How big is big or, how small is small are two unfathomable poses that a person could ponder on. They say the universe borders on infinity. But at the same time, they also say that the big bang occurred when a minute particle exploded way back in time, and the universe is still growing. Yet, [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Who is to be blamed for missing the cricket bus?


How big is big or, how small is small are two unfathomable poses that a person could ponder on. They say the universe borders on infinity. But at the same time, they also say that the big bang occurred when a minute particle exploded way back in time, and the universe is still growing.

Yet, thinking of what’s good for the goose is a general pastime that many of us indulge in. Even if we have not understood or attempted to comprehend the subject matter by the closest milepost, we still try to pass judgement on these matters that we do not have a clue about. Sometimes they do it as a genuine pastime, while at other times, they are compelled to do so because, at one point of time, they have posed off as experts on the subject at hand.

The Lankan lads in India are still high spirited despite drawbacks

Right now there are scores of pundits in this little cricketing nation of ours who have already taken the cane and are beating the life out of cricket’s officialdom. On one such bar stool, an expert has even taken nails and is aiming to crucify the Lankan coaching panel. Then at the other stool, the next expert is trying to behead Lahiru Thirimanne and Chamara Kapugedera for none performance.  Yes, they are entitled to their opinions but sadly, the crux of the matter has not been comprehended even by those pundits who have the very cricket shovel in their possession.

What many people cannot fathom is that the crisis in our cricket did not come about overnight or, it spring up on the day Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena decided to hang up their boots. Yes, for a time, these two cricketers managed to camouflage the inevitable through their brilliance, because they had mastered the art of levelling the inadequacies of each individual cricketer who strolled the grass stubbles beyond the Lankan boundary line along with them.  During that time, the Lankans ran into two ICC ODI cricket finals and three T-20 ICC finals, of which the Lankans won the last one and are the incumbent titleholders.

From the team that won the last T-20 title, there still are Angelo Mathews, T.M. Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Nuwan Kulasekera, Thisara Perera, Rangana Herath and Sachithra Senanayake. Dinesh Chandimal was part and parcel of the squad but was not selected for any of the games in 2014.

At the same time, fast bowler Lasith Malinga who stumbled onto the captaincy during the 2014 tournament, upon the loss of form of captain Chandimal, was pronounced injured just prior to the commencement of the present tournament. Then there is Seekuge Prasanna who was a part of the match-winning outfit last time around, but is out of contention this time.

Then the argument is: How could the Lankans say they were not ready for the T-20 tournament this time around, with seven players who were active participants of the team that won the 2014 T-20 World Cup? Take Chandimal into contention, and they can make it 8. Had Seekuge Prasanna been selected the count could have gone up to 9.

Then, by the law of averages, a team that could boast of 7-9 players out of 11 possible seniors, should be an experienced outfit, and should be in contention for greater deeds. However, ironically, just the opposite has occurred. By the time the Lankans boarded the flight to India, to defend their title, they had become rank outsiders. From the ICC’s No. 1 ranking they had slipped to No. 8.

Since the departure of Sangakkara and Jayawardena, the decline has been rapid. Even if Malinga made himself available for a few matches that we were featured in, his match-winning performances were few and far between. The rest of the gang have not been different either.

Arguably, Sangakkara and Jayawardena were more than mere cricketers. They were the entire gamut of World cricket’s opinion makers, respected and feared by most, if not all. So, when it came to a contest of wits, the opposition was always tentative. They knew that, even singlehandedly, either of these cricketers could turn a game on its head.

In short, they were two leaders and opinion makers, and the rest of the flock rallied round them. Sadly, there is no one like them in the team now, for the team to depend upon for guidance and advice. This is where they lost the cue.

Has anything changed in our cricket, since its real turnaround in 1996? This is the question to which we have to find an answer.

Take a few steps even further back to the era when the Lankans got the Test status.  Lankan cricket evolved through a system aided by amateurs. In the pre-1996 era, the Lankans depended upon an amateur system where cricketers were employed by certain institutions which let them stay in the game, giving it a more well balanced co-existence. Around this the club cricket system survived, and with the egos of the persons involved in the game being limited, cricket in Sri Lanka was uncomplicated. It was like a three-wheeler — Lankan cricket comprised of school cricket, employment-based cricket and club cricket. Any member from this setup could come up to the next elevation — international cricket.

Because this system was uncomplicated, it had only a few needs, and the cricket hub was strong and very competitive.

At the same time, the system also had the ability to have its own icons, with the rest of the Lankan cricketing stars revolving around them.

When Sri Lanka got Test status, Sri Lankan cricket revolved around Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias. Yes, there were brilliant cricketers in the calibre of Bandula Warnapura, Lalith Kaluperuma, Ajith de Silva, Ranjan Madugalle, D.S. de Silva, Anura Ranasinghe, Sidath Wettimuny, Asantha de Mel, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda to illuminate the local cricketing theater, but Lankan cricket revolved around Mendis and Dias.

As the Mendis-Dias association lost its glitter, the focus shifted to the association between Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva. There were a new set of stars that adorned the Lankan sky.  The spotlight gradually shifted to players such as Asanka Gurusinha, Roshan Mahanama, Hashan Tillekeratne, Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu and Romesh Kaluwitharana, along with the advent of bowling duo Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan.

This is the crew that really revolutionised Lanka’s cricketing culture. They began to take on the opponents on their merits, rather than their reputation. Thus by 1996 they had won their first real accolade – the ICC World Cup.

Then, by the turn of the millennium, Lankan cricket had become a real all-round outfit with Muralitharan pairing off with Vaas to form a lethal combination. The Murali-Vaas combination revolved around Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu, D. M. Dilshan, Rangana Herath and Lasith Malinga, along with Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara. They were the last of the Mohicans. They etched their cricket during the pre-96 period and just after.  At the same time, the brand of cricket inculcated in them also was of a different mould.

When Sri Lanka won the ICC World Cup in 1996, cricket in general in the ICC world took an upward trend. Cricket became more aggressive and the game became technical. Yet, in Sri Lanka, the ageing cricketers dominated scene, with no apparent growth in quality in clubs or schools. As a result, Lankan cricket failed to grow with the needs of the rest of the ICC world.

Now, SLC President Thilanga Sumathipala talks of a new structure for domestic cricket– a change that should have taken place 20 years ago. But, are they thinking of developing the infrastructure — the coaching and training facilities to be on par with international standards.

There is no argument, that Lankan cricketers still are talented, like they were in the 1996 era. But, since then, cricket has moved on, but, still the Lankan cricketers are hiding behind the thought of, “how are we going to the next cricket election and who is going to support us if they do something that does not go along with the popular Club mentality.

Lankan cricket is big, but they do not know how to sculpt it into a work of art. So, don’t blame the poor cricketers for ‘no show’, blame the guys who willingly missed the Lankan bus travelling to its goal.

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