabwe was one of the worst performances by a top nation against a minnow – if one is apt in swallowing the bitter pill. In addition Sri Lanka also has lost 1-2 to Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, 3-2 to England at home, lost the Commonwealth Cup that involved Australia and India in Australia, West Indies 0-2 in the West Indies and 3-2 to India in Sri Lanka.
However the biggest ignominy is that the way they got about playing Bangladesh in Friday’s final.
Where have we gone wrong?
Since the time Sri Lanka cricket showed that indifference to their former skipper and opener Marvan Atapattu and hounded him out of the playing arena, the Lanka top slot is lopsided. Various partners have come along to pair off with veteran Sanath Jayasuriya, but none have worked. This means there is added pressure on No 3 Kumar Sangakkara. The result of this pressure is very visible. In the last ten innings Sangakkara the World ranked players scores have been 9 and 6 against India, 46 not out, 28 not out, 57, 23 and 28 against Zimbabwe in Harare, 4 and 0 against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the current series, which culminated in a face saving 59 in the final against Bangladesh. Seemingly this is well below the high standards that Sangakkara has set upon himself in the World arena. Pressure on Sangakkara means next is Mahela Jayawardena who is also under pressure. His last ten ODI innings also tells its own tale of woe. It reads as 94, 16 and 12 against India in Sri Lanka. 15,DNB, 4, 0 and 0 vs. Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. Then come the scores of 0 and 28 against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in Bangladesh in the current series, along with another ‘duck in the final’.
When the two fall automatically the domino theory begins and the rest of the batting collapses like the nine-pins.
Then what do we need? What Lanka need in the middle order is a “wall” akin to Australia’s Michael Bevan or India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A batsman who could carry the tail and run in case of there is a top order slop. May be when the top fires his contribution would be nullified. But, that slot is a vital link. What is distressing is that we do have a tailor-made man in our midst in Thilan Samaraweera, but, it is sad that the selectors have failed to see this anomaly as yet.
Another disturbing factor are the failures of veteran spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. Since late he looks a shadow of his former champion self. The management must take this into account and may be give him a break and work on him so that he could come back well in time for the World Cup to pair off with Ajantha Mendis. Or else why not look at out-of-the-box Seekuge Prasanna – a man who knows how to partner and fox the opposition with Mendis.
Mr. Selector, please think, think out of the box.