19 July, 2024


Sri Lankan Cricket – An Observer Perspective

By Fr. Rashmi Madusanka Fernando –

Fr. Rashmi Fernando

The ICC One-Day-International Men’s Cricket World Cup is still underway, and the wounded Sri Lankan lions just had yet another battering defeat not second to the one they had recently suffered in the Asia Cup finals against the subcontinent’s champs. Undoubtedly, the team Sri Lanka has its movements to celebrate in the biggest stage of the game. Among them, being victorious over the defending ODI World Cup champs of England is a mighty team moment to relish. Similarly, even though the chase against South Africa was a lost war, the manner in which the battle was fought is something to take note of as it gives enough room to realize what the Lions are capable of doing when they wake up from their slumber. Similarly, it is also good to bear in mind the fact that the Sri Lankan Team defeated their Dutch competitors who, in turn, went on to beat the rainbow-flagged South Africa later in the tournament. One should not also forget the personal excellence showcased by individual players in all three departments of the game – batting, bowling, and fielding. Put together, these instances help ascertain the belief that, if cricket is an unpredictable sport, the Blue Lions are the true patrons of the game, and their unpredictability seems to be second to none. 

It may be true that unlike Sri Lanka’s 1996 WC Cricket Team led by Arjuna Ranatunga, the Team Sri Lanka 2023 led initially by Dasun Shanka and later by Kusal Mendis was not the favorite for the current edition of the competition. Also, while the Lankan squad is quite young in their international cricketing experience, the alleged injuries have further crippled the camp right from the time of the WC team nominations. As a result, the team missed some of the key performers in the party who happened to be the IPL stars and, therefore, would have been so useful in the Indian pitches. Nevertheless, it would be unjust to say that no Sri Lankan fan believed that the Lions could win the cup. For example, given the unpredictable nature of the sport and of the team, I for one, believed that the Blue Lions could perhaps do the unthinkable and create a young revolution. 

It is, therefore, with that affinity that I wish to engage in this reflection in-and-on action of the national cricket team’s performance in the ICC WC 2023 as seen through the sport’s live television broadcasts and streaming. It is so done with the faith that as a young team, such reflections would benefit the team (players as well as those responsible for making decisions on their behalf) to make the national cricket better in the future. Additionally, it is hoped that through such reflections these privileged national players and their mentors would take to heart that the presence of their team supporters, no matter where they are in the world, is not something that they could take for granted as in Sri Lankan politics today. Rather, it is something that they should not only always be conscious about as they rally around the ‘One Nation-One Team’ banner but also inevitably give respect to through their actual display of performance, decision-making, and overall conduct both individually and collectively as a team. 

Constant Player Changes V/S Team Building

To begin with, there had not been any other team in the 13th edition of the ICC Men’s Cricket WC 2023 that had its players changed so often than the team Sri Lanka. While there might have been legitimate reasons to do so, such changes did not seem to have created a better climate within the team/management or stronger coordination/partnerships in the game. Be it the batting department or the balling division, while such quick changes do not appear to have given rise to better fixes, my fear is whether or not they have contributed toward further loss of confidence in players yielding to subsequent instability in the team. 

One Team V/S Many Outlooks

In the same vein of thought, it was often a good sight to see how teams share their moments of the game together as one unit (management, players, officials) be it in their dressing room or in the duck, tensed and nail-biting when things go tough and relaxed and smiling when things are under their control. When it comes to Sri Lankan camp, however, while its freshmen, and youngsters together with the yellow-jacketed substitutes often had the duck out occupied at the boundary line, their dressing room hardly had any close conversations or team spirit displayed. I remember seeing South African and New Zealand captains, upon being made substitutes, seated at the duck out with the rest of the teammates sharing their joys and pains. While I failed to see such a sight in the Sri Lankan camp, all that my mind could grasp through the camera footage shown was that it appears to be an individualized team rather than a team with different individuals. Do we maintain a certain gradation or differentiation of treatment in Sri Lankan Cricket? 

Team Captaincy V/S Personal Best

Be it Angelo Mathews, Dimuth Karunaratne, Dinesh Chandimal, Dasun Shanaka, or Kusal Mendis, the role of captaincy in the Sri Lankan team has been thoroughly shaken in the recent past. Undoubtedly, the role is beset with a unique set of challenges as compared to their personal best. For example, one such challenge would be that captains often have to face interviews before media, cameras, TV shows, spectators, etc., and speak in English, which they might not be proficient in. This linguistic barrier by no means a small stress to the leadership and his confidence in the self that permeates to all aspects of the game. As a result, balancing the demands of leadership with personal excellence can be a daunting task, especially when the team is going through a transitional phase or struggling to find its rhythm as in the case of Sri Lanka. Take for example Kusal Mendis. Until the day he was appointed as the captain of the team for the rest of the WC 2023, he was ranked the highest scorer of the game for this edition. Unfortunately, from the day he was called to shoulder the new responsibility, his personal best suffered, and he has never made a ton of scores ever since then. If the demand for a particular role is way too far beyond one’s personal best, should the management burden the players with such decisions in the first place? At the same time, cannot the players say ‘no’ to such offers if they are able to assess that such opportunities are nevertheless stumbling blocks to realizing their personal best and giving their best to the team and to the country? What is more important, contributing one’s best for the betterment of the team or performing a duty at the expense of one’s personal best? 

Playing Cricket V/S Representing the Country

The journey from playing cricket to representing the country is a remarkable transformation that highlights the unique and demanding nature of international cricket. While the pursuit of professional cricket at the international level is a prestigious honor, the realization that, in so doing, one becomes a representative of one’s country, culture, and identity comes with added pressure, expectations, and responsibilities, as national pride is at stake. As a result, the transition from playing cricket wearing the national colors to representing the true national identity is a significant one requiring not only skills and talents to excel in the game but also a deep sense of commitment and loyalty to the nation.

Taken in that light, we have had players speaking to the public media and the press, not always in English, but in their own mother tongue and with translators. It has always happened in the past and it happens to date in the 2023 edition of the WC as well. For example, we have seen the veteran and the Hall of Famer Muttiah Muralitharan in his early stages of cricket speaking with the help of translators. But he ended his career not only with unbreakable records in his personal best in the game but also as a fluent English speaker. Today, we hear Russell Arnold in his clear English in the commentary box. We see how Kumara Sangakkara is appreciated for his fabulous dictions. They too have received these praises not at the expense of their personal best in the game. It goes to say that while the players’ talents for the game should not be determined or curtailed on the basis of their extra skills such as the use of language, one should always ask if it makes a player or a team small if one chooses to speak in the language that is unique to one’s motherland? On the other hand, if we could sing the national anthem in front of the world in its original language and with full passion and emotions, I believe, speaking a language that one is capable of is more noble and patriotic than trying to match up to popular demands and making oneself a laughingstock in social media, live telecast, and before the multitudes of learned spectators. I believe it is often by speaking either a foreign language accurately or one’s native tongue passionately, that the ‘One Team- One Nation’ band could make not only the presence of their worldwide supporters appreciated and respected but also their patriotism witnessed and upheld.

Injuries V/S Preserving Energy

While the ICC Men’s World Cup 2023 is played in India where the climate and pitch conditions are no different from that of Sri Lanka, it was surprising to see that Asian teams were the ones that seem to have suffered more player injuries and replacements than non-tropical participant countries in the context. Among them, Sri Lanka ranks at the top. While it is true that we have found a few promising and talented bowling battalion who has been making a statement in the WC 2023, at times as one bawling unit and at other times as individual players, even when the team failed in one aspect or the other in the game, I believe, giving a serious thought to reducing the length of the run-up that the seamers make is something that merits for several reasons. By shortening their run-up, bowlers can conserve their energy more effectively, especially in challenging conditions, and this conservation of energy allows bowlers to consistently maintain their line and length throughout their spell which is a crucial aspect of successful bowling. Likewise, a shorter run-up can reduce the strain on a bowler’s body minimizing the risk of overuse and overexertion injuries which is crucial for preventing injuries and sustaining performance. Moreover, a shorter run-up can enhance a bowler’s concentration and rhythm, enabling them to focus on their delivery technique and variations. This could also reduce the time given to the opposition batters to settle at the crease, making it more challenging for them to adapt to the bowler’s strategies and pace and, thereby, putting pressure on the opposition. This aspect, I believe, is something that we need to learn from team India whose seamers have a fairly short run-up but very high success rate to batter the Sri Lankan lions not just once in the Asia Cup, but repeatedly in the biggest stage of the game in WC 2023.

Losing Battered V/S Losing Gracefully

In the context of Sri Lankan cricket today, discerning between ‘losing battered’ and ‘losing gracefully’ seems to be extremely difficult. While all teams experience losses and it is a part and parcel of any sport, the manner in which those defeats are invited and handled can have a profound impact on the team’s reputation and morale. By ‘losing battered’, therefore, I refer to suffering defeats in a manner that is demoralizing and marked by poor sportsmanship, controversies, and internal strife. This not only damages the team’s standing but also erodes the spirit of the game. On the other hand, ‘losing gracefully’ signifies not only losing with dignity but also determining to learn with humility and commit to improvement. It further indicates the need to play smart cricket and always fight a good battle with a positive mindset to foster resilience and unity within the team. For example, battered and wounded so badly after the Asia Cup finals 2023 against India, and having the pitch forecast so favorable to the batters in the first go, what would have been the choice that the Sri Lankan captain would have made upon winning the toss against the same opponent in WC 2023? Did he make a choice between fielding first and batting first or between losing battered and losing gracefully? 

Even if we keep losing in the future, I believe, in the context of Sri Lankan cricket, the choice to ‘lose gracefully’ can help rebuild the team’s reputation, refine its outlook toward the national and international supporters, enhance its performance, and reinforce the values of sportsmanship that the One Team-One Nation has long been associated with in the past.

*Rashmi M. Fernando, Doctoral Fellow at Creighton University, Omaha, USA

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Latest comments

  • 5

    A load of nonsense!

  • 4

    Is Sri Lanka the only country where there is more gnashing of teeth over a cricket match than over people being buried in landslides?

  • 3

    It is just not cricket in our cricketing world!

  • 6

    The Cricket board has always been a gold mine & our cricketers have enjoyed tax free incomes & perks, yet, some, like the Ranthungas & Jayasuriya, have prostituted their god given talent for more. Mega contracts, TV rights & sponsorships have corrupted players & officials. I remember a poem in junior school, ‘play up, play up & play the game’ is not applicable any more, its big business now.

    • 3

      Dear Raj-UK,
      The relevance of all this may not be immediately clear to you.
      We know all about this murder:
      Or was it a suicide? Well, I had a 16-minute 45″ WhatsApp chat with Chandra Schafter commencing at 9.27 am. It is now 11:56. I intend following up and giving you many details which you will find most fascinating.
      The crime was terrible
      . It helps our discussion that many of these things happened within the Thomian fraternity, but every [person in this country ought to be very concerned about all this.
      I have much to do before I sleep tonight!
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

      • 1

        I’m sincerely sorry that I have been unable to add more observations here.
        My only meeting with Chandra Schafter was in 2014 when he was Chief Guest at a cricket match between STC Bandarawela and STC, Gurutalawa. Chandra is a wonderful man, but unfortunately the two Uva Schools are floundering. Why? Because moat of the Headmasters whom they have had, have been rotten individuals.
        The problems continue. However, from the little acquaintance that I’ve had with retired Major General Laksiri Fernando, Headmaster at Gurutalawa, it looks as though some constructive developments could be in the offing. Marc Billimoria at Mt Lavinia is also a decent man, but has little to do with these schools.
        Meanwhile, I extend my sympathies to the Schafter Family.

  • 3

    The biggest match involving Namal Rajapaksa and his sports minister proxy Roshan Ranasinghe is developing. Will the two of them end up getting a piece of the much desired cricket pie? Something they have been lusting after. Or will they continue to make fools of themselves writing letters to the International Cricket Council.

    The ICC is well aware of what the two are up to and what they are after. Anyone can see that.

    Losing a tournament is part of sport. It’s not the end of the world unless you want to make it. No team continues to always win. Sport will be static if that was the case. You lose, learn your lessons, and try to improve.

    • 8

      It’s MATCH FIXING by Roshan , Namal , Mahindananda…… Lanka is now fixed permanently to be record breaking losers, play minions to qualify, used as punching bags for warm ups ……….. as usual Psuedo Patriots shifting blame. Missing funds , corruption, nepotism , political interference, autocratic management, political appointments……… anyone ???????

      • 6

        Now is the perfect time to reveal how a man who was then a simple Simon back then but managed to buy a million bsp house in London. An another backlicker of MaRa et al, none other than Mahindananda of Aluthgamage, who served as a sports minister in the brutal administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
        In a country, auditors general are paralised with “amazonian sloth nature”, not the real information comes to light making its people well aware. Eeven if good governance govt brought back the RTI or the kind of rights. THIs country is filled with all various beasts in human disguise

  • 2

    Why not apply standardization in sports too and include players from other communities?

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