Repeat of ’96

Many Sri Lankan cricket fans would know the road of Sri Lanka cricket has been a rocky one, the inclusion into cricket’s mainstream in 1982 and winning the world cup in 1996. Sri Lankan cricket is rich and full of folklore of cricketers past and the unconventional nature of the cricketers today which is true in the case of Dilshan, Mendis, Murali, Malinga and Jayasuriya to name a few. The present day cricketers are exciting one only beckons the question; can we again win the most illustrious trophy in the sport? – The World Cup 2011.

The team is blessed with unique and colorful players, which I know might be pushing for it, but it reminds me of the West Indies of old. They play their own brand of cricket that is both enjoyable to watch and is many a neutral’s favorite.

Our Captain Kumar Sangakkara is a workman’s cricketer; he strives for the best, day in and day out, and has excelled in everything he has done both on and off the field. One of his first tours was down in South Africa and he seemed at ease with his technique, even though he didn’t score much on that tour. He focused on his game and has gone from strength to strength. As a captain he is very clever and doesn’t give it away on a platter but keeps on fighting until the last run is scored or the last wicket is taken. It reminds us of another captain of such similar qualities that won us the trophy in ’96 – Arjuna Ranatunga.

Dilshan and Jayasuriya, the latter, one of the saviors of the world cup in ’96 and the man of the series in that tournament, blazed attacks all around the ground. it’s a well known fact that in his hey day the Indian bowling attack used to get smashed to all corners of the field and I am sure that the current bowling coach V.Prasad would be the first to agree that his career was shortened by a Jayasuriya assault. Sometimes I really wonder what sort of advice he would be giving to the current batch of bowlers how to execute a plan which he himself found it really hard to do. Some people say that his day has long gone and it’s time for him to pack his bags and bring someone else in but what a swan song it would be for Jayasuriya to lift up the cup once again and a real honor to one of the game’s greats. His present partner, Dilshan has been a revelation with the bat, at the start I thought he was more a flash in the pan sort of cricketer and his knocks were based on flukes but as time went on I realized there is actually a method to his mayhem and he has opened up the imagination of every cricket fan and player with his recent innovative shots. A right hand, left hand combination opening the batting and accumulating runs without leaving any loose ball unpunished, reminds us of Little Kalu and Sanath opening for Sri Lanka in the 1996 world cup. It was they who reinvented how an ODI inning should be started with lofty hits over the top.

Skipper Kumar Sangakkara who occupies the number three spot which was held by that master crafter Asanga Gurusinghe in the 1996 edition, needs no introduction. Such a sweet timer of the ball and his blazing cover drives will give the Lankans a lot of runs and he will be followed by his best friend Mahela Jayawardene. Well a lot of people have said that Mahela has not delivered the amount of potential he has and it’s been frustrating. But boy – when he is on song very few in world cricket would match him for his grace and timing. His first test match was a game to remember for all Sri Lankans, where records tumbled and he scored a well compiled half a century and you could say it was written in the stars that he was quite special. He has the tendency to be over attacking and fall short but wasn’t that the same criticism the great Aravinda De Silva faced and was dubbed Mad Max, the similarity is uncanny. It’s the temperament that is not matched with the great De Silva but very few could match up to him.

Samaraweera, Kandamby, Matthews are basically youngsters in the One Day game, although not in age with the exception of Matthews. Samaraweera with a bucket full of runs in test cricket has been given a chance to show off his talent in the One day format. He has grabbed the oppurtinity and has not disappointed his fans since his return to the one day game. He can provide the stability which was given by Arjuna Ranatunga.

He will be followed by Kandamby and Matthews. These two players have matured and always capable to adjust their game to the teams requirement. Kandamby adds a bit of flair in the latter overs using those subtle wrist and great timing to capitalize in the late power play and the mindset to hold the innings together with Samareweera if the situation presents itself. This left hand right hand combination has proved to do the job quite efficiently in the short time they have been in the side and hopefully they could replicate the left hand right hand duo of Ranatunga and Mahanama who did their job to near perfection. Angelo Matthews probably the only difference between the side of 96 and the probable side of 2011, a huge physique very different to the norm of Sri Lankans, and he can do it all, he hits the ball as hard as anyone, bowls at a fair pace and has an uncanny way of taking wickets. He is also one of the most agile on the field, a complete cricketer and a valuable find for Sri Lankan cricket and he can only go from strength to strength. He is the utility player of the side which was taken by Hashan Tillekeratne in the 1996 version.

Kulasekera, Thusara and Malinga, the dependable pace trio has full of variety. Normally the spinners steal the show in the Sri Lankan team baring the exception of Chaminda Vaas but this pace trio has changed a lot of that giving the bowling department more penetration. Kulasekera a bowler that has gone underneath the radar is not that quick but has the swing, control and the variation of Pramodaya Wickremasinghe. It’s this consistency that has seen him climb up the bowling rankings to number 1 and has been Mr. dependable for some time. Thusara has impressed most, with his ability to move the ball both ways and since he is a left arm bowler he becomes even more treacherous. He might give away runs in order to get wickets and if the wickets come then he will be putting his side on top. Could he fall into the boots of one of Sri Lanka’s champion bowlers Chaminda Vaas who single handedly carried the pace bowling for Sri Lanka for so many years.

Lasith Malinga who has modeled his action like the Aussie legend Jeff Thompson has gained a reputation of being the most dangerous bowler at the death end with his magnificiant yorkers. He almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with that miraculous showing of 4 wickets from 4 balls in the World Cup, which would be hard for anyone reproduce.

World cricket had the privilege of seeing Wassim and Waqar , Holding and Marshall, Lillee and Thommo but it has been very rare to see spinners working in tandem causing trouble since the spin quartet from India. The combination of Murali and Mendis will provide cricket fans an oppurtunity to watch two great spinners operating from both ends asking many questions from the batsmen. Mendis, started off with a big bang and did it against the best players in the world. It was a dream start something Shane Warne or even the great Murali could never do with any conviction. He just sent chills around the cricket world, a lot of people say that it’s the element of surprise that causes all the havoc but wasn’t the same said for Malinga and even Murali who still picks out wickets. Mendis should be thankful to have a great role model in Murali who has tons of advice and ideas that could be given.

I wonder who is going to play the role of the worlds greatest bowler Muttiah Muralidharan. He is a more matured player than in 1996. He has gone through almost everything on the field, the strife he had to face from the Australian public and the games administrators. He once vowed never to step onto Aussie soil but the passion for the game and the dependence of his ability proved to be too strong. It is a fact that as long as he plays he will never escape from controversy and maybe even after he hangs up his boots. I am sure some may not be convinced with his achievements. After all the remarks from unruly fans and cricketers both past and present he still has fought his way to achieve arguably the most prestigious record of them all the most wickets in Test cricket plus he also has the most amount of wickets in ODIs. If his story isn’t Hollywood material I don’t know what would be.

Herath would be in most sides as a front line spinner but had to wait for a long time to have a look in and even now hasn’t cemented his place in the side, which shows the bench strength the side has.

All in all I feel the current side is full of potential, the kind of potential that might see them raise the cup again in 2011. They were close in 2007, 3 years later has seen a lot of change but I ask you has there been a lot of difference to the side of 2011 to the victorious side of 1996

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