STAND UP and be counted!
By S.R. Pathiravithana
MalingaIt’s no secret that Sri Lanka has reached the crossroads in cricket and is on the verge of facing one of its biggest transitions since the exodus of a majority of their senior players to the then cricket outcasts South Africa after the country had played only four Test matches proper. However as it was Sri Lanka’s infancy in the “big man’s” arena, the loss was not felt that badly. But the stark similarity between the two occurrences is that this present transition also befell the Lankan team rather unwittingly than being geared and ready for it.

It is a known fact that especially within the past three years the Lankan top drawer players—Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jaysuriya have been bogged down by injury problems while in addition the passing of years have also taken a toll off players of the calibre of Marvan Atapattu and Chaminda Vaas. Besides this another experienced player in the squad in Nuwan Zoysa would have been a regular in the side if he did not succumb to injuries ever so often. In short it has been the injuries that have kept Zoysa out of the squad more than his poor performances.

Then the question that is to be asked is that had the Sri Lankan authorities worked out a proper injury management plan until it reached crisis proportions or to put it just bluntly– not until all around were shouting “Oh hell! we are going to run short of players”.

It is a mere fact that today’s cricket is more than demanding and burn outs and injuries can occur that much more often than a few years ago. I feel that Greg Chappell in India and Bob Woolmer in Pakistan have well understood the gravity of this situation and are rotating their players faster than the ceiling fan in your living room! However, to these changes in India and Pakistan the players are attuned so that those wheels keep turning at the normal pace without very many hiccups.

Ironically I cannot see the same scenario in the local playing arena. Here in Sri Lanka a different kind of politics is at play and either the selectors are scared of taking the necessary bold steps or else Sri Lanka has just run short of the necessary talent to pose a threat to the incumbent senior players, or both. Just imagine in the current team that is in Abu Dhabi there are two players -- Avishka Gunawardena and Upul Chandana who have arguably played their last international match at the highest level. Now they are testing their skills along with the world’s second string of players while some of the real side-wing players like Russel Arnold and Dilhara Fernando are staying at home.

This team should have consisted of young hopefuls who could do much for the future. An opportunity of this nature would have done them immense good for the cause of cricket in this country. What really does Sri Lanka stand to gain by sending two players in the twilight of their careers to take part in a minnow’s tournament? If it is winning the tournament I would like to tell them they are running down the wrong lane! Sri Lanka does not gain anything by winning an “A” team tournament in Abu Dhabi. If at all they must win either the Champions Trophy or the World Cup at senior level.

Coming back on to the senor side and the plight that the Lankan team is facing at present, I would like to ascertain as to how it has affected their performances so far on their tour to England.

Out from the side are – regular skipper Marvan Atapattu who is on the injured list and Sanath Jayasuriya who some say was arm-twisted into retiring. Fact or fiction they are the most experienced in the Lankan batting order and have been the regular openers. With 11,943 runs made in 190 Test matches between them, the record of Jayasuriya’s and Atapattu’s would be hard to beat. Nevertheless two young players – Michael Vandort and Upul Tharanga who have worn those heavy shoes so far have performed sufficiently well with Vandort scoring a match-winning 90 not out vs Derbyshire and the latter banging a tour opener century in his first outing. The bowling attacks faced so far may not be the same as the things to come but, mind you, these two innings came in conditions that are alien to us in the sub-continent and these conditions do suit the bowlers.

Then the next in batsmen – vice captain Kumar Sangakkara and captain Mahela Jayawardena have played 135 Test matches between them and undoubtedly are the most talented and skilled not only in the side but are also two of the best batsmen in world cricket today. However the sheer pressure of taking the burden of playing Shepherd to the young herd and scoring runs at the same time are gradually taking toll of their performances.

Tilan Samaraweera in spite of coming into the side as an off spinner initially has come in as the only player with real Test temperament and it seems that he is in there to play a long innings. In the lower middle order Dilshan started off with a knock of 163 against Zimbabwe on the latter’s backyard and has scored only three more centuries in his thirty four Test appearances. Besides his current Test average of 38.17 Dilshan does have the talent and must strive to convert his starts into big innings. Young Chamara Kapugedera is another middle order batsman who has stood up to the challenges posed with his own inimitable youthful exuberance.

The above batsmen along with Jehan Mubarak who is on an extended play form the nucleus of the batting along with experienced Chaminda Vaas and Farvez Maharoof being able make a few runs down at the bottom. With Chaminda Vaas back in the side after his thigh injury the Sri Lanka bowling looks the better equipped of the two disciplines of cricket. The Lankan bowling attack comprising the Vaas-Muralitharan combination along with the Malinga’s-- Lasith and Bandara along with Zoysa and Mahroof looks one of the best that Sri Lanka has had in its quarter century of Test cricket.

On their part England too are suffering with their own share of injuries, but yet under their own conditions will be a formidable outfit that is hard to beat. However if the Sri Lankan management could inculcate sufficient confidence in this young outfit they may be able to provide the necessary brio in this period of transition.


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