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Where to from here?

Based on recent results, one would think Sri Lankan cricket is on a slow and steady decline. From the great heights of 1996 where we beat nearly every team put in front of us, to a slight blip in the radar during 1999, before returning to our dominant best in the early 2000s and maintaining that competitive spirit through till 2014.

So where did it all go wrong?

It hasn't. Well not yet.

Sri Lankan cricket at the moment, is simply going through what it has in the past and what it will in the future. But how we come out of it at the end is going to be the real test.

After Arjuna and the boys put us on the world cricketing map back in 1996, we went onto dominate the gentleman's game for a few years to come through till 1999. And it is in 1999 that you will notice a similar trend to what we are experiencing currently.

Leading up to those lean years around 1999, we saw the likes of Ranatunga, Kaluwitharana, Gurusinghe, Dharmasena, Wickeremasinghe and the lot either retire and start to wane in their magical powers of being able to slay all that lie before them. Even some of our greatest were facing a real test of their abilities with bowlers around the world starting to figure out the chinks in the armour of the great Jayasuriyas and De Silvas. Perhaps Murali was our sole shining knight at the time, however outside the subcontinent even he too struggled at times. Our fielding was lackluster with the retirement of Mahanama and no one to take his place. Sri Lankan cricket seemed doomed. Our stay at the top seemed brief before we returned back to the pre-96 days of being a minnow.

But alas – we were saved! In 2000, after the 99 World Cup, we saw the re-appointment of Dav Whatmore revitalize the team and bring about a resurgence that saw the emergence of rookies by the names of Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene and Sri Lankan cricket started to take a turn for the better. Under Jayasuriya's captaincy, Sri Lanka started to not only be competitive again but regained their reputation as being an unpredictable team capable of beating anyone on their day. They were fearless. They played as though they had nothing to lose and their opponents had everything to play for.

They believed they could beat any team by simply playing to their potential. And this is what drove them to amazing heights of 2003 World Cup semi-finalists. At the start of the 2003 world cup, none of the experts predicted Sri Lanka would be amongst the final 4. But we did! We might have ended up losing that semi final but what many people did not realise was we won something much greater. These youngsters by the name of Sangakkaras and Jayawardenes started to believe in themselves, that they deserved to be there. 

After the 2003 World Cup, we saw the retirements of De Silva and Tillakaratne, and Jayasuriya started to see his form wane off again which led him to giving up the captaincy. Once again we saw Sri Lankan cricket start to decline, but fortunately not as rapid as the 1999 version as we had already discovered the likes of Sanga, Mahela, Dilshan, Arnold to name a few and were lucky to find players like Malinga to support the ageing bowling duo of Vaas and Murali. 

It was at this juncture, the Sri Lankan cricket board made a key decision that went onto turn Sri Lankan cricket into a force that will play in numerous World Cup finals for years to come. That was the appointment of Tom Moody as coach. 

In Moody, they did not only have a coach to guide the squad of 15 players for each tournament. They had a visionary. A man who was not satisfied by winning games, he wanted to change the culture of Sri Lankan cricket without changing the fabric of cricket that Sri Lankans played.

When Moody was appointed, one of the first things he did was go and watch as many domestic games all around the country as much as possible. He wanted to change the structure of how the domestic game was played to ensure that any player that was called up to the Sri Lankan team was ready to step up and perform. The encouragement this provided to every cricketer in the country was immense. Every domestic cricketer knew, if he performed he was a real chance of making the national squad or at least getting a shot for the A team.

Why?

Because Moody went about setting structures in place to ensure he knew how every domestic player was performing when he wanted to know. He worked with the local club coaches and coached them on what was needed for the national team. 

Once he gave young players an opportunity, he stuck by them. He ensured they were given a fair go and if they were dropped, they were dropped for a reason and a plan on how to make it back to the team. They knew what exactly was needed to improve their game if they wanted to make it back into the team.

With Moody at the helm, we truly developed into a a dominant force. At the 2007 World Cup, we showed our true class. We were fearless once again, we turned from being the hunted to being the hunters. We were back!

Even after Moody left, Bayliss was able to smoothly transition into the role in 2008 and pick up where Moody left off and continue to build our cricket team to great heights. Don't forget – it was during these years we lost the likes of Vaas, Arnold, etc to retirement but as fans we certainly did not feel it.

Now we find ourselves in the very same abyss that we found ourselves many times in the past. Unfortunately it has been down to our own fault and the mishandling of the multiple coaches we have had – from Geoff Marsh to Graham Ford to Paul Fabrace to Marvan Atapattu back to Graham Ford. No single coach has been able to/wanted to be in charge for long enough to get Sri Lankan cricket succesful again.

But we are at that point that the opportunity lies right in front of Graham Ford. He has that opportunity that Dav Whatmore and Tom Moody had in front of them. It is up to him to take that opportunity which is to not only coach those 15 boys that are selected to play, but go about fixing Sri Lankan cricket as a whole.

Senior superstars have left or are in the process of leaving (Dilshan, Herath & Malinga) but the talent is there. We still have plenty of cricketers that are well and truly capable of being world beaters in their own right. Matthews, Chandimal, Thirimanne, Chameera, Kaushal, Vandersay, all these players have the potential to be anything.

But they need to be guided by the right hand with clear communication and a clear plan. 

Failure should not be anything to be afraid of, instead it should simply be a learning tool. 

Just like in 2003 in South Africa, we should have nothing to fear. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The players know themselves they can play cricket – so it is not a matter of 'if' they will be successful, it is simply a matter of 'when'.

They may lose games, but if they play each and every game like it is their last, chase every ball like their lives depend on it, every team will start to fear them. Because opponents know Sri Lanka have talented players – we have shown that in the past.

It is a simple matter of if we want it or not and being confident in our ability. 

The selectors along with Graham Ford, need to identify a group of around 50 players and back them to the hilt. Pick and stick. Give these boys all the opportunity in the world to perform over a number of years. The failure will build them, will make them better players. Every failure is a another innings closer to success. 

So to our dear chairman of selectors, the selectors and Graham Ford – over to you!

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