No message from the Provincial tournament!

The commencement of the world cup, in which Sri Lanka is considered to be a top favourite, is just around the corner. We have dwelled on the preparation aspect of the team and did indicate that Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe were the only countries without international cricket in the build up to the World cup. Thankfully the West Indies are here and hence there will be some exposure and time spent playing international cricket which is definitely an important aspect in the overall preparation plan. Besides the much vaunted Inter Provincial too was expected to provide the world cup squad decent competition helping them to fine tune their game.

Inter Provincial tournament has not provided the world cup squad a decent competition to fine tune their game.

The question is was it the case? Whilst SLC should be lauded for organizing a tournament comprising of just five teams which included the best in Sri Lanka and the level of cricket at an excellent standard one wonders how prudent it was to play all the first round games at just one venue the SSC. At the same time there is no doubting the quality of the SSC pitch, yet holding so many games in one square was bound to be beyond even the best and hence with the pitches slowing down and taking spin and not being batsmen friendly, it took its toll in the final analysis.

The Premadasa pitch which was poor in quality during the inter club tournament didn’t appear to have improved too much either when the final round was played there. It is no secret that the captains and the players had shown their displeasure as to how the pitch played at the said venue, considering the fact that it is a world cup venue. Whilst I am not an expert on the preparation of pitches, have the three pitches at Sooriyawewa, Premadasa and Pallekelle over exposed when it needed a cooling off time. Whether that was the cause for the Premadasa pitch to be below standard is a question and the remedial action to be taken is another interesting phenomenon that awaits us all. However in fairness to the other two venues no aspersions could be cast on them as we are still to witness its response to a game of cricket of repute.

The quality of the surfaces seems to also reflect on the over all performance with no century recorded in the entire tournament. There were four scores of over ninety and the highest score of ninety seven being jointly held by the veteran Jayasuriya and the stylish SSC opener Dimuth Karunaratne.
In the team scores just seven were made over two hundred and fifty whilst eight were under two hundred, signaling an inconsistent performance. Now one can’t really lay all the blame at the door step of the pitch as they were in no way mine fields. Yes the pitches at the SSC had the effect of watering after the previous game, but that was mostly in the morning.

The second session did witness the pitch being reasonable and runs being made. Hence another contributing factor has to be the batting which at times was not at the accepted level thus another reason for the poor low team scores. From an individual performance there were just four players who crossed the two hundred run mark. Sangakkara and Dilshan predictably passed two hundred and fifty runs whilst the veteran Jayasuriya discarded from the World cup squad had an aggregate of two hundred plus runs for a very respectable average of forty. In the bowling too Jayasuriya did bag five wickets at an economy rate of less than five an over bowling in the middle overs.

Interestingly was there a chance for Jayasuriya to force himself in to the World Cup squad if it was selected after the first round of the Provincial Tournament? If not as an opener may be as an all rounder? Then what about Chaminda Vaas’ performance? Eight wickets with the ball and nearly one hundred and fifty runs at almost twenty five runs per innings. An all round performance of merit, which could have warranted a recall had the timing of the announcement of the team was different! However the most outstanding performance came from the young all rounder of Kandurata, Sachith Pathirana.

With a batting average of thirty and five wickets in the tournament at an economy rate of just over three and a half runs per over, Pathirana appeared to have made a most telling contribution. Being given the all clear with the bat to play his natural game and being promoted in the order young Pathirana batted beyond his age and did play some delightful shots including the swashbuckling sixty eight against Uva off just seventy balls. With the ball he was most impressive bowling at difficult times, which was a massive bonus to his team. Surely this former U 19 skipper is destined for greater things for Sri Lanka Cricket. Whilst his figures in the tournament may not set the world on fire the impact he created surely will.

Besides the few special individual performances of the mentioned few and a handful of the other players, the entire tournament lacked the level of expectation it had carried with it. True the cricket was competitive and the commitment of the players beyond question not forgetting their will and the desire to win, but at the end of it all the surfaces made available to them appeared to have defeated the whole cause.

The Sri Lankan skipper and his men would have preferred to have a typical one day pitch to play on which would have given the batsmen the confidence and opportunity to make runs and the bowlers the challenge to perform and master their craft. It would have obviously been ideal if the tournament was also conducted at all three venues ear marked for the world cup games.

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

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