A straight drive with Sidath
By S. R. Pathiravithana
Just a moment’s pause, did the battle of the Titans fetch the desired results to the betterment of the game of cricket? Hardly so, it was more akin to a battle of personal glory and who did what!

However The Sunday Musings had a thirst for more. My quest was to dig deep into the negatives of the game and learn of what they were. There I met the reluctant, but, solid figure of Sidath Wettimuny who parted with an iota of the cricketing in-depth that he possesses which in turn had me pondering for yet another few hours.

Working on a tight schedule we were on the firing line. The Musings queried as to what was wrong with Lankan cricket and if it was a thing that was coming for sometime now and what would be his recommended remedies for it. The former Lankan batting genius was not perturbed. He began “I do not think there is a decline as such, may be there has been a gradual slide, but it does not worry me, there is nothing to worry about the slight decline in our cricket.

However there are some good signs. For instance our bowling today, with Malinga Bandara coming in (he is one of the best prospects), we have one of the best combinations that have come in for some time. This augurs well for the next year or two. It’s our batting that is the concern. However it’s more of a combination problem. Now with Sanath losing form, naturally it leaves a huge void. When you lose a player like Sanath for any team, it’s like the West Indies losing Lara. Then they will be in a big hole. That is the struggle we are having. But, I think he will come back and be around at least till the World Cup. I think we need him till the World Cup. So, these we can resolve, these slumps are natural in many ways.

“My biggest concern is not how our cricketers are faring right now. I think we will see that through, my biggest concern at present is our cricket administration in the big picture. When you take the last ten years, there have been so many changes. There is no one who can actually come and see through. Obviously there is something radically wrong in the system. I cannot claim that I know the answer to that. From 1995 we have had so many changes.

Every year cricket administrations are changing. So, whoever comes in will take measures which will encompass the situation only for today, may be for six months, so, there is no continuity no long term planning. I presume the people who are there are either interested in the long term. They are there to survive for today. From what I can see because of sports laws and the structure of cricket we are dependant on the minister or the government to put things right. Ultimately the government itself will have to decide what we should do? How important is cricket to us?

“Cricket is one sport that put us in the map in a positive manner. There is a huge tourism interest because of that. There is so much goodwill because of that. I think it is up to the government to realize and recognize that this is something that we should not play around with. Then find a system to bring in people who have the knowledge, who have the commitment, to serve cricket with a long term in view.” Then when the Musings quipped if cricket should not be an independent body and run like a corporate, Sidath replied “It may be the ideal situation, but what do we do? We are tied into sports law and therefore to the government and along with that all the complications that come along with it. I do not know the solution to that, but all I can say is that the people who are running our cricket cannot look at all the problem areas.

The problem areas are the youth cricket, I think this provincial tournament needs to be completely revamped, to make it a more stable structured tournament with infrastructure. We cannot do that why? The administrators would think that is a long term issue, and nobody is interested in a long term issue. Coaching is another aspect. Then the organizing of the tournaments and seeing how they would establish themselves, again in the long term. The other countries are doing it. They have more stability in their systems and we don’t and the lack of stability is making people not think of long term but only think of short term. That state of mind and the state of affairs reflects in our cricket. Even the cricketers need to have a mind where they could feel that they are serving an establishment which is stable. At the moment they are serving an establishment that is unstable. I am pin-pointing this administration or the other administration. Then I get the feeling that we do not want to attract enough good people into out system because of the system. Do we have the best serving our cricket?

The discussion cascaded down to the cricketing nursery. We across the table pointed out that during his era and prior to that school cricket in the island was well established so much so that in that era a cricketer even while a schoolboy could have been identified as a future national prospect. However now it is completely a reverse situation. We needed his views on this. – Sidath in reply said “For that there are many reasons. One thing is we have all observed this and we feel that there is such a change. But, you cannot say that the structure has eroded in the last ten to fifteen years. If you look at school cricket maybe the structures are the same as they were, we perceive that there are idols or we do not see any stars, we see quantity but not quality, but the answer to that may not be simple as we think.

For instance, I feel that we have lost batsmen of quality among the younger generation for the simple reason that every kid is using a very heavy bat. We are buying all our bats from India and Pakistan and they produce only bats which are over 2.10lbs. In my opinion a kid who is under 15 years of age cannot bat with such a heavy bat. They need to use lighter bats to learn how to pick a bat and learn how to play strokes. To learn the art of batting you need to have proper bats. Sir Don Bradman used a bat which weighed 2.2lbs. He was the greatest batsman on earth. Today what has happened is that because Tendulkar is using a three pounder, every kid wants to use a three pounder so our technique has gone haywire. In my mind those are the issues that should be looked into. To address those issues you need guys who understand that. Once when I was in the interim committee I actually suggested that we import hundred or two hundred 2.2 or 2.4 bats and flog it in the market and get children used to lighter bats. Because the lighter bats will teach them to time the ball and not slog. Batting is simply an art, it is not all about clearing the boundary.

“The other issue is the new no-ball rule that kills spin bowling. That is a subject that you need to sit and discuss with people who understand cricket, see what the solutions are. Today we do not produce spin bowlers because we are throwing darts. I was in India the other day and I was discussing this with Hanumant-Singh who is a top coach in the CCI. We discussed this and he agreed. Today the spinners do not use the bowling crease; they use the batting crease as a yardstick. With whom do we discuss this? Who will want to understand this or who will want to know? There are a lot of issues that are causing the decline of the game.

“Fast bowling has improved. Our fitness levels have improved, our input fast bowling has been good, we are lucky that we have people like Rumesh Ratnayake, Champaka Ramanayake and Anusha Samaranayake, who have put in a lot of effort. But there are so many issues at base level.

In answer to the question as to why batsmen of repute do not get heavily involved and try to put things right the former Sri Lanka opening batsman said “Here I think the system is at fault. I think that there is something wrong with the system. We have to recognize these. I suggested to the last Cricket Committee which I resigned from to have a television programme running like a talk show which would involve cricketers of repute so that we can reach a mass of people at once and give them an insight into the correct thing very fast. But that went unheeded. Even the provincial tournament could be restructured in such a way that it could be more attractive and meaningful so that a player will have a sense of belonging.

That should be a place where they would want to play. Market the concept. Designate top coaches, managers and have good infrastructure. So, that if a coach is producing results he can have a stint even with the national squad. If these do not take place what do you do? Then you have to let go or just watch in frustration.

I think that it is the responsibility of the government and the minister of sport to recognize that cricket is a serious business in this country with so much goodwill internationally. I do not think that enough priority is given to cricket.


Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.