Ponder, Down Under

Last Monday the Lankan cricketers en bloc were on the catwalk at a five-star hotel for some charity thing and mind you the lot did look handsome. They were so full of shine and radiance that they surely could have sent some chill through the spines of many of the opposite sex who were present by the ramp on that day.

However, a while later tonight the squad would leave the Lankan ramp with their national crests heading Down Under to take on the powerhouse Australian outfit on a World Cup precursor – their penultimate international engagement prior to the West Indies series at home followed by the big-one in February.

Kumar Sangakkara cuts a dashing figure on the cat-walk. - Pic byGemunu Wellage

So let the catwalk be, and move on to the more serious affairs of National pride and about the game that takes the Lankan message through the cricket world.

This is a very serious tour, and the importance goes higher when you consider that it is so close to the 2011 World Cup and all cricketing nations are in preparation for it. On paper, the Lankans are perched very well. At No 3 in the ICC list of fortunes they must be the cynosure of many an eye barring the two teams ahead of us – the number one placed Indians and the second-placed South Africans.

Honestly thinking can we be pretty cocky as the lads were on the ramp on Monday when we take the composition that is making this tour? Doesn’t it look a bit lopsided to relax and be satisfied while we watched them walk by one by one.

There is no doubt this Lankan outfit on tour is talented and confident. But, we at this end feel that though the talent is present, we still have that strange notion that there are some holes left in the jig-saw. But, yet this is not the end of the world and this tour is also not the ultimate goal.

Yet a huge fraternity of the cricket public in this talented little island thinks Sri Lanka should have had their proper World Cup Xl and the periphery players on list at least three months ago. Even former national cricket coach and batting maestro Roy Dias while talking to the Sunday Musings felt that though the Lankan cricket illustration is hung up on a strong frame, the picture portrayed is not bright enough for the World Cup party.

He felt that the Lankan line-up lacked the experience and talent in the caliber of Sri Lanka’s best ever seamer Chaminda Vaas who is still around doing well even in the English county circuit and Thilan Samaraweera whom Dias wants to bat at No 3, to bring solidity into the Lankan ranks. I fully agree with him.

Speaking earnestly, the Lankan batting is still in disarray and still no one knows what the final composition will be -- may be until the toss. Up at the helm Dilshan is sure that he will be at the non-striker’s end in the first over, but, Upul Tharanga wouldn’t know whether he will have to drop down making way for seasoned campaigner Mahela Jayawardena who is, obviously, streets ahead of him in every aspect of the game. So there is uncertainty at the top.

At No 3, walks in skipper Kumar Sangakkara who now has recovered from his hamstring injury which he sustained while at training. But, as Roy Dias puts it, it is too much of a burden on the captain in that pivotal No 3 slot as he is also the wicket-keeper of the side. Dias feels Thilan coming in at No 3 could take a whole load of pressure off the shoulders of Sangakkara and also put a hint of stability into it.
Even at this end we feel Samaraweera, who is a plodder, could keep rotating the strike and keep pushing the scoreboard one-by-one while the others go for their natural stroke play, which the Lankan cricketers are born with.

I wish Sri Lanka had a youngster in the mould of Murali Vijay. One thing I had noticed in this lad is that he is very reluctant to donate his wicket to the opposition. A batsman who has been enjoying success even in the T-20 version of it, Murali Vijay is a very frugal chap when it comes to shot selection in Test cricket and knows how to adapt himself according to the situation.

Besides the top four -- Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara, T.M. Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera -- it is only Upul Tharanga who has been consistent at international level while both Chamara Kapugedera and Chamara Silva are yet to prove themselves worthy of their national crest.

Kapugedera, the more experienced of the two Chamaras, has a highest score of 95 made against the West Indies in 2008 with an average of 22.95 while Silva has a highest score of 107 made against India way back in 2007, but has a more impressive average of 31.11. Upul Tharanga has eight ODI centuries against his name.

This means there is a lot of pressure put on the young shoulders of young batting all-rounder Angelo Mathews in the middle of the Lankan innings. Once again the Lankans keep looking to the wiles of Muttiah Muralitharan on this tour, but the Aussie wickets somehow have not been so kind to the veteran through his career. Only time will tell how effective his young protégé Randiv would be on the Australian wickets taking into consideration the lad’s height and the high arm action on bouncy tracks Down Under.

Once again I agree with Dias – when he says if the Lankans want to impress they will have to seek the services of the experienced Vaas as we are yet to find a consistent seamer to pair off with Lasith Malinga, who has become a master in seam bowling at international level.

Nuwan Kulasekera, who was the number one ODI bowler a while ago, has been slipping and we wonder how effective his nip-off the track bowling would be on the bouncy Australian wickets. Dilhara Fernando is good on his day but as an international bowler he has a long way to go.

The Australian tour Squad: Kumar Sangakkara (Captain), Mahela Jayawardana (V. Captain), T.M. Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Chamara Silva, Jeewan Mendis, Angelo Mathews, (subject to fitness, if not to be replaced by Thilina Kandamby), Chamara Kapugedara, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekera, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Suraj Randiv, Dhammika Prasad and Dinesh Chandimal.
Standby: Rangana Hearth, Ajantha Mendis, Thilina Kandamby, Thilina Thushara and Farveez Maharoof.

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