If the dawn of 2011 saw one dream bring us together, our hearts brimming with love, pride and hope, the year that followed saw that love turn cold, the pride grow to frustration, and the hope wane, as it slowly turned to despair.
Yet as we herald in 2012, one historic victory, our first in test matches on South African soil, has once again reignited the pride and passion that was lost along the way, over the days and months following April 2nd, 2011.
Now as we gather our courage and learn to hope once again, we look to the new year, not for a new beginning, but for the continuation of what started in the last week of December…the climb back up.
The depths we fell to are such that this isn’t going to be an easy task, it will take time and we may stumble, but we can be safe in the assurance of the Durban test that we will find our way back.
Victories like the one achieved last Wednesday have a tendency to overawe and overwhelm so much, that often all else is forgotten in their wake. Signs of this are already evident all around us.
The worrying questions that were raised over Tillakaratne Dilshan’s suitability as captain, the more worrying concerns surrounding the batting, the air of uncertainty that has been about the team in the last couple months have all but been banished from the memory, and the general consensus seems to be that all is well with the team once again.
To believe this however would be, not only naïve, but foolish. The larger problems that plagued us will not just go away, and they cannot be ignored.
For much of the time preceding this test, our players looked like the lost boys of cricket. They seemed to be functioning separately as individuals playing together, NOT as a team.
Even the Pakistanis, who were playing with three former captains in the team, all who had either given up or been removed from the captaincy controversially, playing together under a new captain for the first time, seemed to be gelling as a team much better than we were.
The free-flowing camaraderie within the Pakistani team, only served to highlight the discord in ours. Here were a bunch of players, none of whom seemed sure of their role in the team, dogged by off-field issues, and low in confidence, desperately trying to find their feet in the post-World Cup transition period.
Transitions periods are rarely, if ever, easy, and some backlash is usually expected. And yet, in theory, it shouldn’t have hit us as hard as it did.
Yes, Murali had left, and life after Murali was never going to be easy, but other than that all of the players were much of the same players, who had been around and about the team for awhile.
Most, if not all, had already dipped their feet in the international arena, and there were hardly any new faces. The only thing that had really changed hands was the captaincy, and therein perhaps lies the entire story.
For all his arrogance, one does still feel the inclination to feel sorry for Tillakaratne Dilshan. Here is a man shackled by a role nobody else wanted, a role he clearly is not comfortable in, one he isn’t cut out for, and one he is floundering to stay afloat in.
At the same time though it must be remembered that this was something he wanted, a fact he made clear of from the start.
And yet his batting has suffered as a result. Barring the 193 at Lord’s he has little else to show for it since taking over the captaincy. The confidence levels have taken a beating, and he looks like an empty shell of the player he used to be.
The players failed to rally round him, and he in turn failed to instill in them the confidence, self-belief, and sense of team spirit required for them to do so.
The constant shuffling of players up and down the batting order, and in and out of the team, didn’t help much either. The exclusion of Thilan Samaraweera, arguably one of our most consistent performers, from the Pakistan tour to accommodate the captain’s move down the order, did nothing for the youngsters in the team.
If an established player like Thilan could be dropped on a whim like that, then where did that leave them? This sort of mind-set would explain a lot of what went on in Pakistan, where it seemed like a lot of the players were playing, more for their places in the team than for the team.
The players must be assured that they don’t need to prove themselves once they get into the team, that they are in the team because they have proven themselves. They need to be given the confidence to go out there and play their natural game.
If they are to do so, they need to be secure in the knowledge that one failure will not see them out of the team, as long as they’re in good form and playing for the team’s cause.
In addition to this Angelo Mathews’s predicament must be given some thought to. He was handed the vice-captaincy of the team, somewhat belatedly, after a farcical experiment with Thilina Kandamby as deputy failed miserably.
While in theory he is the vice-captain, and the one being groomed as the heir to the throne, you hardly ever see him being involved in decisions on the field.
It is usually Mahela and Sanga who are consulted, and while you cannot fault Dilshan for this, it is only natural for him to do so, it does not help one bit in the grooming of Angelo for the future.
In essence he has been given the position, but not the authority, and the uncertainty created by this, along with the loss of his bowling, have hurt him badly.
These issues need to be rectified, if we are to move forward. Each player must be made aware of his role in the team and what is expected of him must be made known. Moreover the captaincy issues need to be given thorough consideration.
Someone must be groomed, and unless Dilshan picks himself up and starts leading from the front with the bat, appointing someone else might be the best thing for the team, as well as for him. If not we will be sacrificing a good batsman, for a mediocre captain.
There is still a lot left to be done and we have a long way to go. The Durban victory should not blind us to this fact; it was after all not the end of a journey, but the beginning of one.