By Sanjeewa Jayaweera –
The Report card will show, we won 3, lost 4 with 2 matches abandoned due to rain. Die-hard supporters of a team being thrashed regularly both at home and abroad might call it a reasonable performance. Sri Lanka lost 24 out of the last 28 matches leading up to the world cup.
All our world cup losses were by significant margins. We lost to New Zealand by 10 wickets with 34 overs to spare. The Australians beat us by 87 runs, South Africa beat us by 9 wickets with 12 overs to spare, and India prevailed by 7 wickets. In terms of ODI cricket, these are all comprehensive losses. No one could argue if one was to say, we were ”thrashed’.
It all points to the need for a critical analysis of the selector’s decisions and player’s performance. Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) should undertake such an exercise post haste if the rot is to be halted. If not, our performance in 2023 would be no better or even worse.
In my considered opinion, only Sri Lanka and South Africa have regressed since the last world cup in 2015. The transformation of England to a large extent and India to some extent since should bring hope to both SLC and our cricketers. It could give hope we may just be able to turn things around if all concerned are prepared to make some hard and unpopular decisions.
There is much evidence of dysfunction at SLC since the last world cup. 57 players have represented Sri Lanka in the previous four years besides eight ODI captains since 2015. Dimuth Karunaratne, selected as captain and player for the world cup, had not played a single ODI match for Sri Lanka since the last world cup series. Dhananjaya de Silva, a young batsman, has batted in all positions from number one to number nine in his 33 match ODI career. He played primarily as a spin blower in the 2019 world cup.
I believe it is obvious. Cricket in this country has been administered in the last four years by SLC in the same manner, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have governed the country since 2015.
After our initial losses, I read that Kumar Sangakkara, the legendary Sri Lankan cricketer had stated, our players lacked “situational awareness.” I believe Sanga was being typically diplomatic.
To put it more bluntly, many of our players played with a lack of basic intelligence. The words “stupid” and “idiotic” can easily be fitted in without causing much offense to the players. For a country that has produced exceptionally gifted and intelligent cricketers of the caliber of Aravinda, Arjuna, Murali, Sanath, Vass, Dilshan, Mahela, Sanga, and Malinga, it is astonishing that cricketing talent and commonsense is currently in such short supply.
There is no doubt, the men entrusted with the responsibility of administering cricketing matters in the country, namely SLC and the Selectors panels have performed way below acceptable standards. They need to be held accountable for the current pathetic state of affairs.
The cricketers, too, cannot be totally absolved. I say this because, since 1996, when we won the world cup, various individuals of questionable ethics and motives have got themselves elected to SLC. The exceptions were the likes of Michael Tissera, Sidath Wettimuny, and Rienize Wijeytilleke. However, despite the shenanigans of those elected, the individual brilliance of the players mentioned earlier ensured, Sri Lankan cricket competed at the highest level with distinction. Therefore, the present-day players cannot entirely hide behind the dysfunctional SLC and Selection Panels for their poor performance.
In my view, the differing fortunes of Thisara Perera and Virat Kohli since the 2011 world cup final is a clear example of the malaise that impacts our cricketers. The batting performance of Thisara against Zaheer Khan in the last over of our innings when he scored over 15 runs was an indication of his talent as an explosive batsman.
Kohli in 2011 was a promising batsman. In the intervening eight years, he has developed into a great batsman scoring centuries at will against all teams. Kohli has also turned into an excellent captain, playing with great passion and pride and now a cricketing statesman. He requested the Indian spectators to applaud the efforts of Steve Smith and David Warner as opposed to booing them.
When one looks at Kholi, you see a supremely fit individual without an ounce of fat who can run as many singles, twos, and threes in scoring countless centuries. That type of fitness is achieved as a result of dedication and discipline from training routine to diet. When you look at Thisara, you see an individual with excess weight, without any semblance of being an athlete and with a muddled brain, whether it be in batting or bowling.
Lasith Malinga’s midriff, as observed on TV, indicates severe neglect in the physical fitness department. A much higher level of physical fitness is required from players participating in prestigious tournaments such as the world cup.
Malinga’s position of Sri Lanka’s best bowler by far is a clear indication of the lack of bowling talent.
It is also maddening to see promising batsmen as Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis and Dhanajaya de Silva struggling to fulfill the early promise they displayed. It is expected that players improve with experience, but it seems to be not the case when it comes to our players.
Having said that, both Sanga and Mahela have articulated that the absence of security of tenure in the team after a few poor performances tend to impact these players negatively. The selectors need to take full responsibility for this state of affairs.
It is astonishing Jeevan Mendis, and Milinda Siriwardena were selected for the world cup. The Chairman of Selectors needs to explain the criteria applied in choosing these two players.
Mahela, Sanga, and Murali have clearly stated, the resurgence of Sri Lankan cricket should commence by limiting the number of teams competing at the highest level in domestic cricket. Ideally, a pool of around 90 of our best cricketers comprising of about six teams competing in the first-class level would be sensible. It would ensure, runs scored, and wickets taken are of some value.
Such a sensible idea could be implemented only if powers behind the scene would be willing to forgo their personal ambitions. They must give up their agendas of winning facile elections and to indefinitely occupy SLC positions in favor of the overall interest of Sri Lanka cricket.
My initial reaction would be, “pigs would fly before that.” The cricketing intelligence and good ethics of former players like Mahela, Sanga, Murali, Roshan Mahanama, et al. need to be inducted to SLC and Selectors and the current lot be sent on compulsory retirement permanently.
The question is whether we have people with the necessary backbone and integrity to undertake such an overhaul?