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The Downfall of Sri Lankan Cricket
Sunday, 14 May 2006 - 3:43 AM SL Time
Sri Lankan cricketing fortunes seem to be following a course very similar to that which has afflicted the West Indians for the last decade or more. Whilst the Sri Lankans never ever approached the greatness of the West Indian teams of the late 1970`s and the decade thereafter there seems to be a parallel worth examining.
The great West Indian teams under Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards annihilated all before them. Other than for the odd hiccup they were simply too good both at home and away. They had a conveyor belt which kept on producing great fast bowlers at a rate that resulted in several fast bowlers being unable to get a place in the team whilst all the other test playing teams looked on enviously. During this period the West Indies also produced several great batsmen with Vivian Richards being pre-eminent amongst them. Despite very slow over rates, test matches involving the West Indies rarely went beyond the fourth day.
Even on the slow Indian and Pakistani wickets the opposition batsmen were intimated and several of them retreated to the pavilion thanking their lucky stars to be in one piece. Only a few batsmen like Allan Border, Graham Gooch, Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amaranath were able to enhance their reputation whilst playing against the West Indians.
In good times the successful teams are also great fielding teams and the West Indians were no exceptions with Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Des Haynes, Joel Garner and several others catching everything and anything which came their way.
The West Indians were also masters of the one day game having won the inaugural world cup and the next one as well. Only over confidence whilst chasing a modest Indian target prevented a hatrick of wins.
Whilst the West Indian teams under both Lloyd and Richards competed with fierce aggression and pride that ensured success, the West Indies Board of Control for Cricket forgot that they had to invest in younger players as well as ensure that the cricketing infrastructure back home kept up with the emerging standards elsewhere. As in Sri Lanka, the West Indian Board administrators sought and attained power and thereafter clung on to power not to serve the cricketing needs of the country nor the team but only to bask in the glory resulting from the success of the team.
The younger generation of players thought that mere talent and being identified with West Indian cricket would guarantee them success. The financial rewards were immense and the fringe players enjoyed the perks that come with over generous packages without proving themselves and being accountable for lack of success. The work ethic and the discipline associated with the previous West Indian teams went out of the window and coaches like the great Andy Roberts were left flabbergasted with the lack of application and discipline amongst the West Indian player`s post 1990.
Since then the performance of the West Indian teams both at home and away has been most embarrassing for their countrymen, the former players and even for those neutral supporters like me. The performance of the present team has ensured that the West Indians despite possessing in Brian Lara a magical batsman has languished amongst the likes of Bangladesh and the Zimbabwe for nearly a decade. The frightening aspect for the West Indians is that their pathetic performances seem to get worse and worse and that there is no end to their cricketing woes.
The performance of the current Sri Lankan team in the last six months whilst playing at home as well as away has all the symptoms that have afflicted the West Indian teams in the last decade or so. Our high point came with the winning of the World cup in 1996. In the years thereafter whilst playing at home the Sri Lankan team achieved an enviable reputation as even the Australians grudgingly conceded that beating Sri Lanka at home was no easy task. In fact Steve Waugh`s team during his reign as captain lost one of the very few series in Sri Lanka.
During this period we managed to register victories against all visiting teams other than Pakistan. The performance of players like Arjuna, Aravinda, Sanath, Marvan and Hasahn enabled the team to post challenging totals whilst Murali and Vass bowled their hearts out to enable the Sri Lankas to overcome the disadvantage of a limited bowling attack. Whilst not setting the cricketing world alight the team also performed well enough when playing away from home enabling overseas victories in Pakistan, New Zealand, England and Zimbabwe. A little bit more discipline and commonsense would have enabled victories against both the West Indians and South Africans away from home.
The Sri Lankans under Senath`s captaincy registered 10 consecutive victories at home propelling them to be ranked 3 in the ICC test ratings whilst they were always amongst the top four in the one day rakings over a much longer period. Despite performing below par the team managed to reach the semi finals of the last world cup in South Africa. This achievement to a large extent needs to put in perspective when one considers that Kenya too reached the semi finals in the same world cup!
With Sanath announcing his retirement from test cricket and Marvan injured the Sri Lankan batting, bar Sangakkara and Jayawardena, looks threadbare. During the last few years we have not groomed nor found successors to either Sanath or Marvan. Now with their departure and no worthy replacements, the middle order is ripe for picking as far as the opposition new ball bowlers are concerned. The English fast bowlers must be salivating at the prospect of some cheap wickets and enhancing their averages!
It is difficult to imagine that Van Dort or Mubarak are ever going be worthy replacements for Sanath or Marvan. Neither seems to posses the required technique or the temperament to be a reasonable opener. To be fair to the Sri Lankan selectors, both these batsmen have been given their opportunities albeit irregularly and neither has given any indication that they are good enough at this level. The other opener, Upul Tharanga, was hastily dropped after being paced out by Brett Lee in the first one day match recently in Australia. I watched the dismissal on TV and he looked mighty slow in bringing his bat down that day. Given that he has scored a couple of centuries, he seems to be the one whom the selectors will need to persevere with.
Whilst Thilan and Dilshan seem to be adequate in our own conditions, it is difficult to imagine that they would conquer the bowlers when playing overseas with their limited technique. The unfortunate aspect is that there are no batsmen in the local scene who seem remotely capable of coming into the team and being a success even in the medium term. It appears that the new generations of Sri Lankan batsmen are no longer blessed with all the ingredients that are necessary to be world class batsmen.
In any sphere of life talent by itself is not sufficient to succeed, with cricket being no exception. To be a good world class batsmen in international cricket one needs talent and good technique to be combined with several other ingredients like intelligence, perseverance, hard work, the will to succeed, pride of performance and a few more.
If one is to dissect Mahela Jayawardena`s performance as a world class batsman in terms of talent, he is not far behind any of the other top players in the world. In my opinion it is in the other facets of what makes a top class batsman that Mahela has failed.
There is no doubt that his technique is faulty when playing fast bowlers and there has also been a question mark about his temperament. Although I believe that he is an intelligent person, this particular asset has not been taken to the middle when Mahela bats. I say this with some reluctance but having watched him play over the last seven years there is no other plausible explanation for the innumerable `soft` and `reckless` dismissals that we have had the agony of watching. The number of times he has `hung` his bat out to be caught in the slip region is unacceptable for an `intelligent` player.
We are all supposed to learn from our mistakes! His constant inability to convert starts to meaningful scores prevents him being commended under other attributes like `perseverance` or `will to win`. He needs to only appreciate the achievements of Steve Waugh and now Ricky Ponting to realize that he is using only part of his god given gift thereby shortchanging himself and the team. Despite Mahela averaging in excess of 47 runs per inning over 78 matches his record when playing away from home has been very disappointing
I believe my comments are equally attributable to Kumar Sangakkara who despite being our top batsmen tends to under-perform by playing some outrageously silly shots.
Our Batsmen are
I believe the main reason for the failure of our team, particularly the batsmen, has been their lack of `professionalism`. I concede that this is a contentious statement which may well draw some firing from the hip from some other scribes. However I believe having watched and followed international cricket for well over 35 years that the main contributor to our failure has been the inability of our players. particularly the batsmen, to learn from their mistakes. Time after time most of our batsmen tend to make the same mistake over and over again. For some time I have had the feeling that Marvan Attapatu was a terrible runner hence I did some research on how many occasions has Marvan been run out in one day matches. The results will be a shock to many and confirms that Marvan has not been able to rectify this particular fault of his. The table below provides the statistics
I have excluded the number of not outs in arriving at the `completed innings` and has included the statistics of Tendulkar and Ponting as both of them are top performers in world cricket. The statistics indicates that Marvan is a worse runner than Inzaman who many consider to be fat and too lazy to run. I wonder what explanation Marvan could give in support of his defence. To me it is a sheer case of `unprofessionalism.`
Recently the Channel 9 commentators during the telecast of a one day match in Australia involving Sri Lanka focused on Marvan`s running especially the lack of `backing up` from the non-striker`s end. Given that he has played international cricket for more than 15 years and over 250 one day matches and 88 test matches, it is totally unacceptable that a professional cricketer has failed miserably to rectify a basic mistake. Give that Marvan is an opener who bats during the first 15 overs where field restrictions are in force and as such quick singles are not the order of the day, his record is damnable. I can only assume that our top coaches must have pointed out this problem to Marvan over the years but corrective action seems to be not forthcoming.
Mural`s idiosyncrasies with the bat
An other case of `unprofessionalism` in our cricket is clearly demonstrated by Murali when he comes out to the middle with a bat in hand. I believe that his idiosyncrasy has gone well beyond a laughing matter and in my opinion he deserves a good clip on his ear. It pains me to have written so about one of the greatest spin bowlers the world has seen who over the years has demonstrated an iron like will to over come all obstacles but his performance with the bat is totally unacceptable.
Our selectors have not helped our team`s cause with some idiotic blunders being made over and over again. The selection of players like Aviska Gunawardena and Nuwan Zoysa and a few others time after time has left me flabbergasted. These are players who have failed over and over again and their selection every so often does not make any sense. In the mid 1980`s when Australia were losing on a consistent basis, the then skipper Alan Border and the coach Bob Simpson requested the selectors to pick players who posses `fighting qualities` and the proper `attitude`. They stated that it was these two qualities that they wanted as opposed to `flair.` Hence the perseverance with players likes Steve Waugh, David Boon, Merve Hughes and a few others.
Sri Lanka too desperately need to find and select players who posses the correct `attitude` as opposed to glimpses of `flair` and players who learn from their mistakes and place a premium on their wicket. Unless we do this I have no doubt that Sri Lankan cricket will sink to the embarrassing depths to which the West Indian have sunk. We also need selectors and Board officials who have the guts to make difficult and unpopular decisions and who are only interested in working towards the good of our cricket. We must also ensure that no sports minister from either party has a role to play in selection of our teams and the appointment of selectors and board officials.