It was a bright and sunny day but, looking through my window, I thought there was a tinge of gloom. It was then that I called Sri Lanka Cricket team’s manager Charith Senanayake to discuss about our chances. We were just about to climb Mount Everest or something similar — taking on the ICC’s No.1 [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Charith’s theory spells magic


It was a bright and sunny day but, looking through my window, I thought there was a tinge of gloom. It was then that I called Sri Lanka Cricket team’s manager Charith Senanayake to discuss about our chances. We were just about to climb Mount Everest or something similar — taking on the ICC’s No.1 ranked team, Australia, in the first Test at Pallekelle.

Well, at that time, as for Lanka’s chances — I did not place any bets on it. Yet, as customary, I asked my longtime friend Charith for his professional viewpoint. Without a moment’s hesitation, Charith put things in perspective. He explained, “This is a gigantic task and we are up to the challenge. Right at the moment, what we have done is to laid the foundation and begin to build the wall, but are far from completing the building. Now we are in the process of taking on the Australians. This is going to be another huge challenge. But, at the same time, we are aware that we have to work with the talent in hand and it would take us some time to settle down as a complete unit. Yet, at the same time, we feel we are just one win away from that proposition. Just one good win could turn things around.”

To be very honest, I was a bit sceptical about the proposition but, I tagged along.
Then, he added, “We have learned that, within the past six months, the National team has sifted through 54 players. When our management team led by Graham Ford took over the task of rebuilding the team, we started on a very shallow foundation. Now we are in the process of identifying all the loose ends and tying them.”

Yet, a few days later, the whole scenario turned topsy-turvy. First, they fought the odds and surmounted them. Then they fought the weather and beat the deadline. This show of adrenaline culminated in the Lankans accomplishing the almost impossible — beating the Australians only for the second time in its Test Cricket history.

In 1999, under Sanath Jayasuriya, who now heads the selection panel, Sri Lanka completed its first Test win against Australia. But then we had a star-studded Sri Lanka outfit including Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu, Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Mahela Jayawardena, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan who were accustomed to the pressures of ‘missions impossible’.

The team that fitted the Senanayake’s we-are-just-one-win-away theory came sans any of those ingredients. May be, Rangana Herath and Angelo Mathews could be considered good cricketers capable of match-winning performances on a given day but, as a rule, the present Lankans were a bunch of ‘no-hopers’ who had lost more matches than any of the post-1996 outfits.

As far as I am concerned, the turning point of the match started even before the game got under way. It occurred when medium pacer Suranga Lakmal was ruled injured and the unlikely choice was left arm wrist spinner Lakshan Sandakan who specialises in the ‘Chinaman’. I guess that made the initial difference. After the Australian bowling battery had decapitated the Lankan fight for a ‘nondescript’ 117 runs, Rangana Herath got an able assistant to swim against the tide. Sandakan not only kept a tight leash on the opposition but, managed to make dents in the Australian armour at regular intervals. Once the Australians also sort of collapsed in the first innings, the Lankans saw a peephole they could creep through.

Now the question is how to sustain this goldmine they’ve stumbled upon. I was more than impressed with the wisdom of Senanayake. It was very obvious when I asked the question burning within me.

Senanayake was quick to answer. “Yes, the win came quite by chance, but it came at the most opportune time. I say this because it is the No.1 ranked side in the world that we beat. It is a thrill to beat the No.1 side and, that much more special when the No.1 side is Australia.

“Now what we have to do is to consolidate and build on this foundation. Yes, there were moments of individual brilliance in that game, like the huge hundred young Kusal Mendis scored and the bowling of Herath and Sandakan. But, in reality, it takes 11 players to beat a good side and contributions should come from the rest, in some way or the other.
“The Australians are not going to take this lying down. They are going to come back very hard, as hard as they can. Thus the turning point would be to see how we withstand that pressure”

Senanayake explained that experts around the team is working very hard and are beginning to understand the players, and the more the experts understand them, the better it is for the players. If our players could end the Australian series well, they would have breathing space for consolidation, before their gruelling series against South Africa beginning with the Boxing Day Test in December.

At the same time, we at this end, feel that scaling this wall could well be a stiff proposition. It’s not only the opposition’s wrath that the Lankans have to subdue, but also the mistakes of trigger-happy umpires who have no qualms in sailing with the wind. Even during the first Test, there were moments of utter despair for the Lankans. During the first inning of the second Testthere were instances of balls missing the stumps and huge inside edges being given out sans much hesitation; only to be reviewed and reprieved. So the road to recovery, especially against the big guns, would not be an easy one. There would be occasions the Lankans would have to take two steps backwards, before taking a step in the right direction.

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