Lankans have lost their home advantage

By S.R. Pathiravithana

In 1975 the Sri Lankan cricketers were just tolerated into the big league as a result of them winning the qualifying round meant for the lower rung minnows in the inaugural Cricket World Cup in 1975. There the little islanders managed to give the then giants – the Australians a nail biting scare.

Michcal Tissera

Batting first the confident Australians ran up to total an impressive 328 for 5 in their allotted 60 overs with opener Alan Turner notching up a 113 ball 101 after adding 182 runs for the first wicket with Rick McCosker who made 73. Yet the Australians were in for a rude surprise. The Lankans in their earlier game who meekly folded up for 86 runs against the ultimate winners – The West Indies grew stubborn against an attack that comprised demonic Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

The Sri Lankans lost their first wicket at the score of 30 after a Thomson delivery hit the stumps passing opener Ranjit Fernando’s bat after the batsmen made 18 runs and lost Bandula Warnapura for 32 stumped off the bowling of off spinner Ashley Mallet.

Then came the stand between the surviving opener Sunil Wettimuny who was making his limited over cricket debut and Duleep Mendis. The two batsmen kept the momentum on and moved the score from 84 for 2 to 150/2 when a Thomson snorter hit Mendis on the head while the batsman was dominating the bowling at 32 and then the same bowler hit opener Wettimuny with a toe crushing yorker while batting at 53 – both batsmen were retired not out.

At this juncture the former Sri Lanka captain Michael Tissera our narrator this week joined the incumbent skipper Anura Tennekone moved the score to 3 for 246 and then when he was out for 52 at 268 the game was all but over.

Malinga was a revelation

Later, Tissera went on to become one of the most respected Lankan cricket administrators and was the manager of the Lankan when they became the runners up of the 2007 World Cup only to lose to their arch rivals Australia in the final.

Though the Lankans reached the finals of the World Cup in the West Indies, Tissera now feels even in this tournament where Sri Lanka will mostly play in their home yards, they will be sans their home advantage. Besides that he feels the Lankans do possess all the ingredients to win the World Cup for the second time.

Tissera embarked on his narration with the present challenge at hand. He said “I think we have a well balanced side and given normal conditions we have an excellent chance.”

Then the Sunday Times urged him to define what he meant by normal conditions. Tissera explained “I was hoping that Sri Lanka would have the home advantage during this tournament. But, playing on new grounds and newly laid wickets at the Premadasa Stadium, we are going to take away our home advantage. We have played a little at Pallekelle and the Lankans have not played at all at Hambantota. Unfortunately we are going to be at a disadvantage even playing at home; otherwise Sri Lanka has a very good chance”.

Stressing on Sri Lanka’s chances Tissera elaborated “I think we have chosen a well balanced side, besides Suraj Randiv whom I felt was a bit unlucky to miss it. However Aravinda has explained as to why they had Murali and Mendis. With them they wanted some variation so they drafted Rangana Herat. Herat is an okay allrounder. He can score a few runs he can field well – in all this seems a good combination.”

Then the Sunday Times asked Tissera’s opinion on Chaminda Vaas and Sanath Jayasuriya and had it made a difference in the combination or any value addition if they were drafted in. Tissera opined “Well! The way that Sanath has been batting for the last two years or so I do not think so. He has lost the edge that he had. There comes a time with age your feet are not moving and your eyes are not sharp as they used to be. I do not think Sanath should even been in contention.”

Tissera was a bit more tentative on seamer Chaminda Vaas who missed the bus at the last minute. He said “Vaasi had a good stint in England, maybe there was more of a chance that Vaas would have got in. Yet, there again Aravinda had explained the position where they needed an extra paceman in case of Malinda breaking down in picking Dilhara Fernando.”

Having heard the present we delved into the last World Cup and the matches leading to it with Tissera. He began from the series Sri Lanka played in India and lost 2-1. This was the series just before the World Cup. He said “The confidence in the dressing room pretty low after the Indian tour. However the team felt that playing India on those wickets are sometimes difficult, unless you have time to adjust. Subsequent to that the boys started working really hard and then team sprit picked up and the back up by Tom Moody, Trevor Penny and Tommy Simsek was excellent.

“Then Mahela being appointed captain was a good thing. That did a lot to the change of the team spirit and the fielding.” Another reason for the Sri Lankan team gaining their confidence at the last World Cup was the selection policy according to Tissera. He said “The players were chosen on current form, rather than seniority or any other factor. This gave everybody the feeling that they had a chance of playing in the Xl. That made a huge difference.”

Then Tissera also added while the team spirit gathered momentum, the support staff did not let the team slack. They did not let the team take things easy and added “They had to work hard. They had to get out of their comfort zone. All this really helped and by the time we got to the World Cup the team was a very confident unit.”

Tissera added that prior to leaving for the World Cup he had predicted that Sri Lanka would be a force to be reckoned at that tournament. “That’s how it happened they played brilliantly”. Sri Lanka had to meet Bermuda, Bangladesh and India in the preliminary round. “Bermuda and Bangladesh we won easily. The Indian game was the key. There we got 250 for 6 if I remember and India made about 160. That gave us a huge amount of confidence. I think the pick of that Indian game as I remember was Dilhara bowling Tendulkar for no score. That just changed the whole thing. From that point onwards India just went downwards. With India out from the second round, Sri Lanka’s chances of making an impression became much better” explained Tissera.

The Lankan team manager then added that in that tournament Lasith Malinga transformed into an icon. He said “I must say in that World Cup Malinga was a revelation. He was so popular among everybody, he was just fantastic. The South Africa game which we lost by one wicket, he nearly turned tables with four wickets in four balls. That made a huge difference and even during the final he bowled brilliantly and did not let the Australians take much liberties. We generally had a good bowling line up. In addition Murali and Vaas also bowled very well.”

According to Tissera by the time the Lankan made it to the semi-finals they were fully confident of beating the New Zealanders. “New Zealand – we were confident of beating them. We had beaten them in New Zealand. We had done well against them in a Test series away. They had a problem with Murali and they had a problem with Malinga. They had complained about not being able to see Malinga deliver.”

“Then Mahela played that fantastic inning. To my mind it was the inning of the whole tournament.
“Going into the final we were very confident of beating Australia. Unfortunately the weather played a part that spoiled the whole thing. According to the rules of the then tournament if a game started it had to finish on that same day without going in for the next day. There was a huge downpour at the start of the day. I did not expect us to play at all, but the ground recovered.

‘The game started after 12 noon and Gilchrist played the inning of his life and initially took the game away from us. Yes, there was a time that we were in the run, but the Duckworth Lewis system and bad light cost us some wickets and the game”. Tissera said in conclusion.

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