At the end of the ICC T-20 World Cup in Bangladesh when Sri Lanka beat India in the final, our team remained at the number one position of the ICC T-20 rankings – an accolade which they had defended for some time. At the same time South Africa – which like Sri Lanka initially opposed [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Padding up for the big things ahead


At the end of the ICC T-20 World Cup in Bangladesh when Sri Lanka beat India in the final, our team remained at the number one position of the ICC T-20 rankings – an accolade which they had defended for some time. At the same time South Africa – which like Sri Lanka initially opposed the Big Three operations — were on top of the ICC Test rankings.

Last week the ICC calculators went into action and they put in their thumb and came out with the plum. Alas! Australia – one of the Big Three had taken over the top spot in Test rankings while in the T-20s the ‘new rich gangster’ — India had replaced Sri Lanka in the rankings.

Explanation! The ICC does these recalculations on and off and this is one of the ‘Ons’ they indulged in. The other plausible explanation is — those are the positions that the Big Three aspire to be and that is how it should be done — ICC or not.

Only the Englishmen could not stake claim, as they had performed below par and even the Duckworth/Lewis calculations wouldn’t have brought them to the top in any segment. Anyway that is how India and Australia came to the top of the ICC rankings without playing a single game from the last post.

Now let the bygones be bygones. According to the Chinese, this is the year of the horse and mind you some of them fly — they say.
But, fortunately this narration is not on Test cricket or the naughty toddler T-20. This is about the 50 overs game and the lead up to the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in early 2015.

After Nishantha Ranatunga, Ashley de Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena, Lasith Malinga and Dinesh Chandimal dominated headlines besides the T-20 World Cup win, Sri Lanka played Ireland in two ODIs.

Yes, they have begun their gallop towards the 2015 World Cup early, while most of the other international cricketing brood is paying homage to the IPL dollars.

It is heartening to see the Lankan selectors are a positive lot. Yes, the lot played their cricket in the post ’96 era and they are aware what it takes to be there on top in today’s context. The initial segment in their tour to England, the next generation of the Lankan cricketers made a visit to Ireland just to see how their brand of cricket could withstand alien conditions while donning the real crest.
For Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews this is an extension from his triumph in the Asia Cup, where they went on to beat India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

However, what is unique in this home run is the right balance that the Lankan selectors will have to strike. From this point onwards, Sanath Jayasuriya and company will have a two-prong task. The main is to take the side to the 2015 World Cup. The next is to strike the balance in such a manner that they will not tilt the scales after the 2015 exodus of the seniors.

Sanga, Mahela, Dilshan, some of the senior most cricketers are in the Lankan ranks and they do look formidable - File pics

Going in to the World Cup, the Lankans are fortunate that they have a solid lead up with upto 27 top level ODI internationals. This includes the two ODIs already played against Ireland and the five to be played against England in the current tour. Thereafter, they would play three games (all ODIs) against South Africa in July, Three against Pakistan, seven against England in November/December followed by another seven against New Zealand just prior to the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand.

What in store is a healthy lead up indeed! Besides the ODIs there are several lead up games with the senior teams where the selectors could throw in some budding talent which are eyeing for the beyond era.

Notwithstanding the results of the Ireland leg of the tour, the lead up to the 2015 World Cup is a good one and the seven games in New Zealand could be considered as the ideal situation. This is where all the acclimatising could be done, before the real test — the World Cup.

Coming back to the present, at this point, the seniors who missed the Ireland leg of the tour will begin to ascend the team bus. From this point till the World Cup proper the team that we are used to will be in action.

At present there are seven players — Mahela Jayawardena, T.M. Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekera and Upul Tharanga — with over ten years of experience at international level. Just put in captain and vice captain Angelo Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne along with another two the Lankans could make up a playing eleven and a strong one at that. Yet, if names could play cricket, you do not need the services of selectors who are experts. Yet, that is not the way the things would go. The selectors would keep working through this period with various combinations and keep on doing the fine tuning with an eye to make the best Lankan combination when it really matters in 2015.

Another positive that the Lankans are blessed is — the leadership qualities of Angelo Mathews. Unlike some of the new generation’s budding leaders like India’s Virat Kohli who is an open book of anxiety to be read while a game is in progress, Angelo keeps his vibes mostly to himself and goes by instinct. At times when it is needed we see him getting an insight to the situation by a senior, but, he never has the habit of handing the plate over to the peers.

Going in for the 2015 World Cup is no learning curve, but is a huge challenge. But, at the same time the Lankan performances in Australia in the 50 overs version has not been that discouraging, unlike their vulnerability in Test cricket Down Under.

What is important is that they already know how and when they would arrive in the Australian sub-continent. What is important is by the twentieth game – just before the New Zealand tour — across the board; they should know what their general playing eleven should be and what the fall-back combinations should be.

What is required from Mathews is that he should learn how to get the maximum from his seniors and turn that into his advantage and this means the team performance. What is required from the selectors is that they should have a common policy with Angelo and co and give them the maximum support they could muster. What is required from the glass-room boogies in Colombo is to keep their mouths shut, purses opened and pray to respective gods to keep the lads on track.

Because winning the World Cup in Australia would be the ultimate hit-back at the Big Three. The Lankans have the wherewithal with the team composition, to achieve that goal. They have that inbuilt big match temperament, which has been proved over and over again. In most finals they have said no matter who is at the other end, this end is ours. Besides, in the T-20s we have shown that we also could burst the losing bubble in finals.

In an era where the Big Three would stoop down to any level, to keep their noses above water, it is a task and a half. But, that is reality in today’s context in cricket. ICC is a puppet which dances the jig to the beat of Bollywood music. Yet, for the Lankans this is the chance to prove that the best never drowns. Now the path is there, the time is in our hands. Work towards that goal and prove that the lads from this tiny island nation cannot be submerged and drowned.

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