“Sport is a great leveller”. This is a famous saying around the world of sports. It is all too often that we have seen great sporting heroes or teams plunge into depths of defeats in almost unbelievable ways. For many around the world, Brazil has been the invincibles in football, but they have been drubbed in their own world cup in 2014 by Germany with a staggering 7-1 score line. One such glaring example in context of cricket, is the great West Indians who ruled test cricket for well over a decade, who seem like school boys when they walk out into the field these days.
Cricket in Sri Lanka have enjoyed their glories in the last decade. Although they have only one World Cup to show for it, they have been the finalists in almost every world tournament played since 2007. It is really strange how they managed to loose so many finals (Except in 2007 when they were clearly underdogs). Probably it is proof that cricket is played in the minds as much as it is played on the pitch. On the part of the fans, although they were heartbroken after so many finals, they have always enjoyed all the last world cups because their team has given them the bragging rights above all other fans around the world, at least until the final day.
Suddenly in the last two, their team has lost that aura. Now they are not the given finalists anymore. They badly lost the quarter finals in 2015 and have crashed out of the last T20 world cup in the group stage. Many fans are finding it very hard to digest and are blind shooting at every remote reason they can catch. And everyone involved with cricket, players, selectors, coaches, SLC etc. are just getting hit with harsh criticism. Leaving emotions aside it would be a good time to sit back and think what went wrong.
What went wrong?
The biggest mistake what everyone has done is to find all the problems by looking at the tournament itself. One thing which needs to be understood is that a world cup, in any sport for that matter, is won through years of planning and building. To think that a last minute selection change or a one motivation session for the players can win you a world cup is just plain immaturity.Sri Lanka has the worst win loss ratio after the last world cup in T20s, where we are behind Zimbabwe. The stat itself should be enough to suggest that Sri Lankans were never in a situation to make an impact in this WT20.
Sri Lanka were already hit by the departure of two of the best batsmen in the world, but instead of focusing on building on the players for the next two years, what they did was to keep making changes to their squad. There were players who came and went all too frequently, which meant that when they announced squad for the World Cup there were quite a few players who have never really proved themselves in international cricket, in any format let alone T20. Malinga’s injury just doesn’t help the cause, because despite knowing that Malinga will be doubtful for the world cup, they just didn’t try anything to create a cover up. If you can win a world cup with that kind of planning, may be world cups should not be called world cups anymore. In the end what was happened was what was expected after such a pathetic lead up to the world cup. It is clear that Sri Lanka lost that World cup because of bad lead up and bad planning.
However, the general concession among the fans right now is that Sri Lanka cricket is in free fall in all formats. There are some claims that this is the worst Sri Lankan side.
While there is no question that these young guys have not been able to find their range in the T20s as a unit, it would be wise to look at their performances in the tests and ODIs in the last year after Sanga and Mahela quit in the world cup.
Have they really been that bad?
The first tour after the world cup was the Pakistan tour. In the test matches Sri Lanka lost 1-2 to Pakistan. It was a closely fought test series. It needed Younis Khan’s brilliance to take down a very challenging 4th innings chase in the final test. Despite Sanga not adding much substance, Sri Lankan batsmen led by the openers put on challenging scores consistently. Sri Lanka had 3 centuries for Pakistan’s 4. Tharindu Kaushal, the young man got wickets for SL. For a side who were rebuilding they did very well. They lost the first one day series after Sanga, Mahela. Not by 0-5 but by 2-3 where they had 8 fifties and a century to show for it. They scored 368 runs in the last game.
Indian series was challenging for the Lankans. But they won a memorable come from behind victory. Windies came next and was expectedly given the thumping. But not only had Sri Lanka won that test and one day series but they did it in style by white washing them with an innings victory.
In New Zealand, expectedly they had a tough time as a new unit. Because the test series stands at 2-0, many would forget that Sri Lanka came very close to chasing down the first test match target through some brilliant batting of Chandimal and Kusal Mendis. And in the second match they led the first innings. Chameera’s bowling was phenomenal. It needed a Williamson special to settle the series. In the one day series Sri Lanka lost 1-3. Probably they should have at least closed out one more match there.
Dushmantha Chameera, Angelo Mathews, Dimuth Karunarathne, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Milinda Siriwardane and Dammika Prasad along with the old war horse Dilshan, scored a lot of runs and got the wickets for Sri Lanka. Dinesh Chandimal was the highest test scorer during that period from the subcontinent.
As a collective unit, Sri Lanka have lacked the experience to close out matches during the last year. They have surrendered the games while they were on top because of their inability to win the moments. (This can be attributed to the lack of experience in the unit.) But they have never been blown away in any series except in the T20s. For a side who are rebuilding they have shown that they have the metal to become a strong side.
Where to from here?
As many present and past cricketers have pointed out, we need continuity in selection and patience. There is a lot of promise shown by these boys. One can argue quite rightly that we should have done this while the big boys were still here. But you cannot go back now.
For a side who have won 4 out of their last 10 tests and 6 out of 12 One day matches, they need to be given trust. Fans need to keep believing that better things will come. Because it is not all dark and gloomy, the light is out there.