At the beginning they were all up there on the branches –– high up in the trees. From where they were perched they could see the distance and with what they saw they kept moving and eased their appetite and hunger. Of them, there was one sub-species who challenged the status quo. Though they could [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Cricket magic continues, but the illusion remains


At the beginning they were all up there on the branches –– high up in the trees. From where they were perched they could see the distance and with what they saw they kept moving and eased their appetite and hunger.

Of them, there was one sub-species who challenged the status quo. Though they could have seen the distance from up there, these beings just had the inclination that there would be more beyond the horizon and they descended from their comfort zone and began a long trek. Their unending perambulation made them see far, when they saw far they got wisdom and with wisdom came transformation. Now 4-5 million years later they have evolved, but their thirst to know more keeps them on the move and man has even gone to the moon and is now looking to conquer even the other deserted lands just hanging up there, just by the pull of gravity.

Just see this picture. This is test cricket. Now Dilshan has retired. Thilan Samaraweera called it a day a while ago. Sangakkara and Mahela may call it quits in the near future. Still we have no established name to take the Lankan name forward.

Like all humans, even the people living on this small island possess certain talents and one of them is their talent for sport – especially cricket. Of the full member countries, Sri Lanka has the smallest circumference as a singular cricket playing nation. But the skill and the attitude of our people towards this game have always been second to none. Lankan cricket has always walked the mile and been up there when it matters since the country joined the big club. But, now the questions are arising as to whether we are doing enough to sustain our game? Are we challenging the status quo like our ancestors did many millions of years ago? Or else are we just embroiled in a state of euphoria? Really are we like the other guys who opted to stay on, on the high branches and eke out a living with what just comes our way?

There is no point delving into how cricket came to Sri Lanka and how it took deep root amongst us. It’s a much-talked-about issue and the readers of this column are aware of it. But, now the questions are: Are we doing enough to preserve what our peers had accumulated for us and are we trying to walk the extra mile with it?

The question came to my mind the day veteran opening batsman and former skipper T.M. Dilshan called it a day with Test cricket.
In his parting words, he stated that Lankan cricket would be in an awkward position if all the seniors made their exit at the same time so he chose to take lead so that a new face could take the opportunity of that break.

These words made me wear my thinking cap. I wondered what was going on. It’s true. In a scenario of that nature yes, the Lankan cricket would be partially crippled. Previously when Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias made their exit, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva were mature enough to take the baton and run. When the Ranatunga/ de Silva association was diluting, came the Jayasuriya/Atapattu combination along with the matured bowling attack of Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. By the time those legends were ready to hang their boots up, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena were already household names in world cricket.

But, at this juncture no one could say for certain: Here is a man for the future. He is going to hold his end up for Sri Lanka. At 36, Rangana Herath’s days are numbered and the other known cricketer – Lasith Malinga only plays the shorter versions of the game.
Among the rest of the brood, there are no world class cricketers. There is much talk about Lahiru Thirimanne, but still he cannot command a permanent place in the final Xl. Dinesh Chandimal honestly does not deserve to be the vice captain — let alone a place in the playing Xl. His own exuberance overtakes his ability and talent most of the time. Angelo Mathews just does enough to be a player in the final XI; that too because he is the national cricket captain. The most talented out of the lot – Kusal Janith Perera does not know his value, leave alone his talent and that drawback makes gaping holes in his armoury.

This is the surface scenario. Yet, the reality in Sri Lanka cricket is far more devastating.

Just take any Test playing nation in the world scene. These countries have a planned course and an underlying playing structure. But, Sri Lanka 30 years after their advent into the big league is still wondering what their main tournament is. This year, amidst the SLPL hype, the blockheads at Maitland Place dropped the Provincial three-day tournament. Yet, in flowery statements they proclaim that the main criterion for selection into the national stream comes from the performances of the Provincial tournament. The pundits just cannot get their aim right. Every time they take aim to have a meaningful provincial structure it is shot down by the club forum within.
At the same time, we find that the Sri Lankan style Provincial Cricket is just living in a lie. Provincial cricket in Sri Lanka has no past, has no present or a future. Provincial cricket cannot be run from Colombo. Provincial cricket should be based in the respective regions and the cricketers from the areas must make their cluster and run their cricket. Yet, at present, a provincial cricketer is just a nomad.
The same goes with the club structure. Some of the clubs are like vehicles without tyres. Some are like fully fledged vehicles, but without passengers. For instance, the better performing clubs like Ragama CC and the Chilaw Marians have no grounds of their own. Then it becomes an impediment when it comes to training. Yet, with the present Lankan cricket structure they survive — just only for the time being.

Then clubs with good facilities – CCC, Galle CC, BRC, Moratuwa CC, Kurunegala YCC – and were in the forefront at one juncture are not accomplishing their capabilities. The club structure in Sri Lanka is run by certain individuals with narrow aims and other agendas and as a result, the authorities are compelled to bring in a spurious Provincial tournament that has no soul.

Then the real nursery of Sri Lanka cricket — school cricket — is like the old west. There is a gang of trigger-happy gunmen manning the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association, but, could someone find one who has played real cricket and understands the game in the SLSCA executive committee?

The other day, the Minister of Sports said he intended giving huge amounts of cricket gear to the rural schools. He also said he was interested in developing the game of cricket in the East. Good, but, do they have a plan of harnessing that talent in a systemic manner so that the ultimate gainer of the exercise would be our national grid.

I do not think so. The Lankan district cricket system is more dysfunctional than functional.

If anyone needs to challenge my contentions, he is free to do his own survey and if we are wrong – I would be the happiest, but, sadly I may not be wrong.

We should be extremely happy that the prevailing system — with the Lankan love for the game of cricket — sustains itself by some magical means. But, remember always magic is just an illusion.

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