Monday, 01 October 2018 05:52

Sri Lanka cricket's lowest point was round the corner

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There’s anger and rage at Sri Lanka’s embarrassing first-round exit in the Asia Cup and the team’s horrendous performance was discussed at the Parliament on Thursday with Sports Minister Faiszer Mustapha coming in for intense criticism. He promised to fix the mess but how he does it remains to be seen. The mood is the same everywhere in the country. This is Sri Lankan cricket’s lowest point.

The five-time former Asia Cup champions’ collapse wasn’t sudden. Their decline has been steady. Last year Sri Lanka suffered a first-ever Test defeat to Bangladesh, lost an ODI series to Zimbabwe for the first time and were whitewashed 5-0 by South Africa, India and Pakistan.



This year, they failed to make it to the finals of the tri-nation Nidahas Trophy conducted to celebrate the country’s 70th year of independence. Just prior to the Asia Cup, they lost a five-match home series to South Africa with two ODIs to spare.

Of the 29 ODIs they played last year, Sri Lanka won only five games and that saw them decline to number eight in official ODI rankings. At one point, they were in danger of not automatically qualifying for 2019 World Cup. In T20 Internationals they are ranked ninth, below Afghanistan. Increasingly you get the feeling that once a proud cricketing nation is going the West Indies way.

This year, out of the 12 ODIs they have played, Sri Lanka have won only five. The margin of defeats have been massive while the margin of victories have been slender.

NO CONSISTENCY

Sri Lanka’s slump is attributed to several reasons. First, there’s been lack of consistency. In the last three years, the team has had five different captains, five different head coaches, four different batting coaches and four different selection committees. At the same time, the board has changed three times. That should give our readers a fair idea about the chaos in Sri Lankan cricket.

The constant turmoil resulted in a constant change of policies and lack of perseverance with players and strategies. Sri Lanka have tried out several opening combinations with little success and often the team has failed to utilise their quota of 50 overs.

Sri Lanka were the pioneers of making most of the Powerplays. The present team doesn’t have too many players who can clear the boundaries during field restrictions.



The mid 90s was the golden era of Sri Lankan cricket. When they won the Asia Cup in 1997 comprehensively beating India in the final, Ravi Shastri at the post match presentation asked Sachin Tendulkar what was a safe score against the Sri Lankans. The Indian captain looked around and said, ‘Maybe 1000!’ Currently, they are struggling to post 150.

It was also on the same tour that Tendulkar went on record saying, “I have not seen Don Bradman, but I have seen Sanath Jayasuriya.” Those were the glory days of Sri Lankan cricket.

POOR FIELDING

Fielding excellence was something that they were proud of when they dominated the sport. Sri Lanka were easily the best fielding side in Asia in the 1990s and they were on par with the likes of Australia and South Africa in the global stage.

The present team is the worst fielding unit in Asia. They put down four catches in the opening fixture of the Asia Cup against Bangladesh and another dropped catch against Afghanistan and misfields cost them dearly.

Least said about their running between the wickets the better it is with three run outs in two games in Asia Cup spelling disaster. Captain Angelo Mathews was involved in two of them.

WRONG COMBINATION

Sri Lanka’s successful teams over the years had a seven-four combination. Among the seven batsmen they played, there were two players who could bowl – Aravinda de Silva and Jayasuriya. Their current combination is four batsmen, three all-rounders and four bowlers. That has been one of the main reasons for below-par scores.

Sri Lanka’s batting efforts throughout the Asia Cup was painful to watch. They were bowled out for 124 in the first game, their lowest against Bangladesh. Against Afghanistan they managed only 158.

Injury prone captain Angelo Mathews at present only plays as a specialist batsman. He manages multiple injuries in the lower body and he is not able to bowl. That upsets the balance of the side. A slow fielder and a poor runner between the wickets, there have been calls back home that Mathews should only play Test cricket.

BETTER IN TESTS

Dinesh Chandimal, the Test captain, has impressed many as a natural leader. Sri Lanka have fared better in Tests in the last 12 months where they have won three series, drawn one and lost one. They are ranked sixth in Tests.

The selectors have named the 28-year-old as the successor to Mathews. However, Chandimal didn’t cover himself in glory in the Caribbean where he brought the game into disrepute by refusing to take the field demanding the umpires to show evidence after being charged with ball tampering.

BIZARRE SELECTION

Sri Lanka’s selections also have been bizarre. Already the team has several slow movers on the field and on top of that they decided to recall 36-year-old off-spinner Dilruwan Perera to make a comeback after more than a year.

Bangladesh were under pressure losing two wickets in two overs and with opener Tamim Iqbal injured, virtually they were three down in the curtain-raiser of the Asia Cup. Then Perera put down the simplest of chances at square-leg with Mushfiqur Rahim on 10 and he went on to post a career-best 144, the second-highest individual score by a Bangladeshi.



Constant shuffling of the batting order has been another area that has cost them. Kusal Mendis has done a decent job batting at number four, but he was made to open in the Asia Cup when they already had Kusal Perera, who could exploit the field restrictions.

Mendis failed to score in both innings and the team never recovered. Most of their troubles are self inflicted.

BIG SHOES TO FILL

The departure of big three – Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and TM Dilshan in the space of 18 months created a huge void. Those were huge boots to fill. The likes of Upul Tharanga and Angelo Mathews were expected to take up the mantle. But they have failed to show up.

They have also mismanaged their talent. Lahiru Thirimanne was one of the successful players in the 2015 World Cup which he finished with an average of 50. He was also the understudy to Mathews. A couple of poor series saw him being sidelined. Dinesh Chandimal suffered the same fate, but has fought his way back into the ODI side. Thirimanne lost confidence and he is heading nowhere at the moment.

LEADER WITH VISION

Sri Lankan cricket could have been better served with a leader who had a vision. Take the case of Sanath Jayasuriya, who needed 40 ODIs to score his maiden half-century. Ranatunga was under pressure to drop the left-hander.

But he persevered with Jayasuriya and that paid rich dividends. Jayasuriya’s 28 ODI hundreds are still the most by a Sri Lankan.

– Hindustan Times

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