Ana Punchihewa was no cricketer. He was a good marketer with a sharp eye for the future and that brought him to the helm of cricket in Sri Lanka in 1994. Once he took charge of the chair, he learned the game. Not to play, but how to make it a marketable product and transform [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Boxing Day knockout: Let this be the catalyst!


Ana Punchihewa was no cricketer. He was a good marketer with a sharp eye for the future and that brought him to the helm of cricket in Sri Lanka in 1994. Once he took charge of the chair, he learned the game. Not to play, but how to make it a marketable product and transform the game into a powerful unit where it mattered.

He was not afraid to seek assistance when it was needed and to make his thought wave a reality. He gathered some of the best cricketing brains in the country and worked out a plan and that was called “The best cricket playing nation by the year 2000”.

In his own words he explained to me once, “It was woven around Test cricket and the ODI form of it and the thought was to have a team that was professionally managed and with a professional outlook on the field with a clear view of what their goal was”.

The mission was accomplished somewhat. In just twelve months of his guidance the motivated Lankan cricketers began to believe in themselves. Sri Lanka registered their first overseas Test win in New Zealand in March 1995 and then on March 17 1996 capped it with the Cricket World Cup in the ODI version.

Yes, they did have a good unit captained by Arjuna Ranatunga. Yet my intuition always said that the cricketers really made full use of that motivation and achieved their goal.

The way the cookie crumbled --- Bird watching Mahela is bowled by young Jackson. - AFP Photo

Nineteen years hence, the Lankan cricket has come a long way from that juncture. Yet, can we call ourselves even a “good cricket playing nation” in its true sense? Some may argue that the Lankans entered four ICC finals in a short time span. Yet, does the buck stop there? We feel that Sri Lanka has bartered the true sense to rupees and cents.

For me what unfolded on Boxing Day 2012 hurt more than what Hair did to innocent Muralitharan nineteen years ago. What happened on that day could be interpreted in many ways. But the truth is that – the very incident made the Lankan cricket stronger.

This time the wrath that the Australians unleashed in their second Boxing Day meeting just spelled “We still can hurt you even without Hair”. Yes, with their third or fourth string pace attack they had the Lankan batting — one of the most experienced in the world with tons of runs behind them – running for cover in their comfort zone in the dressing room. Dilshan may have scored a hundred in the First Test. But on the first inning of the second Test he played a stroke that is not in the text book and was bowled. Only Kumar Sangakkara showed that he had the technique, but a half a century is as good as nothing at all.

Then in the second innings they cut his technique short with a broken finger. Hope that he will be fit before the Indian Premier League begins. What Sangakkara achieved in that test was only to enter the record books in Test cricket and not a real contribution to the Lankan cause.

The Lankan second innings was pathetic and for a mere moment I was ashamed to be a Lankan.

What has brought this situation, we ask. If the answer is not forthcoming we say – “It is bad management” Ours is a management which thinks Test cricket is an unprofitable past time and we could do well without it.

Ours is a management which thinks that ‘short’ cricket is where the money is and Test cricket does not bring in that ‘gold’.

Ours is a management which thinks ‘short term’ profits make Sri Lanka a good cricket playing nation.

Ours is a management which thinks “The Sri Lanka Premier League” is the answer to cricket’s prayers.

Ours is a management which thinks without the Indian Premier League dollars the Lankan cricket is dead.

First the Lankans should get their priorities right. Zimbabwe at one stage also was of the view that they could remain in cricket without the Test version of it. But they were sadly mistaken. Yes, we may not officially give up Test cricket, but are we presently in the overdrive in that direction, because very soon the cricketing world will not take Sri Lanka seriously at all.

The Lankan cricket is in total disarray. Financially they are in deep ‘whatever you call it’. The nursery is not providing the necessary material into the international army. The local club cricket is miles away from the real domestic structures of the professional teams like what we are experiencing at present Down Under.

With a very weak, visionless management which includes the Minister of Sport, cricketers have virtually turned mercenaries. Show them a pot of honey, they would flock around it. Just for argument sake – In the Test match the Lankan Cricketers are really on the run. In the first Test we thought if we had salvaged a draw it would have been creditable. That is how low our vision has plunged to. But just the ‘Big bash’ that is going on in the same backyard. Lankans — Thisara Perera, Muttiah Muralitharan, Lasith Malinga and Jeevan Mendis are in the news. They are playmakers in the Australian league.

At this end what we feel is that Sri Lanka along with India has missed the point in cricket. Both teams have given more weight to ‘short’ cricket and indulged in it too much and now they cannot play the longer version. The Lankans were flushed by the low ranking Kiwis on their home soil while the Indians were undone by the gusty Englishmen in their own backyard.

Let this be the catalyst. Now we find even with the old guard the Lankans cannot hold their own even with New Zealand or the Australians who are soul-searching at present.

It was only last week the Lankan Head of Coaching, Jerome Jayaratne, was talking about a cricket policy. Indeed it is a very futuristic idea. The Lankans also are in possession with a wad of papers called the Lorgat report.

They were brave enough to call for it. Yet ironically once the report became a reality the entire executive committee was caught with their pants down, while in Australia, the cricketers and their management were caught doing the same.

If Sri Lanka is going to salvage its reputation, it has to take a 180 degree turn. There is no point in looking for scapegoats and sending them to the ‘altar’. The salvation must come from within and honestly. Even if changes are effected they should be solid and no forum even in the future could change it without allround consent.

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