ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 02, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 40

Are we the champions?

Could a country which can produce the best batsman and the best bowler simultaneously (it may not be in the same module that we are discussing right now) could come out with a spineless performance like the one Sri Lanka has produced at the Commonwealth Bank Series currently in progress in Australia? When you take the laurels like being the incumbent World Cup runners-up and the side who beat England 5-nil on their own soil into consideration it does not look quite plausible, but when you take the plain truth into consideration it just can be startling.

Are the Sri Lankans a side that is so strong and invincible like everyone is trying to make out? What have we merited to get such accolades?

Can we take a stroll back to the end of 2004 when Sri Lanka took on New Zealand on a five match ODI series in New Zealand just before tsunami washed away the balance four games? (Only to be played later on). In the only match that was played before the players decided to come home Sri Lanka lost the match by seven wickets. Then in the Indian Oil Cup series that followed involving the West Indies and India, Sri Lanka beat India twice, lost to the West Indies by 33runs and then beat the Caribbean counterparts once again by 18 runs to take the series. The Lankans followed this up with a 3-0 bashing of Bangladesh in August-September 2005.

This euphoria was short lived. Sri Lanka under their new coach Tom Moody and India under their new coach Greg Chappell met on Indian soil (not Oil) this time. This was a huge disaster for Sri Lanka. In a prolonged seven match series, the Indians regrouped to inflict a 6-1 series defeat on the Lankans. Some of the defeats were unimaginable. After winning the first match by 152 runs, the second match they won with 178 balls remaining. After Sri Lanka won the fifth match, the Indians got their act together and beat Sri Lanka by margins of 91 and 63 balls to spare in the last two games. Just imagine the balls total up to 55.3 overs in cricketing parlance. Ironically this was the first nail in the coffin of Marvan Atapattu’s captaincy of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka next lost to New Zealand 3-1 tsunami return, but did well to enter the final of the VB series in Australia involving also South Africa. Sri Lanka while beating the home team twice also beat South Africa on two occasions lost on two occasions. They also lost to Australia on five occasions In the first final that Sri Lanka won two spinners Muralitharan and Malinga Bandara bowled 20 overs in tandem for 91 runs and shared four wickets while there also were three run outs. Interestingly Bandara who accounted for fifteen wickets in this series was not even considered by the Lankan captain and the coach while a section of the selection committee were vehement on including the spinner.

The very next tour the team was sans Atapattu and some other seniors and the destination was to Bangladesh under ‘stand in’ captain (on trial) Mahela Jayawardena. Sri Lanka won the series, but it was not before losing to Bangladesh for the first time in history.

Atapattu came back against Pakistan, but lost the series 2-0 after an initial washout, and thereafter former was out nursing an injury. At the same time former skipper Sanath Jayasuriya popped in and out of retirement.

Sri Lanka started the next tour tentatively bragging that they can play without the likes of Jayasuriya, but, it was only Jayasuriya and his flamboyancy that took Sri Lanka to a 5-nil victory over England on their own soil which was followed by a 2-nil victory over the Netherlands. Here they also created history by scoring 443 for 9 in their allotted 50 overs.

The next series against India was washed away and South Africa ran away before Sri Lanka had to qualify for the champion’s trophy along with the West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. After wins against the three teams mentioned before Sri Lanka beat New Zealand and then lost to Pakistan and South Africa and thus ended their quest to that plum.

Lanka played New Zealand and drew it 2-all and again lost to India 2-1 in their World Cup precursor.

In the World Cup Sri Lanka beat Bermuda, Bangladesh and India in the qualifying rounds and lost to South Africa by one wicket, beat the West Indies by 113 runs, England 2 runs, New Zealand by 7 wickets, Ireland by 8 wickets and New Zealand by 81 runs before running into the squash ball aided century by Adam Gilchrist, which Lanka lost by 53 runs in a rain and bad-light mixed final fiasco.

Coming home as the World Cup runners-up Lanka lost to a regrouping Pakistan who were eliminated in the qualifying stages in the World Cup 2-1 in Abu Dhabi, and then lost to an emerging English outfit 3-2 on home soil.

This is Sri Lanka’s train of results in the near future prior to the Australian disaster where the home team lost all decency of respect by the general public.

The summary of this is so far from end December 1994 Sri Lanka has played 85 ODIs and has won 43 and lost 42. Out of this forty three wins they have beaten the West Indies 3-1, Bangladesh 10-1, Zimbabwe 1-0, Bermuda 1-0 and the Netherlands 2-0 amounting to 18-2. This means that Sri Lanka only has beaten teams of substance only on 25 occasions while losing 42 times (which includes two against Bangladesh and the West Indies).

Though some say this is the best outfit that Sri Lanka ever had, they seem to lack a combination of the calibre of Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva who have the ‘big match’ temperament. For instance ten years apart they were involved in two award winning partnerships.

The first was in 1986 when Sri Lanka won their very first international trophy. In this Asia Cup final against Pakistan which was played on 6th April 1986 at the SSC grounds, Sri Lanka were tottering at one stage at 3 for 64 in reply to Pakistan’s 191 for 9 in 45 overs, when the pair of Ranatunga and de Silva got together. Ranatunga guiding his younger partner moved the score up to 161 before falling to champion leg spinner Abdul Qadir for 57. Then his younger partner made his departure one run before victory for 52.

Ten years later the same pair brought forth Sri Lanka biggest sporting achievement ever – The Cricket World Cup with an unbroken stand of 97 runs.

Now both Sangakkara and Jayawardena may have their own individual brilliance, but, have to put their act together to put out brilliant performances when it is really needed?

Then the questions to be asked – 1. Is Sri Lanka relying too much on Jayasuriya to deliver the goods and now that he is not so consistent we are back on the drawing board.2. Most of the seniors play their individual game and not for team and country. 3. Sri Lanka’s middle order has been brittle and very little that we have done to remedy the issue. 4. The bowling composition has been more than lopsided on most occasions. 5. Are there indiscipline and team squabbles bugging our performances and there is an investigation pending? 6. Has the IPL taken precedence over our own national cause? 7. Has there been outside pressure on the tour selectors when trying to drop an out of form senior? 8. A family squabble between two players which has led to a divorce also has hampered the two individual’s performances?

Over to you chairman Ranatunga who has more insight to situations of this nature than any other layman who has sat on that seat before.

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