Sri Lankans have lived up to their President’s expectations

Sri Lanka’s cricket chief Thilanga Sumathipala has been for some time now advocating four day Test matches, not surprising then his team is living up to his expectations. Sri Lanka’s shambolic performance in the Test series against India has seen them suffering their worst ever series defeat at home. The margins of defeats were massive – 304 runs in Galle, innings and 53 at SSC and innings and 171 runs at Pallekele. All three game failed to go the full distance with the first two Tests ending inside four days and the last game ending with a session to spare on day three.

What one can not simply understand is how come a team that whitewashed Australia 3-0 in 2016 can suffer a reverse, that too at home, 12 months later. Something has gone wrong somewhere. Sri Lanka’s Cricket authorities have conveniently put the blame on a series of injuries to leading players as the reason for the dismal showing. True the national cricket team has missed the services of Asela Gunaratne, Rangana Herath, Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal, but aren’t injuries part and parcel of the game?

The other side of the story is that India have missed the services of their leading players as well. Regular opener Murali Vijay was injured, Lokesh Rahul missed the first Test due to illness and Ravindra Jadeja, Man of the Match at SSC was unavailable for the third Test due to suspension.

Look at India’s replacements. Shikhar Dhawan was on holiday in Hong Kong when he was called up as replacement for Vijay and he slammed two hundreds in the series and earned the Player of the Series award. Kuldeep Yadav replaced Jadeja and picked up five wickets at Pallekele.

The point is Sri Lanka lacks quality replacements. Malinga Pushpakumara came into the series with a reputation of having taken more than 500 wickets in First Class cricket. He has been badly exposed by India’s batsmen.

After every series defeat, we seem to find a scapegoat. First it was Graham Ford. Then it was Angelo Mathews. We wonder who is set to lose the job next. At the same time we wonder whether any of the blame belongs to SLC?

Plenty has been said and written about Sri Lanka’s standard of domestic cricket. Instead of cutting down the number of teams or introducing the Inter-Provincial First Class tournament, SLC increased the number of clubs playing First Class cricket from 14 to 24. It was a clear move to please the clubs that had voted in favour of the SLC bosses. As a result, standard of domestic cricket has been further diluted.

Take the case of someone like Chamara Silva. When the domestic tournament had 14 club teams, he was playing for Galle CC. But once his native Panadura SC was granted  First Class status, he was more than happy to stick with Panadura.

As of now, we have some 360 players playing First Class cricket in a season, a number far too many and no wonder the standards have dropped drastically. Sri Lankan opener Dimuth Karunaratne spoke very eloquently about lack of competitiveness in First Class cricket. Fast Bowling coach Chaminda Vaas echoed the same sentiments while former great Kumar Sangakkara in an interview with The Island in June said, “In the first year of an international cricketer, you don’t want to teach him how to play First-Class cricket,” Sangakkara said.

If the current administration had genuinely cared for the game, they would have implemented the First Class Inter-Provincial system. They have been in power for long enough to implement it. But they were content only on one thing that is to satisfy the people who elected them to office so that they will keep winning during cricket elections.

The administrators were blinded by Sri Lanka’s 3-0 whitewash of Australia. They assumed that all was fine with our cricket. Sadly they were mistaken. At least now they should act or more woes are waiting the national cricket team.

Sometime back, SLC tried to reduce the gap between international and domestic cricket by conducting a lot of ‘A’ team cricket, home and away. But a few years ago, Upali Dharmadasa stopped all ‘A’ team cricket saying it was too costly. Firstly it was the wrong thing to do. Secondly it was the worst thing to say. Inability to invest on ‘A’ team cricket has been one major reason for Sri Lanka’s slump.

Look at India. As we read, their national team is in Sri Lanka, ‘A’ team is in South Africa and the Under-19 team is in England. India’s Chairman of Selectors M.S.K. Prasad was at Pallekele and he very clearly said that players’ fitness will be a key issue as India has started looking long term towards the next World Cup. In our part of the world, if a coach demands commitment and fitness from players, they change the coach and get someone whom they are comfortable with.

SLC also needs to act firmly and quickly to stop their treasurer Shammi Silva from meddling with selections. The manner in which he dictates terms and calls for explanation from selectors is despicable to say the least.

The whole nation is in tears with the national team hitting new lows. Cricket used to bring us so much joy and the ultimate pleasure was beating India. But all that is gone now.

One man seems to be cashing in with the current status of the national team. He seems to be doing everything at his disposal to see the ouster of the current administration. No doubt the current administration has got things awfully wrong, but as a Sinhala saying goes changing pillows is not the answer for headaches. Or we shouldn’t be trading ginger for chillies. The man who is doing behind the scenes work to ouster the current regime is none other than Nishantha Ranatunga. The government can replace the current administration with anyone but Nishantha  Ranatunga. His illogical and authoritarian decisions are the main reason why cricket has hit rock bottom at present. In fact, he shouldn’t be allowed to drive down the road where the cricket board is.

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