In the bygone era, it was Australia and England. They ruled the roost in international cricket and it was a closely knitted unit that kept to their programme in the game. To prove the fact, Don Bradman who is considered the greatest cricketer ever to grace the popping crease, hardly had any exploits with other [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Lankan cricketing values in the doldrums


In the bygone era, it was Australia and England. They ruled the roost in international cricket and it was a closely knitted unit that kept to their programme in the game.

To prove the fact, Don Bradman who is considered the greatest cricketer ever to grace the popping crease, hardly had any exploits with other cricketing nations other than England. Of the 52 Test matches that he played during his 20 years in international cricket from 1928 to 1948, 37 were against England while he played five each against South Africa, India and the West Indies. Ironically South

Former Sri Lanka skipper is seriously pondering retiring from Test cricket. - AFP Photo

Africa during the apartheid period played only against ‘white only’ teams until they were dumped by England over the Basil D’Oliveira issue. This means there was an era that cricket was played mostly by an exclusive club, which the others could butt in if and when. Nonetheless the segregation is history now. Even the very voting system that prevailed in the international cricket forum also has changed. Now the individual countries in the ‘full membership group’ have an equal say. Yet, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any undercurrents, but now the wagon has four wheels and it runs as best as it could.

In reality the change came with the introduction of the World Cup in 1975 where the then strong West Indies prevailed over the rest for two consecutive occasions — in 1975 and in 1979. This was followed by the surprise package India pulling the rug under the rest of the world and beating the bewildered West Indies in the 1983 final.

Until then, the Indian subcontinent had been considered ‘also-rans’ in world cricket. This impetus revived the sleeping Asian giant. Sri Lanka, too, was in the broth from the very beginning – playing on invitation in 1975 and then passing the qualifying test in 1979. In the same timespan Sri Lanka with the help of their neighbours India and Pakistan gained full voting rights and in 1983, took part as a full member. In 1992 when Pakistan under charismatic Imran Khan won the tournament with a pack of virtually unknowns at that time, the cricketing world took a step back and began to watch the subcontinent.

Yet, the last thing the cricketing world ever expected happened at the next occasion in 1996.

The internal strife had counted over ten years Sri Lanka. Yet Sri Lanka was one of the hosts along with India and Pakistan. Yes, the fighting may have been going in one part of the island, yet the big cities like Colombo and Kandy could have carried on with their cricket. Yet, in the same group Australia was haughty enough to boycott their Colombo leg of the itinerary while West Indies still one of the strongest in the fray decided to show their blind-faith in Australia and also boycotted the Lankan leg.

The Lankan reacted calmly. They went on to prove the haughtiness of Australia and the West Indies were grave mistakes by beating Australia in the final in Lahore.

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka had achieved the impossible. They had achieved what England, New Zealand and South Africa, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were still and are aspiring to do.

Likewise the three nations upped their game in both segments. So much so India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan built almost impregnable cricketing fortresses where the visiting teams struggled. Winning a Test match in either country became an achievement to any cricketing nation. In addition the three nations also began to win Test matches and series even when they were playing overseas.
First it was England and then it was the West Indies which went on the decline. South Africa too had reached the point of saturation and their cricket too became glossless.The Asian cricket boom was flourishing. Pakistan and Sri Lanka became better-off in their kitties. Their cricketers from semi-professional moved on to the professional status. Yet, it was India which took the maximum advantage of the situation. Being the second most populous nation — the Indian public flocked around their cricketers. The Board of Control for Cricket in India graduated to become the richest cricketing entity on the globe.

In the mid 2000s, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were always in the top rung of the Test points table. Sri Lanka once rose up to the second position while India became the top Test playing nation in 2011.

In the midst of this development, India double capped their status by becoming the champions of the inaugural World T-20 championships in South Africa. India in a bid to flaunt their new gotten status staged the Indian Premier League tournament and began to buy scores of international cricketers to be the servants of Indian dollars.

Meanwhile, especially England and South Africa began to look inwards and reshaped their internal structures and made them extra competitive, and thus their cricket became compatible with the rest of the nations. England began to take Ashes while South Africa took Australia’s place in world status. Australia which were almost invincible for almost a decade declined a bit, but, now are working hard at being one of the top four.

Meanwhile, for Sri Lanka, aping India became the fashion. India do not play any Test cricket in March-April. Neither do they let any of their subservient satellites to do the same during this period. Sri Lanka began to flaunt Test series in favour of the shorter versions of cricket. Right at this moment Sri Lanka is the number one T-20 nation in the World, but that does not indicate anything. The only result of this move is that the Lankan cricketing professionals are forgetting the art of playing Test cricket. Then we hope the saturation point of the decline will culminate with the Australian tour. If Sri Lanka has to go below, they will have to lose to Bangladesh at home in a Test series.

India on the other hand has lost its grip in Test cricket completely. The rejuvenated England thrashed them naked in England and now has beaten them in India in a series after ions.

Now the Test fortunes read as South Africa, England and Australia at 1, 2 and 3. Like what I said earlier they are building that exclusive club once again may be in a different context.

The big brother and his younger are running in tandem. Yet, India with their riches may have the wherewithal to change their fortunes. But, Sri Lanka a cricketing country which has transformed its cricketers into T-20 mercenaries will rush their way into the doldrums.

PS: In other countries including India players retire from the ‘short’ game and remain in the longer version like what Tendulkar did. In Sri Lanka players only retire from Test cricket. You can be the judge of Lankan values.

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