My name is Dasith. I’m currently living in Australia and playing cricket for my local cricket club where I get into more arguments about Murali’s action than the number of runs I score. I say that with my head held high!
I’ve been watching, playing and talking cricket for the best part of my life. But as far cricket blogs go I’m a 24 year old virgin. I hope losing my virginity would be pleasurable to me as it is to you. 😛
Sorry if the above paragraph sounded like a excerpt out of “High School Musical” but I can assure you that I’m dead serious about the lack of big hitters in the Sri Lankan cricket.
The Sri Lankan cricket team never had the luxury of power hitters down the order. We were always a top heavy batting line up which expects the top four batsmen to make the bulk of the runs. In 1996 we had the most aggressive opening partnership and three batters to follow them who could hit spinners out of the ground at will (Gurusinghe, Aravinda, Arjuna). Following them were two young-ish players who could hustle runs at the death.
Remember the days where run a ball was considered good going at the end?
Toss: Bowl first regardless of the conditions (80% true I guess.)
Our bowling plan 1996-2004:
- Get the shine off the new ball without conceding too many runs. Keep up the pressure and make the batsmen make the mistakes.
- Murali and Dharmasena keep the runs at bay. Four fielders in the ring; 4 runs an over, everybody is happy. If the batters chance their arm in search of more, then we pounce.
- If the batting side has wickets in hand then it’s back to poor old Vaasy and Pramodya who end up bowling the highlights package.
We restrict them to under 250 and Arjuna goes out of the ground leading his team and clapping his hands lightly.
Our batting plan in 1996:
- Sana and Kalu getting us to a blistering start. The ball disappears off the bat like a ping pong ball over square regardless of the length. (30-40 runs but “boom” and the innings is out of the blocks and the momentum is with us, Note: We never expected Sana or Kalu to get big scores.)
- Then comes in the big Gurusinghe who insures one end is ticking and keeps the momentum going. 5 dot balls in the over and the short leg starts muttering something, next ball he steps down the track to a 135km/h ball and lofts that over mid on.
- Aravinda comes in (often the pacies are still on inside the 15 overs) and knocks the ball (which has lost its lateral movement) on top of the bounce through covers and if the bowler drops it short of a length he swivels and pulls the ball over midwicket. (Note to Dilshan: No top edges over fine-leg here.) The crowd chants “sixer, sixer” and Aravinda obliges gleefully. The opposition surely knows who is in control now.
- And then comes in Arjuna as if this was a charity match. He drags his bat from the pavilion along the ground with no emotion written on his face as if the bowlers are just helping him practice. He nudges, pushes and cuts the spinners into depths of frustration. He negates any spin by sweeping them on length and if the spinners dare to bowl faster he pulls out his trademark late cut; just when you thought you got him all figured out, he steps out and lofts the ball out of the ground.
- It’s 40+ overs and pacies are back at work. Batting are Roshan and Hashan who tap the ball and run. They are experts at getting the best out of the tail. Not that Vassy and Dharmasena are “pigeons” with the bat.
Sri Lanka scores 250-300 and have won the game with the bat.
The problem with that strategy was of course reflected in our overseas record.
We relied too heavily on favourable batting conditions and if the ball didn’t spin, leaked runs during the middle overs. Add to that; if our powerful top order failed under seaming conditions the middle order lacked technique to combat pace and bounce. Aravinda with his class was probably the only batsman who consistently made runs abroad with Sanath entertaining as ever. But two batsman don’t win you games everyday.
One step at a time.
Under Marven and Mahela the Sri Lankan fast bowling came to the fore. No longer did we ask them to just keep it tight. They were given the confidence to pitch it up and get wickets. Many people criticize Dilhara Fernando for not bowling consistently but Dilhara was never and never will be a line and length bowler. He should be told to bowl fast and hit the bat. Get the break though and not wait for it.
He is a rhythm bowler and like with all rhythm bowlers confidence is of utmost importance. I hope Sanga handles him better because Dili seems unaware of his role in the team. (Imagine Malinga and Dilhara bowl 150km/h from two ends and Mirando swinging it at 140km/h.. what a mouth watering prospect for Sri Lankan cricket.)
Back to the point, Sri Lanka now boasts a good fast bowling attack which can threaten any team when conditions are right.
Flat track with good bounce? Good Batter in form? Now what?
Well, we know that Malinga doesn’t depend on the pitch to get wickets but what about the others? We need people who use the conditions presented to get wickets. If we could only put Vassy’s brain inside Mirando? Anyone got the number of Dr. Frankenstein?
Jokes aside, Mirando and the other young fast bowlers need to grow more self confidence and learn how to identify a batsman’s weakness on the go and adjust accordingly. With today’s bats even a miss-hit can travel the distance, so the bowlers need no be disheartened if they go the journey. The fact that a good ball got hit for runs is no reason not to pitch it there again.
The bowlers need to realize that they need to execute the plans they discuss. No point planning if the wheels fall off when a Sehwag or a Gilchrist start throwing their bats. That is when a you need to stick to the plan and make the batsman score shots off balls you have a better chance of getting them out with. When it is tough the tough get going. Back to the batting.
What we need urgently.
Aha! Now we are talking. What the Sri Lankan team now needs is some batters who can clear the rope at will. I’m not talking about getting their eye in for 10 overs and then going berserk. I’m talking in the lines of Albie Morkel, Yusuf Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Andrew Symonds, Andrew Flintoff, Dwayne Bravo and maybe the entire Pakistan team(No Offense) who can come with ten overs left and lift the score by 30 runs on their own; the people who can hit long and demoralize bowlers in to the point of submission. It’s about the 6 runs as much as it is about momentum a big hit brings.
Lets start from the top, We currently have Jayasuriya and possibly Tharanga/Dilshan (hope they won’t mind me putting their names together :P) at the top. Who can be very effective provided they perform consistently? (I’m talking at least not losing 2 wickets in the first 10 overs and still being able to get run a ball and more.) Sanath is not going to play forever and we need a replacement for him.
In the middle order, Sanga and Mahela will give solidarity, but we need someone else to give flare to the innings. I thought Thilina Kandamby would play the role Arjuna played so well and dictate terms to the spinners. But sadly from what I’ve seen so far he hasn’t quite got the confidence to go over the top. If the two Chamaras (Kapu and Silva) can iron out their starting nerves they fill the gap perfectly. They hustle runs, aren’t afraid to clear the field and bring that flare we so desperately need. Not forgetting their contribution in the field.
The 7-4 Dilemma and the “Weight” of Stroke.
If we are playing both Murali and Mendis (which is likely, unless Mendis gets carted more regularly like he did in the KK vs Mumbai Indians match at the hands of Sanath and Sachin.) we have 2 more spots to fill up for bowlers. Lasith Malinga and Mirando being the two, Maharoof will play as the number 7 with the two Chamaras above him.
If we play 7 batsmen then the number seven batter should be a big hitter. The English call this a big all rounder position. We have Maharoof who can hit big but he alone isn’t enough. We need someone who is built for the job, someone who can force the ball out of the ground though sheer power.
If we decide on a 7-4 approach then somebody like Dilhara Lokuhettige, Hasantha Fernando or Indika De Seram should play in place of one of the Chamaras. Hence giving more breathing space for Sanga and Mahela to take their time and build an innings which they so love doing these days.
I was listening to Ian Chappel’s comments on the Sri Lankan team which toured Australia in 2008. He said out of the current batters only Jayasuriya has the “weight” of stroke. Which is a boxing term that translates into cricket like this. The faster you hit the ball with heavier bat the further it goes. Boxers work on their arms to bulk up their muscles and do routine exercises to improve their hand speed.
The same exercises are followed by many sportsmen. (Even local club cricketers in Australia do so, You have until 18 to get your technique right and then three more years to build up your body. By 21 you are of supreme physical condition. Eg. Shaun Marsh apparently couldn’t hit the ball over the 30 yard circle when he was playing under 19’s but look at him now. Mental conditioning is connected to physical conditioning and someone in better physical shape can concentrate better. All the more reason for SLC to follow this method.)
The height helps too. Bigger the hitting arc of the bat is, the more speed the bat gains before hitting the ball. (eg. Chris Gayle, Gilchrist, Yusuf Pathan, Peter Fulton)
It is also important to understand that bat speed doesn’t depend on a persons physical size. South Asians have supple wrists and use them to accelerate the ball into the hitting direction while West Indian batsman use their strong forearms to whip the ball.
Note: Bowlers need repetitive exercises and not bulk building exercises. Malcum Marshall explains this as the preparation for rhythm. Too much bulk building exercises for bowlers will hamper their flexibility and affect their rhythm.
Sri Lanka need to veer away from the strategy which won them the 1996 world cup as it is outdated. Of course we need firepower at the top but with the new power plays we need firepower in the lower middle order as well. That’s how the better teams catch up when they are behind the eighth ball. Look at South Africa and India. At no point are they out of the match with the firepower they’ve got and a power play up their sleeve.
Note to selectors; please don’t blindly select the 7 most run getters in the domestic circuit and expect them to gel into a great batting side. Look for composition and identify people to fill in the roles. A good movie not only has a great lead actor but a great cast as well. The supporting actors should play their role and the villain should be ready to die in order for it to become a story. A cricket innings can be an epic story as well provided everyone plays their own part perfectly (Not forgetting the support staff.)
So selectors you have a job at hand now. Roam Sri Lanka, from Slums of Colombo to the Hills of Kandy and from the talent rich Galle to the unknown regions of the North.
For God’s sake find us a big hitter or two.