Last of the Mohicans?

The Champions Trophy in South Africa commencing on the 22nd September at the Centurion with a game between Sri Lanka and South Africa will be important for many reasons. Firstly with the advent of T 20 Cricket, there are doubts being expressed with regard to the future of the 50over game itself.

There is also a school of thought that the Champions trophy of 2009 will possibly be the last of its kind and the world’s attention may turn to the even shorter version the T 20. Who knows we may have 10 over games in the future considering the importance tagged to entertainment and commercial viability in the T 20 format, ignoring the finer points and the technicality of the game of cricket itself. The world has definitely looked at a completely different direction!

In fact it was only the other day that Tony Greig the former England and Sussex Captain and now a respected commentator shared with me how the English fans and the establishment thought that 40 over cricket was far too short when it was first introduced. Called the Sunday league then, most thought of it to be a total misfit though it attracted large crowds considering the time it started. 2 in the afternoon!!
With that kind of a history and a back drop it was interesting to note that the same English Counties manned by the modern generation have voted the 50 over format out of their fixtures and would be reinventing the 40 over game. Certainly interesting decisions considering the times ahead of the game!
Getting back to the Champions trophy itself, an idea first mooted by Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya in 1998, one must say that the tournament itself was a success. The only point of argument was the fact that after all there was a cricket world cup conducted through similar no of overs and whether there was a need for another similar tournament, though the ICC was careful to brand the two tournaments separately and to also position it at different levels. Whether the tournament will continue and the same levels of interests maintained only time will tell.
Mathews – the rising star

Having said that, the tournament itself is hugely important to all countries -- played in just two groups with three first round games and then the Semi Final and the Final. There will be no time for teams to ease into the tournament. They need to go out there and start winning from day one. Whilst the reigning Champions Australia and the runner up West Indies are drawn in one group which is A the Sri Lankans are drawn in group B against South Africa the hosts, New Zealand and England. One could say that judging by the current forms of teams, Sri Lanka has just one tough game which is South Africa and the rest appears relatively easy though we all know that cricket cannot be taken lightly and every game be it against Australia or Bangladesh are very important. Hence whilst being one of the favourites to qualify to the semi final stage Sri Lanka will have to be definitely at their very best against every team.

Considering the composition of the Sri Lanka team, it definitely appears to be bordering on solidity. With the solid Samaraweera declaring his intentions for the shorter version of the game, the batting order couldn’t have been more solid barring may be one position! With Dilshan now very much the established opener and the veteran Jayasuriya as his partner, Sri Lanka couldn’t have asked for a better combination, provided Jayasuriya is able to rediscover his magical touch.

With Sangakkara, Jayawardane and Samaraweera occupying the next three places up to no five, the Sri Lankans should be confident of run making. It is the vital no six that the Lankans will really have to look at filling as we all know the amount of importance it has been tagged with. One option could be to bat Samaraweera at six though he generally prefers to take his time when he comes in. This may not be ideal if the order of the day is quick runs. My choice for no six would be Angelo Mathews though the young man still needs a bit more time in the game before being given that responsibility as this position was generally reserved for some top players in the world stage such as Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Imran Kahn!

Mathews at six could give Sri Lanka the extra bowling option but could be slightly thin on batting. Hence Kandamby or Kapugedara will have to put their hands up and grab this huge opportunity that may not prevail for too long considering the long line of top young players in the pipe line. Young Lahiru Thirimanne thought of as one of the best to emerge in the recent past along with Dinesh Chandimal and Ashan Priyanjana both former U 19 skippers, Gihan Rupasinghe, Milinda Siriwardena and Sachith Pathirana are some of the names that comes readily to one’s mind. Whilst the experience Jehan Mubarak and Chamara Silva too would naturally be pushing for their places in the line up!

On the bowling front the Sri Lankan cupboard is at its brim and even over flowing! The current coaches Anusha Samaranayake who looks after the fast bowers with Prabath Nissanka as his deputy have been brilliant turning out so many young quicks ready to step up to the next stage, whilst the former test spinner Piyal Wijethunga has been polishing the spin bowlers to such an extent that Sri Lanka has been able to win games despite the absence of their bowling greats Muralitharan and the Chaminda Vaas.

With that kind back drop it will imperative that Sri Lanka will be looking to stamp their authority in the One day game which is long over due. With its recent ascendancy to the no two slot in Test Cricket and also being the runner up in the T 20 World cup, the Lankans will be looking to overcome the only frontier they haven’t been able to conquer in the recent past the One Day Game! The Champions trophy would be the ideal opportunity!

* Roshan Abeysinghe is a leading cricket promoter and an international cricket commentator

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