We have examined every possible winning combination with microscopic details and have come up with no answers or suggestions on how to rescue Sri Lanka’s Cricket from the present darkest abyss it has been pushed into by the players. The solutions cricket lovers suggest seem to have much graver consequences than the problem itself.
Thilanga Sumathipala and his administration seems to be the core of the problem. When Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera aired said that as long as he is the Minister of Sports, he would never have an Interim Committee; Thilanga Sumathipala’s critics then suggested, “Then sack the Minister”. These two seem to be have been made the scapegoat and the inner nucleus of the unimaginable depths that Sri Lankan Cricket has fallen into. As every other solution, suggested by critics, fans and armchair connoisseurs, have been experimented with and the composition of the team changed, it has only resulted in the present impasse. So, the others who are waiting in the wings, to take over the administration of cricket and deliver it to the land of hope, it now seems to be assured that they will replace Thilanga Sumathipala and his team of administrators.
We have tried all other experiments including bringing in raw novices who had nothing to show from their past cricketing record. For example, the manner in which Sadeera Samarawickrema batted in the Test Match. Everybody heaved a deep sigh of relief that at last we have found a genius batting protégée. Then came the 50 over matches, and we were angry over the selectors not selecting him for the ODI. Then, the Selectors had no alternative but to reign-in Sadeera. What a debacle it was! He was bowled neck and crock for two golden ducks.
The same thing happened with Dhananjaya de Silva. When he and another young protégée called Kusal Mendis faced the best pace attack in the world, the Australians pace attack was shred to smithereens. Both of them, after a few flash in the pan acts, were dropped. First Dhananjaya de Silva and then Kusal Mendis. Every time the selectors rope in young talent, he invariably makes a heavy impression raising the spectators adrenal flow, but it is so temporarily ephemeral that it becomes a casualty beyond repair. The same scenario goes on and on, without anyone of them making any positive impact. That is why everything has been tried, with or without reason, and the players have been recruited and dropped, selectors have been sacked or have resigned and new selectors have been appointed, coaches have been removed and sacked.
The new coach Nic Pothas, who was a fielding coach sometime ago, with his limited knowledge in coaching an international cricket team, is now trying to rejuvenate a dispirited, disinterested team which has been destroyed by these scheming mechanisms. From nowhere comes Asanka Gurusinghe as an additional coach, now, the Manager and a selector. The only rationale for selecting him is his Nalanda College background. Hashan Tillekeratne is the Batting Coach. The way that the Sri Lankan Team got out and was unable to score more than 230 runs should be sufficient reason for Hashan to think about his coaching ability. That is why people asked the Board to appoint Mahela Jayawardena as the new Head Coach, and to go further and ask Thilanga Sumathipala to step down. I do not know whether that alone will suffice to improve the standards of our cricket. The failure of Kushal Mendis, Dananajaya de Silva and Lakshan Sandakan and even Niroshan Dickwella in the ODI’s is inexplicable. Further, it is necessary in order to understand the debacle of Sri Lankan Cricket that one must even grudgingly compare the rise of the Pakistan Cricket Team who have become Champions in world ODI Cricket. It is unbelievable the kind of talent they have got and the pace bowlers who come and deliver the ball at an unbelievable pace, which is virtually unplayable. They almost have more than a dozen pace bowlers to replace anyone who is injured. Mohammed Ameer, who was a sensation before he was booked for spot fixing, was considered the greatest young Pakistani cricketer to have played the game. But when he was very unsuccessful in his bowling in the Test Matches, and after bowling several overs, he was only able to take one wicket, and in the ODI, was an utter failure and was replaced by another Pakistani sensation, Usman Khan.
Hassan Ali, a bowler who reached a milestone, was one of the quickest pace bowlers to take 50 wickets. He is also the ICC No.(1) ranked, ODI bowler. He has reached this position thanks to Sri Lanka’s worst batting display the world of cricket has witnessed. Pakistan Cricket is overflowing with an abundance of talent raring to be selected. Imad Rassim, Ruman Raees and Shadab Khan are only a few cricketers who had excelled whenever selected . The list and talent is never ending. Is this the reason for their speedy accession to the summit of World Limited Over Cricket? Pakistan had always had talent, they always had great bowlers and batsmen. But they never won their matches consistently. Harsha Bhogle once remarked, “No one, not even God could predict the batting debacles of Pakistan Cricket. One day they will show the world that they have the batting ability to smash any bowling attack, but the next day they will meekly surrender to the meekest bowling attack and no one could explain this debacle”.
The debacles the team faced, were even under the leadership of great captains like Wassim Akram and Waqar Younis. The reason was amply demonstrated by the recent exposure made by an English Newspaper Group, how the Pakistanis fixed matches for money at the behest of owners of gambling dens. There were rumors and serious allegations, against the Pakistani Cricketers of yesteryear, that they were involved in match fixing and the debacles were due to these sordid activities. There were inquires even against Wassim Akram. There were stories that Wassim Akram’s father was kidnapped by the Mafioso, in return for the monies that Wassim Akram had taken to fix matches. Even the Supreme Court inquiry, found certain players guilty of corruption. Everything was done to prevent people from giving evidence against the corrupt cricketers, but ultimately Atha-ur Rehaman, Saleem Malik, Mohomed Ameer, Mohammed Azzif, Salman Butt, Danesh Kaneria, Shajeel Khan, Khalid Lateef and Mohammad Ifram were found guilty and sentenced, and were banned from cricket for a number of years.
There were cricketers who single handedly protested against the players who were striving to fix matches. During the 1996 World Cup, when Wassim Akram feigned an injury and declined to play against India, Ameer Sohel, one of the few honourable cricketers in the Pakistani Team, went on bended knees and requested Wassim Akram to play in that match. By that time it had been rumored that huge bets had been held all over India on the number of wickets that Wassim Akram would take and the number of runs he would score, and even who will captain Pakistan. As Wassim Akram did not play, huge sums of money were won by the bookies.
When I first saw Saffras Ahamed, the present captain, as a Wicket Keeper / Batsman, in Sri Lanka, I was really impressed with the true grit he showed in defending his wicket. Though all odds were against him, he managed to save the game by batting on, and I told one of the officials who toured with the Pakistani Team, that Saffras Ahamed should be appointed captain of the team as I felt that he had no price on his head and cannot be bought over by bookies. Though pundits lamented over the retirement of the former captain, who had a mixed bag of success, they believed his retirement would drive the death nail into Pakistan Cricket. On the other hand, I thought that Saffraz Ahamed and the Cricket Coach, Micky Arthur could rejuvenate Pakistan Cricket and make them world champions. I am happy that they are working and walking towards that ambitious goal.
True to my word, during the ODIs, Saffraz Ahamed was approached by a notorious bookie, who was well known to all the other players, to discuss about fixing one or two matches. No harm would fall to the Pakistani Team, as the rubber had been won by them. But, Saffraz Ahamed, without pondering a moment, immediately reported this to the officials at the Cricket Board, sending a signal to all players of the Pakistani Team that they must not even entertain a thought about match fixing or spot fixing and if found, there would be no reprieve like the concession given to Mohamed Ameer.
Mohammad Irfan with his height was thought irreplaceable. But the Pakistan Board found him guilty of fixing and banned him. In Pakistan, unlike in Sri Lanka, there are hundreds of players waiting in the wing to replace players, even giants like Mohammad Irfan, or should it be Mohammad Ameer or Mohamed Azzif. The PCB would prefer honour to talent, cricketing brain and charisma. Saffraz Ahamed has dispelled the demon of ‘fixing’ that has captivated the most famous cricketers in the Pakistan Team. As long as he cannot be offered or bought over with money, the Pakistan Team will continue to win matches. The present day Glory the Pakistan Team enjoys is due to two people, Saffraz Ahamed and Micky Arthur.