When a tree gets old it begins to wither. Is this happening to Sri Lanka Cricket? In the first hundred years of cricket’s existence, Sri Lanka, although smaller in size in comparison to the bigger cricketing nations, grew in tandem and so much so within fifteen years of getting full status, the country’s national team had won the Cricket World Cup.
Yet, now even the cricket’s chief selector Asantha de Mel is bewildered looking at the black hole that keeps swallowing the pride and quality of the game in the country and is of the view that if the status-quo continues, soon Lankan cricket will hit the rock bottom in international cricket.
While talking to an international website, de Mel had said the Lankan bowlers were not penetrative enough. He had added: “To win a Test you need to take 20 wickets. What I have observed about our quick bowlers is that they come at you initially around 135 (kmph) but are about ten kilometres (per hour) slower when they return for their second spell. The four to five bowlers in the line-up should all contribute to take wickets."
|Chief cricket selector Asantha de Mel.
When we asked de Mel was to elaborate on this statement, he exploded saying: “Our fast bowlers are not fit enough. There are two levels of fitness. One is the running fitness and the other is the bowling fitness. Our bowlers fall short of the standards when it comes to the latter category of fitness. As a result they cannot sustain themselves. Generally, a fast bowler should bowl around 20 overs a day in a Test match. Yet our bowlers deliver only about ten overs per day and still they get injured.
“For instance during the England series, the English bowlers in spite of operating in unfamiliar conditions, started bowling at a certain speed and maintained that level right through and even bowled more overs than the Lankan bowlers. The English fast bowlers not only bagged more wickets than their Lankan counterparts, but always were more penetrative.”
The reason for this anomaly, which the chief selector had studied deeply, was that the Lankan fast bowlers were not getting enough exposure in the domestic scene. He was aware that even in the domestic club scene the wickets and the accent were more on spin bowling and as a result fast bowlers get only a few opportunities. This situation led to domestic seam bowlers being short of bowling fitness.
He said he was aware that at certain club matches even the new ball is shared between two spinners. So much so he said that even at a Sri Lanka ‘A’ team match they had opened bowling with two spinners and he had found fault with the team coach on the matter.
De Mel said: “Because the fast bowlers tend to breakdown and the injuries to fast bowlers are common. We have only a few fast bowlers and because of the prevailing situation they are not operating at their peak at any given time.
“We have spoken to the respective coaches, yet it is the current status quo”.
Asantha de Mel who turned out for SSC and Sri Lanka was one of the best strike bowlers that the country has produced and played in the inaugural Test match against England in 1982.
He knows exactly what works well on our turf.
The former Sri Lankan opening bowler said that at present the whole gamut of Sri Lankan cricket structure was out of alignment and needed immediate restructuring. He said problems began at the school level. Most cricketers in the schools sphere cut their teeth in the game on matting wickets.
He said this was a huge drawback. A given cricketer may be good at school level and may have good career statistics to back up, but that does not count much because once the cricketer elevates from the school level and plays on turf wickets, he is not the same.
Then another drawback that de Mel sees is the number of matches that a school cricketer engages in during a season. He says that instead of the present 20-25 matches in a season, the authorities are trying to recommend a system of curtailing the number of matches. According to de Mel, they are to recommend a system of playing 5 matches during the third term and ten matches in the first term and the matches to be played only on Fridays and Saturdays or Saturdays and Sundays.
Another aspect that the Lankan chief selector sees is the plight of the prevailing club cricket structure. He questions the wisdom of having the club ‘tier A’ and the ‘tier B’ tournaments as first class. De Mel is of the view that the prevailing situation culminates in diluting the whole effort of top club cricket in Sri Lanka.
The Sunday Musings agrees. We have pointed out that as a result of having both tiers in the first class category, the whole structure has been diluted. The tier ‘A’ does not have the necessary bench strength because a periphery player can go down to the lower division, but, yet play first class cricket. Yet in a national perspective such a system plays a negative role. For instance, as de Mel pointed out, the NCC, a perennial club which has eight national caps in the side, is on the verge of being relegated. Why?
ecause its national cricketers constantly engaged in international commitments and the club does not have backup players as replacements because of the prevailing system. De Mel asked: “Is this the way we treat a club like the NCC which has been one of the major feeder points to national cricket”?
He also said the reason for the periphery players to go down to tier ‘B’ is that if they play five first class games in Sri Lanka they qualify to play club cricket in England as professionals and at present more than a hundred Lankan club cricketers are playing in England. Yet de Mel added that he would prefer to have 100 quality cricketers engaged in top cricket than eight hundred engaged in a low quality tournament.
Asantha de Mel feels the whole Lankan cricket structure should be remoulded and put into action soon. He said: “If we continue with the present trend we are going to fall flat on our faces in cricket very soon and we would be losing to teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe on a regular basis.”