Sports - Sunday Musings

Thinking about the English visitors

Sri Lanka may have won the Cricket World Cup once, but that is not the pinnacle in cricket as a whole. What Sri Lanka won was the Limited Overs championship, but alas that is the only thing that is being bartered around by the ICC as a World Cup at preset. Yet for the purist, the topmost form of the game is Test cricket, for which there is no substitute.

Unlike Sri Lanka, England, the very inventors of this wonderful sport, are yet to win the Cricket World Cup that is on show. Yet, right now they are at the top of the world. Now their cricket outfit has been confirmed as the No.1 ranked Test-playing nation in the world. So England has achieved something that the Lankans have failed to do. What England lacks at the moment is a cup to go with it.

England is at the top of the ICC Test rankings with 118 points to their name against South Africa who are a point below them. Sri Lanka on the other hand is in sixth position with only 98, behind Pakistan whom they will also play very soon in a home series.

Herath may not be the most devastating leftarmer on earth, but can someone tell where he went wrong.

England is very serious about preserving its present image. During the past two decades or more they have had their own rollercoaster ride in cricket, but were more on the dip than the crescendo. But now with the Ashes in it’s pockets and a team that is determined, English cricket is in a different position. They are so serious in this endeavor that we learned that some of the cricketers were already in Sri Lanka practicing at the nets even before the rest of the team arrived in the island officially.
English cricket has fined-tuned its armory. They have batsmen who score, fast bowlers who take wickets and spinners who back their seam attack.

Still with that full complement, the England cricket team lost 3-0 to Pakistan and the whining which echoed afterward was deafening. The Pakistani off spinner Saeed Ajmal was a definite villain, everything in him was bad until it came to the onedayers where the English batsmen learned to decipher his deliveries.

It was not so long ago that there was an incident in Sri Lanka where Nasser Hussein spoke some unkind words to Muttiah Muralitharan during a test match in Kandy. Ironically the Englishmen never could decipher the mysteries of Murali through the off spinner’s 800 wicket Test career.

Sri Lanka, another of the great bastions of cricket as far as the English cricketers are concerned, is difficult terrain. In the Middle East, when the Englishmen took on Pakistan they would have faced heat, but not humidity. Facing both -- heat and humidity at the same time would place a beating on their endurance.

The next challenge would be the low and slow wickets that will be of no assistance to Bresnan and the rest of the seam attack. Yet, even the more orthodox spin of Swann, Tredwell, Panesar or even Patel may not be the biggest mysteries that the Lankan batsmen have ever faced.

An encouraging piece of news is that during the series the Umpire Decision Review System will be in operation. However, Hot Spot technology will not be available. This leaves the Snickometer as the only tool to aid decisions on catches. The ball-tracking technology will be provided by Hawk-Eye. Yet, even something in this direction is better than nothing.

DRS being in operation means that the two Test series will be one notch above the Indian standards which are still primitive and technology-shy. The Lankans, after playing a series of matches in England, the Middle East, South Africa and Australia, have landed near home in Bangladesh and are still trying to get used to the sub-continent conditions.

Mahela may be one of the best captains that Sri Lanka has produced and is in the process of churning out a team for the future. Yet, we find that even under this leadership there are some points up for debate. Though not applicable to the argument at hand – which is the England Test series- the penning down of these thoughts cannot be avoided.

Now it is very glaring that some wrong horses that they backed caused the blunt of

Sri Lanka’s recent upsurge.
The last three ODIs that they played were against Australia, India and Pakistan and they crashed the exam at all three outings.

We once again ask the question: who was responsible for the inclusion of Chamara Kapugedera as a replacement for the CB series Down Under and in the first match in Bangladesh? Clearly Kapugedera played a hand in Sri Lanka losing the final in Australia as well as against India in Bangladesh. He is a cricketer that had talent, but right now he is woefully out of touch and luck. Without luck and touch even the great Don Bradman would have been a lame duck. We at this end can see the clique mentality creeping in again.

Then the exclusion of Rangana Herath – the only Sri Lankan spinner who trundles with confidence in the present context is another mystery. The fate of Suraj Randiv is another point of debate. He is very much among the wickets in the domestic season. Yet, the Asia Cup is no World Cup and what Sri Lanka should have done was gear themselves for the two Test series against England by sending a team of future hopefuls with a handful of seniors.

Arguably if the Lankans do go up to the finals of the Asia Cup (with some outside luck and the blessings of their deities), they will be in Bangladesh till 23 March and on 26 March they play their first Test against England in Galle.

By then the visitors would have been in the country for almost two weeks and will be more at home with the conditions than the Lankans, who have been engaged in a series of limited overs matches since the second half of the South African tour.

At the top of Sri Lanka’s Test batting outfit, Tharanga Paranavithana, who has had a lean run with the bat, has not even made amends in the Lankan domestic season. Yet, Thilan Samaraweera seems to be in good nick, but with the probable re-entry of Prasanna Jayawardena to don the wicket-keeping gloves and bat in the lower middle order there is going to be some selection problems. If notoriously injured Angelo Mathews is battle-ready by the fourth week of March the batting line-up reading Dilshan, Paranavithana, Sangakkara, Jayawardena, Chandimal, Samaraweera, Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardena leaves no room for a bowling attack.

Lasith Malinga who is more interested in his IPL exploits is not available for Test selection. Barring injuries, the rest of the fast bowling brood will have to hone their skills, but how many would want to go flat-out with the IPL around is another question that the Lankans will have to find answers to (This may be common to batsmen too).

It is the Lankan spin attack that will be looked upon in detail by the visitors, and if sanity prevails Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv will be drafted in without much debate. They are the most experienced we have and they know what Test cricket is.We hope once again that the national selectors, the player manager selectors and the senior player selectors, Minister Selectors, past opening batsman selectors and the SLC selectors would hand over the responsibility to one group to gather the soldiers for battle. Right now we can see that there is no proper focus.

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