At the toss, ahead of a crucial match up which was to decide Sri Lanka’s fate in the ICC Champions Trophy 2009, Kumar Sangakkara told the TV presenter that he had decided to drop ODI’s highest wicket taker, Muttiah Muralitharan. The skipper is after all responsible for the selection of the final playing eleven, and using the term "we" doesn’t divert that responsibility unto any other individual’s shoulders. The buck always stops at the skipper.
With his customary cocky smirk Sangakkara told TV audiences that even Murali agreed to sit this one out citing the seamer friendly wicket at the Wanderers.
Sangakkara expected Sri Lankan fans to believe that it was the right thing to do. In other words the previous defeat to England, where his top order, including himself, failed to show any professionalism when batting on a seamer friendly wicket, was Murali’s fault, or as a result of a lack of a third seamer.
The reason Sri Lanka managed to score just 215 runs against England is as a result of batsmen who are not skilled enough to play the type of cricket necessary to put on a competitive total on a quick bouncy wicket. Sri Lanka’s top order batsmen gave nothing for their bowlers to work with. The spinners were also battling with a moist ball as a result of the evening dew on the outfield.
The view that Murali needed to be dropped was only shared by Sangakkara and his mates on Cricinfo, and no one else. Murali will no doubt remember how his team mates nurtured him back to match fitness after being side-lined due to injury. Mahela and Moody dished the same treatment out to Atapattu returning from injury during the 2007 World Cup and put an end to his career. And now King Sanga and Bayliss feel that they can do without a bowler who would be an automatic selection, regardless of form, in any team.
"We have left Murali out; it’s unfortunate that the best bowler in the world has to sit out but he is the first guy who came up and said I don’t think I should play here. We are very lucky to have people like him," Sangakkara told TV audiences at the toss.
Against England, and under lights, the ball didn’t do much for the champion spinner. Dew on the outfield prevented him from gripping the ball.
If Sri Lanka analysed their defeat more closely it would be clear that the same issue that has plagued them over the last 5 years has not gone away. Unintelligent batting and the inability to leave deliveries on length has led to their downfall away from home. It is no secret that a Sri Lankan team on a wicket that offers assistance to the fast bowlers can be made to look like an under-12 school boy batting line up. Collectively Sri Lankan batsmen have failed on every tour to Australia and South Africa for a more than a decade.
Murali’s exclusion in a crunch match took everyone by surprise, but it wasn’t what decided the outcome of this game.
When you ask the opposition to bat first and they amass over 300, you have failed.
Failed in your assessment of the wicket, failed in your field placings, and failed to address the mistakes made by your new ball bowlers from the previous loss. In both the England match, and today’s encounter versus New Zealand, the bowlers were far too short. Thushara also looked rusty thrown into a pressure game after sitting on the bench for the first two games of the tournament.
Malinga too must be told that if he does not bowl a Yorker every over, then at the end of his spell he would not have delivered even ten Yorkers in the entire match. It is undisputed that Malinga’s Yorker is what makes him lethal. This silly notion that a Yorker is a "surprise delivery" means the opposition faces less of Malinga’s most threatening delivery. Waqar Younis would bowl three Yorkers in an over at times.
It is a ridiculous move to leave a match winning bowler out of your side when it is your batting that keeps letting you down. It’s just as ridiculous to blame your failures on fielding, when Ajantha Mendis is the only atrocious fielder in your playing eleven. Mendis is a horrendous fielder, and Sangakkara must explain why Mendis ends up at Mid-On and Mid-Off, where great fielders traditionally stood.
Incidentally, Sangakkara blamed the fielding at the post match presentation.
It appears now that Sri Lanka are rightfully out of the Champions Trophy. I say rightfully because with the exception of Dilshan, Mathews, and Kandambi’s moments of brilliance, team Sri Lanka has looked nothing more than a group of circus freaks who turned up to entertain, not win.