Something that the cricket administrators and the selectors in this country should understand is that Sri Lankan cricket at present is in transition and in more than one way also is precariously perched.
The Sri Lankan team has been enjoying a wave of success during the past few years where they were placed among the better teams in both versions of the game. Mahela Jayawardena who took the reigns over from Marvan Atapattu in 2007 took his teams through a balanced Test series against England and then brown-washed the Englishmen 5-0 in the ODIs before ending as the runners-up of the 2006 World Cup played in the West Indies the next year.
Then Jayawardena suddenly took off his crown in March 2009. Sangakkara was close on his heels to take over and the run of success continued in spite of Lankan cricket going through some very rash moments administratively. So much so under Sangakkara, the Lankans reached the finals of the 2011 World Cup, but that euphoria was short lived when Sangakkara too abdicated his throne soon after.
The post- 2011-World-Cup era was one of the most turbulent periods in Sri Lanka cricket in many aspects. Administration-wise it was a mess with the finances hitting a rock bottom amidst allegations of large-scale corruption. Cricket-wise, skipper Kumar Sangakkara lad left the door open under a shroud of mystery and this was followed by the walking off of the national selection committee. At the same time, the best bowler Sri Lanka possessed in the post-Murali era, Lasith Malinga, too,retired from Test cricket in a bid to prolong his exploits in the shorter version of the game.
|Eranga looks good for Lanka’s future, but please nurture him. Here in the picture Eranga gets the Australian skipper Michael Clarke.
While the drama was unfolding in Colombo, the Lankan cricketers were scattered all over India taking part in the Indian Premier League at a time when national duty entailed them to play the FTP tour of England – a very important one which they seemed to take very lightly.
The Sports Minister concocted a new selection committee which had some stale faces that once before prompted a previous Sports Minister to get rid of with glee. However, it was no surprise when T.M. Dilshan was handed over the task to lead the pack to England by the new selectors. The cricketers did their migration to England to play their summer assignment in two or three flocks paying more attention to their IPL tasks than to their job at hand in England.
The Test leg was not a total disaster barring the one session tango. The Lankans lost a match in the second innings in a one-session disaster after scoring 400+ in their first innings.
Nevertheless, one thing was evident. The bad habits and their related minus effects of the Indian Premier League maligned many of our cricketers during the early English summer.
It all began with the promising young fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep who was bowled into submission at the IPL nets broke down in his first outing itself which resulted in the cricketer being out of the game for at least eight months into the future. The other IPL net bowler Dilhara Fernando also broke down while playing and he looked a joke when he tried operating off a short run up while the English batsmen were right on top at one stage of a game.
The Lankan spinners were out of their depth barring off spinner Suraj Randiv who seems to be getting a prolonged raw deal, in spite of being Sri Lanka’s only spinner of international value.
In batting Dilshan wearing the crown of thorns along with wicket keeper Prasanna Jayawardena held the Lankans batting together till the two batting celebrities Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena struggled to get out of the IPL clutches till the latter stages of the tour.
Back home, taking on the Australians once again the Lankan batting niggles began to surface.
The Lankans won the two T-20s in style. The Australians in return exploited the Lankans’ T-20 tango and won the five matches ODI series 3-2. In reality, in spite of playing at home, none of the Lankan batsmen was able to exploit the conditions. As far as we are concerned, the biggest damage to the Lankan ‘hard-to-beat-a-home tag’ was dented by the little known Australian left arm spinner Xavier Doherty who had the local batting in all kinds of knots through the series.
In the series Doherty bowled the most for an Australian bowler sending down 45 overs for 214 runs bagging eight wickets. Yet, the negative impact he made on the Lankan batting was far greater. At the other end, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Doug Bollinger undermined the local pride by picking up easy wickets through the series.
Even the Australian batting was not the same commanding force that we have experienced through the timeline that we remember. Besides skipper Michael Clarke and their real champion Ricky Ponting, none of the other batsmen held their own through the series, and we feel it was a direct result of the two seniors staying away from the T-20 influences which helped them through the series with their selection of shots.
In Lankan bowling Ajantha Mendis who mesmerized the Aussies in the T-20s was economical, but not threatening. Mendis’ Army mate Seekuge Prasanna brought a fresh breath of air, yet we feel he will be more worth in the longer version of the game.However, the best thing that happened to Lankan bowling for the past decade or so is the discovery of Shaminda Eranga. Unlike most of the other fast bowlers, who mushroomed in the latter stages, this young lad wants to take wickets and is always trying to out-think his opponents. Added to the pluses he has the ability of bagging top order wickets and his caps included Ricky Pointing, whom he trapped beautifully in his debut match, and the wickets of the previous games’ highest scorer Shaun Marsh who was bowled in the first over and the consistent Australian skipper Michael Clarke in his forties in the last game.
However, we hope the authorities will not let Eranga be another hapless victim of the Indian Premier League and plagued by injuries.
The Test series is just a few days away. Maybe the authorities have made overtures to the Lankan champion Lasith Malinga to reconsider his retirement from Test cricket and at least get him to be back in the fray from the second Test onwards.
This Australian outfit is not the best that we have seen. That does not mean that they are trash. But, it is the only Australian side that we have seen that could be beaten so why not get the best weapons ready and go to battle with purpose.