Beating the skipper on top & leaving batters to nap is the right answer to SL’s ailing instant cricket?

There are some news reports in Sinhala media, speculating a change in ODI captaincy before the forthcoming series Vs India.

As indicated, Tharanga would be happily handover his barbed-wire crown to anyone, if the new selectors decide to keep SL Cricket's unending musical-chairs party going on further, as preferred by former selectors.

The question to be asked is, beating the skipper on on Top & leaving the batters to nap is the right answer for SL's Odi standard decline prevailing for more than 2 years now?  Upul had virtually led the Odi side only in 3 complete series Vs SA, BD & PK (Vs India only 3/5 matches he played due to suspension). He won the away triangular (vs WI, Zmb) series in Zmb, becoming the only SL skipper to win such a series on debut as skipper. But Mathews, who led the side in all 3 formats (including 2 world cups in 2015 & 16 & ICC-CT in 2017)  for a period extended from mid 2013 to 2017 over 4 years, even failed to to avoid a history making series defeat humiliation against the same Zmb side on our home soil, just a few months after Tharanga recorded the triangular series win in Zmb.

The naked fact is, stripping the captaincy from Tharanga would not resolve the severe underline problem continuously had with a brittle batting unit. They were unable to put up even 230-50 runs on the board in the past couple of series Vs Ind & Pk (10 odis). Tharanga had to lead this half strength side in both series vs ICC No1 side India & 2017 ICC-CT trophy champs Pk, with a bunch of brittle batting failures who occupied several spots from No 1 to 7 in a significantly depleted side, nowhere near its full strength in batting and bowling (lacking regular OdI guys such as Asela, Mathews, KJP, Pradeep, Dhanajaya etc.). 

But Skipper Tharanga fought hard & led his side from front, becoming the most productive SL Odi batter since Aug 2016, in regular run-making with 2×100+ scores made in away series vs formidable sides (SA in SA & Pk) & 6 x 50+ scores. Upul Tharanga had scored 944 runs @ 47 Av – 84 SR –  2x 100 –  6 x 50 from 25 Odi innings and tops the SL batting list in run making and batting average in past 15 months since August 2016 among top-order No1-5 batters.

It was a well accepted fact that the series whitewash vs Pk was mainly due to, SL batting failures among top 7 in this series (Chandi 5- 41, Thisara 5-91, Dickwella 5-62, Siri 5- 24, Mendis 2-12, Sadeera 2-0, Kapu 1- 18). They collectively managed just 248 runs from 25 innings @ 9.92 Av in entire 5-odi series. NO side can win matches with this kind of batting unit.!

Only Upul Tharanga (5 odis – 199 runs – 50 Av-  1x 100+ & 1 x 50+) & Thirimanne (5 odi – 174 runs @ 35 Av – 2 x 50+) had scored some runs in the 5-Odi series Vs Pk.

Odi skipper Upul Tharanga became the first SL batsman to carry his bat out in an Odi match when he scored an unbeaten 112* out of his team’s score of 187 in the second match Vs Pak at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Despite surviving a couple of chances given in his inning, Tharanga fought hard until the end to bring a victory for SL, but unfortunately ran out of partners & stranded at the end just short of 32 runs.

Upul contributed 59.89 percent of  team’s total which was only the 2nd highest after Australian Damian Martyn’s innings of 116 not out in a total of 191 which contributed 60.73 of his team’s total. Overall, Tharanga became only the 11 th batsman to achieve the feat in ODIs (50 overs).

Tharanga and Vandarsay (22) put up a fighting 76-run 8th wicket stand. Tharanga rose to the occasion and tried his best to single handedly win the match for SL. But with last two batsman were ran out, he couldn't pull out one of the most stunning wins of his career. If at least one of the top 7 batters managed to stay with him for a little while scoring at least 20 runs like tailender Vandersay did, the 32 runs deficit could have been easily wiped off to win the match.  Similar thing happened in SA after Upul's knock of 119 made @ 132 SR and putting up 139 for the 1st wkt in 16 ovs & raising it to 216 for 2 wkts before getting out, leaving just 150 more to score,with 7 wkts in hand. But fell short by 40 runs. If SL batting unit had a single batter or two who could have supported Tharanga's efforts, with some substantial contribution in those matches, both series Whitewashes Vs SA & Pk would have been easily avoided. 

SL suffered 10 consecutive series defeats (including 2015 WC & 2017 ICC-CT) from 12 series played under Mathews, since Jan 2015 with full-strength side (including Dilly & Sanga in most part of his tenure) in operation (except the most productive Odi batter since Nov 2016 Tharanga, Upul was repeatedly overlooked & missed 10  series squads in Odis since Jan 2015 to 2016 Nov under Mathews). Upul was given just a couple of solitary matches as opener & other random 8 odis were given in lower order in the tail from No 7 or 8 over 2+ yrs, under Mathews since 2015 .

SL had completed 20 Odis under Tharanga since Nov 2016 and won 4 odis (won triangular series in Zmb & BD leveled the series that could have easily won by SL, if not for the rain ruined decider almost won in Dambulla) & lost 14 (2 matches lost without Upul playing due to suspension Vs Ind series). The prime cause for those losses is clearly evident from batting records. From the lost 16 Odis, only TWICE Sri Lanka had managed to put up a score beyond 250 (that was in SA ). In all other 14 odi losses SL had only managed pathetic totals ranging from 101 to 238 (7 innings under 200 runs) mostly on 300+ required perfect batting wickets. This was clearly due to incapable batters occupying the entire middle-order, as proven yet again in this whitewash.

The biggest disappointments for SL, undoubtedly, have been Dinesh Chandimal and Kusal Mendis. Both had a splendid 2016 scoring runs although Mathews couldn't materialize wins fore SL, despite regular contributions from batters.   

But their contributions have nosedived since then. Chandimal had scored only 255 runs from 14 innings at 18.21 at a pathetic strike rate of 59.16. He has gone past 50 just once and that remains his only innings to come at a strike rate in excess of 80 playing under Upul. Kusal Mendis was considered a worthy successor to Kumar Sangakkara at No 3 but he failed to hold onto his spot in the last three matches against Pak after failing to score a 50 in his 10 previous innings.

As time will prove, changing the pillow would not resolve SL cricket`s headache. I am not a soothsayer, but read my previous blogs to find the 100% accuracy of my predictions so far published over two years 🙂

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