In my musical repertoire the American band Boyz II Men — an American R&B vocal group best known for emotional ballads — sits on a special shelf. Among all their hits, their very first — “It’s the end of the road” — holds me in awe whenever I listen to it. However, this Australian summer [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Boys to men and bad odours behind the curtains


In my musical repertoire the American band Boyz II Men — an American R&B vocal group best known for emotional ballads — sits on a special shelf. Among all their hits, their very first — “It’s the end of the road” — holds me in awe whenever I listen to it. However, this Australian summer it came up with a special meaning, cricket wise.

In Australia, for the Barmy Army and the English cricketers, it was the end of the road. The pommies faced the ultimate humiliation. They not only lost the custody of their Ashes urn which they held back jealously in mid 2013, but also lost the series 5-0.

Another significant cricketing development also attracted my attention for comment. This occurred in another continent and another cricket test of wits. Away in Abu Dhabi, the Lankan youngsters showed that they were transforming from boys to men. They proved that they had a fighting spirit in them and are willing to come out of the shadows to prove their worth.

Through callous mishandling of affairs, the Lankan cricket management at Maitland Place had brought about a situation, giving our cricketers no noteworthy oppositions for almost a year – especially in the Test arena.

On the other hand, since that fateful March 3, 2009, when some terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan Cricket convoy which was on its way to the Lahore Stadium, there has been no ICC engagements in Pakistan. Now in the current scenario Pakistan’s home soil for international cricket are the turfs in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai. Playing here, it was not very long ago that Pakistan beat the almost invincible South Africans in a Test match.

When Pakistan won the toss and put Sri Lanka into bat on the first day, I was rather surprised when the new look Lankan opening pair of Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva withered the early storm and put on 50 plus stand for the first wicket. Sri Lanka was playing a meaningful Test match in almost a year and the first up was minus stalwart T.M. Dilshan. Besides, Kaushal Silva, like Roshan Mahanama before, is a made opener. Yet, with all these minuses, the Lankan openers worked their way through to 57, at which score they lost Karunaratne for 38.

Then when senior citizen Mahela Jayawardena got out twice in two balls to Bilawal Bhatti and Chandimal walked back two balls later offering a tennis-like stroke to a ball that was moving outside the off stump, the course of the game changed and, as I half expected, the Lankans slid to 204 all out in just 67 overs.

In reply, Pakistan asserted their authority, but only owing to two well managed hundreds by their two seniors, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. The rest of the Pakistan batsmen were rolled over by the Lankan bowlers. But, they ended up with 170+ lead which was sizable.

Nevertheless, the Lankans turned the game around, piled up a three hundred plus lead and ended up hunting their opponent rather than being hunted.

By the time I write this, the second Test is two days old and the worm had turned for real. This time the hosts were shot out for 165 and the Lankans are still singing in the middle at 318 for 4. A significant feature in this series is that it is the younger brood who are hunting in a pack. It is they who make the kill and invite the seniors to the party.

The new look opening pair of Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva has brought in a new sense of security at the top. Every time they walked in to the middle they have made their presence felt. The No. 3 bat so far not walked into the middle to face the 10th ball of the inning. Yet, someone must tell Karunaratne that there is life after 32.

Undoubtedly Kaushal made himself fit into the openers berth. He was told that he would fit into the national side only as an opener and he worked himself to that. Yet, how he has got about with his business is impressive. Once the Lankan ‘A’ team manager Jayantha Seneviratne, who also knows the intricacies of willow wielding, said, “Kaushal Silva is one of the youngsters who is not afraid of getting behind the ball and playing it on its merits and he knows where his off stump is”. How he has got about his business in this series will be talked about even in the future. The manner in which he controls himself within the precincts of the batting crease brings in a sense of security to the person at the other end. The best example is how his senior Mahela Jayawardena, who was desperately looking for big inning while nursing an injury in his hand, built himself a comfortable cocoon at the other end. Here the roles had changed somewhat. The groping senior in this instance usurped stability from the rock solid junior and the ploy worked.

Another factor that could get your collars up is the fact that Angelo Mathews is now heeding the call of captaincy. We feel that now he is feeling comfortable in his shoes and is beginning to read the opposition. When Mathews sent in Pakistan to bat in the second Test, former Pakistani opener Rameez Raja initially questioned the prudence of that move. Then in the post-lunch session Mathews proved why. Yes, he handled the bowlers well, and they too responded. In the first session of the second Test when the wickets were falling, the bowlers kept things tight and once they got the edge went in for the kill. It was also impressive to watch how Mathews got Herath to do the cleanup of the Pakistani tail.

In addition to this, Mathews has begun to add solidity to the batting in the middle and started scoring big runs, giving a big boost to his profile. That is just the ingredient that a solid captain needs. He should protrude quality and give reason for the rest of the flock to follow him.

When this happens the seniors in the side also gets breathing space and the freedom to do things at their pace and their way. They need not keep looking over their shoulders panicking when the nine pins would fall.

That’s the team. As things stand today, the hierarchy can smile. Yet, recently there was alarming news. The Lankan cricket management is prowling to go on a witch-hunt. It all began by saying that there should be a little backroom chat with runaway paceman Lasith Malinga. It’s a good move — putting some sense into a stubborn head. If something constructive does not happen Malinga is going to be history. As far as I am concerned 60 per cent of Lanka’s ODI series loss should be directed at Malinga. The reason – when the main gun is misfiring, the rest of the arsenal also begins to malfunction.

But, why try to crucify the coaching staff. Once before someone leaked the salary list of the coaching staff, it was one of the most despicable acts by the management in recent times. Hearts of hearts they know from where that document was leaked.
If there is a fault or a coach is not performing, the management has all the right to remedy the situation. But, castigating them and daubing them in black cannot be condoned.

We are aware how this episode has erupted. It happened once when Arjuna Ranatunga was given the mantle to run Sri Lanka cricket. Yet, it happened so that cricketers in the calibre of Bandula Warnapura, Duleep Mendis and so many others started running for cover. Some even left to seek greener pastures wilting under pressure.

Cricketers, especially the ones who have done well while they were there in the middle, have this uncanny tendency to subjugate their own kind, when they are in control.

We, at this end, will watch what transpires and hail the good deeds and criticise the bad ones and may even expose some of the bad moves if they come across our radar.

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