I always enjoyed the batting of connoisseurs in the calibre of David Gower, Vivian Richards, Brian Lara or for that matter the modern day marvel Virat Kohli. All of them have or had that x-factor which hardly instilled subjugation to any bowler who crossed their path. They may have respected the opposing cricketers as colleagues [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Growing-up pains of a national cricketer


I always enjoyed the batting of connoisseurs in the calibre of David Gower, Vivian Richards, Brian Lara or for that matter the modern day marvel Virat Kohli. All of them have or had that x-factor which hardly instilled subjugation to any bowler who crossed their path. They may have respected the opposing cricketers as colleagues and human beings, but, displayed nary sympathy or respect for the skill of the opposing cricketers as bowlers.

Playing on our own terms there were two batsmen who possessed the same x-factor and the skills that always told the opposition, “Hey, guys now I am at the crease and this part of the patch is my domain and it is I who dictate terms from this point onward”. They were none other than the inimitable — Aravinda de Silva and Kumar Sangakkara.

Walking out of the dressing room both these batsmen had their own mannerisms, but, they did not pause to kiss a piece of thread or bend backwards and give the opposition a sense of mediocrity. Instead, from the time they walked on to bat, they had that fire in their eyes. They made it their business to watch the ball and spoke a language through the willow to tell the red cherry how they wanted it to behave — and they would punish the ball disdainfully.

Of course, the World Cup winning century of Aravinda is always special, but, his inning in August 1993 was an inning of fire. It was a three Test series. It was the era of leg spinner Anil Kumble who was the wrecker and he was on a roll. The first Test in Kandy was a washout. India won the second Test at the SSC grounds in spite of a brave 93 by Aravinda in the second inning. The visitors won that game by 235 runs. Kumble bagged eight wickets in that game.

In the third Test at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, when Aravinda walked on to the crease, Sri Lanka were two down for just thirteen runs. Aravinda then took control of the Indian attack and scored an epic 148 and thus paved the way for the Lankans to wrest the initiative and draw the game. I still remember the battle of wits between Aravinda and Kumble in that game.

Sri Lanka captain Rangana Herath is pictured during the fourth day of the second test match between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club, on November 9 2016. / AFP /

For Sangakkara and all Sri Lankans, his effort at the T-20 final against India in Bangladesh was memorable. But, his four consecutive centuries in the last World Cup tournament held the rest of the world in awe. It clearly proved that he was competing in a different league. On every occasion that Sangakkara strode on to the crease we saw the fire in his eyes.

Now all that is back to square one and even the very cricket administration offers its cricket second class accommodation and thinks that belittling is a vehicle to induce elite performance. It was only two weeks ago that the Lankan contingent was press-ganged and made to sign a contract that would give them less pay for the same work they performed a few months ago. In a prelude to that humiliation even the Sports Minister who has no business in player contracts was poking fun at them saying some of the cricketers were being paid at the rate of Rs. 57,000 per run. There is no point in arguing with a person who does not understand the intricacies of cricket and the age old saying – “The glorious uncertainties of cricket”.

However it is very funny that at the point of signing, the senior cricketers in unison said that “Hey, it does not matter about the pay cut as it is being done for development purposes”. A few days later Lasith Malinga said, “please do not pay me as I am injured now”.
Though that is the status quo of the cricketers’ contracts, the Administration spends thousands unnecessarily to satisfy those people who voted for them during the last AGM. Then they are also building another monster by sustaining the wrong horses in the Provincial and District system. They are just guys who would pay homage to the hierarchy at the next AGM.

At the same time, we hear that they are downsizing the operations at the SLC. I am sure in this there would be at least one big fish who would lose his job contract. He was in the Nishantha Ranatunga camp during the last AGM. This is the atmosphere that the cricket hierarchy at Maitland Place and the sports hierarchy at Reid Avenue have created for the sustenance of the game.

During the last cricket administration, the playmaker was Nishantha Ranatunga. In spite of being only the secretary of the SLC, he tried the same ploy of downsizing the cricketers’ contracts, but, he had to retreat against the opposition from the likes of Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena who were in a position to do a Superman act. Yet, in the aftermath of their retirement, Lankans are short of cape trotting heroes who fight cricket crime. As a result, non-cricketers have worn the Lex Luthor costume and are winning the battle for now.

Sri Lanka batsman Dhananjaya de Silva (L) is in action as Brian Chari escapes a ball during the first day of the second cricket Test match between Sri Lanka and hosts Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports club, on November 6, 2016. / AFP

Though he does not possess similar bargaining powers, skipper Angelo Mathews is gradually picking up the pieces and creating stupendous deeds with the very limited resources where experience is concerned. Still they have registered two consecutive series victories over the top of the rung and the last in line — Australia and Zimbabwe — on the trot and are giving all indications that there is room for consolidation.

In reality, skipper Mathews and his deputy Dinesh Chandimal keep improving by the game and gradually are mastering their craft and fulfilling their responsibilities to the hilt. Then there are these little guys who keep improving and are helping the Lankans to close the void that was created by the departure of the two legends – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena. Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis, Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne and now Asela Gunaratne are proving that they are getting big enough to wear the lost boots.

Yes, one cannot leave out the contribution of the living legend Rangana Herath, but, at the age of thirty nine he too is coming to the end of the line. Yet, with consolidation and conviction the fledglings will also begin to grow faster than expected, like the under-nineteeners did against their English counterparts two months ago.

Yet at the same time there is a smiling little guy who is lighting up the embers in his eyes like Sangakkara and de Silva when they held sway at the popping crease. Dhananjaya de Silva’s very approach to the game impresses me. Even battling his war against the worrying pace of Mitchell Stark and Jose Hazlewood at the SSC grounds or coming to terms with the wily leg spinners of Graeme Cremer, twenty-five-year-old Dhananjaya de Silva bats with unruffled calm and is as cool as if he is after an ice bath just five minutes prior. At the same time just like Aravinda, Dhananjaya is also a good enough off spinner to bowl a few overs in a Test match.

May be with these ingredients, Lankan cricketers would be good enough to concoct a combination that would bring them back into their winning ways – a team that was good in all three segments of the game — and make them real partners of progressive cricket.
May be Dhananjaya would grow up to be an icon where he instills fear in the opposition. But, I have my doubts about the governing body. One day when these young cricketers grow up and hold their stance at the crease, would they be treated in the same vein as their peers – with suspicion and disdain like what they did to Sangakkara and Jayawardena during their final days at the crease?

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.