Some may argue differently but, as far as strength and competition are concerned, the Champions Trophy stands next only to the ICC World Cup. It has that attraction and glamour of the complete package, and that is why it has survived so long with the real thing that comes once in every four years. Yes, [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Are we working towards our game plan


More than a gallon of midnight oil was burned there. (Pic courtesy SLC)

Some may argue differently but, as far as strength and competition are concerned, the Champions Trophy stands next only to the ICC World Cup. It has that attraction and glamour of the complete package, and that is why it has survived so long with the real thing that comes once in every four years.

Yes, competition-wise, the Champions Trophy is more compact with only eight teams in the fray. Mind you, one of the two teams that missed the bus was the West Indies. The other was Zimbabwe. This means, the segregation of the sport is already in effect. Two full members have been left out. Nevertheless, a quarter-century ago, a competition without the West Indies would have been unthinkable.

By chance, if there was a twist of fate and someone else had managed to creep in as the ICC President, I guess, it would have been different. He would have seen to that even Fiji was playing the Champions Trophy because, his vision would be more votes are better for cricket. For instance, in Sri Lanka we have twenty four first class teams playing in the Club Cricket circuit.

Getting back to the Champions Trophy proper, it looks as if more than a gallon of midnight oil was burned by Sanath Jayasuriya, while Eric Upashantha, the other selector, and skipper Angelo Mathews kept vigil with him for this assignment which is deemed very important.

It could be the right yardstick for the bigger issue of the World Cup, which would arrive two years hence. So, more or less, this would be the nucleus for 2019. From this point onwards, it is the countdown. From this point onwards, there should be no more experiments and no more team building. From this point onwards, it is only honing of skills and preparing for the real thing.

Yes, the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 will be held in England and Wales from June 1-18. We are in Group ‘B’, along with South Africa, India and Pakistan. The team will be led by National Captain Angelo Mathews and will include Upul Tharanga – Vice Captain, Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis, Chamara Kapugedera, Asela Gunaratne, Dinesh Chandimal, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Nuwan Kulasekera, Thisara Perera, Lakshan Sandakan and Seekkuge Prasanna.

Then the two standbys on tour are off-spinner Dilruwan Perera who could also bat and top order batsman Dhanushka Gunathilaka. At the same time, they also have fast bowlers Vikum Sanjaya and Lahiru Kumara, two all-rounders in Sachith Pathirana and Milinda Siriwardena and off-spinner Akila Dananjaya in the squad. But, mind you, in the real touring squad, there is no off-spinner besides Asela Gunaratne who bowls a kind of off-spinning cutters.

Sri Lanka Cricket, meanwhile, announced that the squad would be in Kandy from May 9 for a six-day residential, high intensity and altitude training programme, before departing on May 18.

Sri Lanka’s prelude to the Champions Trophy is certainly not encouraging. In the post-Dilshan period, besides the wins against Ireland and Zimbabwe, and the West Indies who, anyway, are not good enough to be in the Champions Trophy fray, Sri Lanka has beaten only Bangladesh, when they squared a series 1-1 at home for the first time. Of course, Sri Lanka also won one ODI, also at home, against Australia, but lost the series 4-1. The other results read a bleak 0-3 against England and 0-5 against South Africa, both while playing away.

Though it’s bitter, it is the real situation that we have to face in the Champions Trophy endeavour. In the same breath, in the past few engagements, the Lankan Selectors went through a plethora of players, where even an outsider such as Dean Jones wondered how Sri Lanka could sustain over forty-four players representing the country, in a short space of time. But, the ultimate result has been that, Jayasuriya and company have managed to settle upon eight players who are 30 years and over, from the fifteen on tour, which is more than half. They are Nuwan Kulasekera (34), Lasith Malinga (33), Upul Tharanga (32), Asela Gunaratne and Seekuge Prasanna (31) and Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Pradeep, and Suranga Lakmal (30). In one way, this is experience. Upul Tharanga has played in 201 ODIs, Lasith Malinga (197), Nuwan Kulasekera (183) and Chamara Kapugedera (97), counting more than 600 matches among them.

But, at the same time, in Sri Lanka, past thirty means jelly-feet. In recent times, Lanka’s biggest bane has been its fielding. In the past ten years or more, in spite of sifting through scores of young players, Sri Lanka has not been able to pick out a T.M. Dilshan or a Mahela Jayawardena — guys who could really field and put the opposition on the defence.

At the same time, during the past few series, we noticed that, experienced players in the calibre of Lasith Malinga, Upul Tharanga and Nuwan Kulasekera are faltering on the field. In all probability, all three players would be in the playing eleven in all three matches in the first round. Then, the challenge would be, what could Mathews do when Malinga and Kulasekera are not bowling; where could they be hidden? Besides, there are some butterfingered players even among the younger lot too.

Now the question is, are the Selectors considering this as the midpoint in their run for the 2019 ICC World Cup, as professed by SLC President Thilanga Sumathipala, when he mooted his official World Cup programme. If so, why bring a half fit Lasith Malinga into the fray? On his own he is a champion. But, besides his injuries, how many years of productive cricket are left in him? Would he be there for the next World Cup?

The other day, in the IPL tournament, South African batsman Hashim Amla mauled the ferocity of Malinga to the tune of 51 runs in 16 balls, and in the next game he was dropped from the Mumbai Indians Xl. Well, Sri Lanka’s first Champions Trophy clash would be against South Africa on June 3 at the Oval. So, if the Lankans’ ploy is to instill fear in the minds of the opposition, with the presence of Malinga in the side, the ploy, in all probability, will backfire.

What is the status-quo between Coach Graham Ford and Manager cum selector Asanka Gurusinha? Both were overseas when it came to the crunch business of selecting the squad. At the same time, the reverbs reaching the fourth-estate say much more is happening behind the scene. May be, the best thing to do would have been to bring the duo to the table on Skype.

This is the scenario when skipper Mathews returns to the side after injury. Yet again, is he comfortable in his present perch? Taking one day at a time does not help Sri Lanka, Mathews or cricket as a whole. But, this unsavoury situation has been created by people of authority—people who should nurture cricket and not work towards petty agendas! If not, one of these days, even Mathews may decide to step down from his perch. Remember, we should work towards the goal of 2019, which should be our only aim.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

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