Will former World Cup champions even qualify for the 2019 fray?

The bottle throwing incident by the disgruntled spectators at Pallekelle after the third ODI when the Indians cruised to yet another facile win enabled them not only clinch the series but also cruelly exposed the emptiness of our cricket cupboard – reminding us of Mother Hubbard! After the 168-loss in the fourth ODI, the biggest defeat in terms of runs at home, is the sixth successive defeat in ODI cricket Sri Lanka has suffered. What is even worse is the fact that Sri Lanka – former World Cup champions – now may not have an automatic slot to play in the 2019 World Cup. Obviously we have now reached the nadir of our cricket since gaining Full Membership of the ICC in 1981. The Indian batsmen led by centurions Sharma and skipper Kohli simply toyed with our bowlers, and our poor fielding too assisted! Remember not too long ago Sri Lanka whitewashed the Australians 3-0 in a Test series. Here is a nation of cricketers within the last decade reached five World Cup finals, a feat no other international cricket team has achieved. Today we are more or less at the bottom of the pack.

Of course there are mitigating circumstances that has contributed to this sad state of affairs. To begin with, injuries incurred by key players before and during this series were factors that hampered our progress. Strange selection policies, rather than let players settle in and develop over a fair period of time, confused and must have unsettled the mental make-up of the already inexperienced team. Eventually the Selectors have tendered their resignation as well. There must have been wheels within wheels for this development. Reports in the media indicated that there are “too many cooks” interfering with the work of the appointed experts. Of course, it was amusing that two days later this charge was retracted forthwith! That is another sordid story. Different captains keep appearing at the toss, our fielding and running between wickets would make schoolboys blush. Maybe the elevation of our former fielding coach now hurriedly promoted Head Coach may not have helped – switching hats at international level, at the drop of the proverbial hat, and succeeding is not an easy thing to cope with. Respected international coaches did not last long either.

In the Test rankings of the ICC, West Indies and Bangladesh are below Sri Lanka but just the other day the former beat England while the latter had the better of Australia! Interestingly, most of the coaching staff of the Bangladesh set-up comprises Sri Lankans, including the Head Coach (Hathurusinghe), batting consultant (Samaraweera), trainer (Villavarayan) and of late, fast bowling guru Champaka Ramanayake too has thrown his hat there. This may not be a case of rats leaving a sinking ship but highly indicative of losing our own experts to other nations probably due to interfering “cooks.”?

Coming back to the question of throwing bottles to the field to vent the frustration of spectators, this is not new. During the 1996 World Cup competition when Sri Lanka played India in a crucial game in Calcutta the same situation occurred when the hosts were about to lose. Eventually, the Match Referee Clive Lloyd was forced to award the match to Sri Lanka due to the consistent misconduct of the spectators.

What of the future for Sri Lanka cricket? More than a few supporters have actually given up watching our team playing at international level. They now opt to watch “teledramas” instead. Players must be watching over their shoulders when the next axe is going to take its toll. Politics of all sorts seem to be the order of the day. Our domestic first-class cricket structure is not suitable to get the best players to play against each other. Especially when the first-class clubs have been increased from 14 to a staggering 24! Is it a ploy to have more votes in hand? Even 14 clubs were considered by many genuine experts as too many. Perhaps a maximum of 8 – 10 may have served the purpose. Australia has only six teams in the first-class structure! As Sangakkara recently stated, inter alia, “I see a young team that is not in a stable environment”. Continuing he reiterated: “A lot of people will think we succeeded because of the system. I think we succeeded in spite of the system.” At the same time he conceded; “We had a strong coaching staff and the selectors were independent with a support structure that insulated them from the chaos around.” The implications of such statements are manifold. Such observations from a former experienced player should be heeded, but would a fox agree to give up eating chicken?

Now with gloom around the cricket world, the situation is to be discussed in Parliament as well. The proposal by the Minister of Sports to appoint various individuals for a solution will complicate matters further. The solution is elsewhere. Will the Minister and/or the Parliament take the appropriate steps especially now that the present President of SLC has vowed to hold office until the 2019 World Cup?

At Pallekelle and at the Premadasa stadium, gaily adorned dancing girls were performing despite Sri Lanka getting a continued bashing! What a waste of funds during a one-sided contest. Such skits are meant to be the icing on a cake – provided the cake was properly baked!

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