It was all over for Sri Lanka in the quarter finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 against a rampant South African team who had never won a knock out match at the showpiece event up to that match, while Sri Lankans have had been on the wrong side of the final berth of the Cricket’s showpiece event a few times. What happened at the quarters was totally unexpected, but considering the some inconsistency leading into the World Cup this was not unexpected to a certain extent.
Though Sri Lankan top order was ecstatic throughout the tournament piling up century after century, I was worried to a certain extent as this kind of batting performances could not be repeated or expected in every match. In the meantime, Sri Lankan middle order had not been exposed sufficiently and to win three knockouts in a row you’ll need more than three to four batsmen and certainly need a strong middle order contribution against a quality bowling attack of a quality opposition.
On the other hand bowling was too casual more often than not that batting had to step up to cover up the mistakes. But it always was a threat against a quality batting opposition, as were Australia in Sydney in one of the group matches. In reality it could not be expected to win a match simply with bowling alone, by Sri Lankan bowling attack, unless they had a perfect bowling script or given the availability of helpful conditions and sticky hands of Sri Lankan fielders.
What went wrong was not simple a one off day on the field. It was a string of lapses and mistakes both on and off the field by Sri Lanka Cricket as far as I am concerned, that lead to such humiliation.
I think it’s not a good time for a post mortem on the Sri Lankan World Cup campaign itself. This was an occasion Sri Lanka lost a knockout match and got out of the tournament where as anything is possible in a knockout situation, but what should be done is to come back strongly in the next ICC events to come. So things should be planned out how to achieve a stronger come back. This might not be a short term vision, but a long term one which might pan out a couple of years. I think as the next World Cup coming in another four years and Sri Lanka having to deal with the retirement of senior players it is the time to build up a young unit targeting the next world event and not less than that. That would take another year or two, but there is ample time to experiment.
Sri Lankans were inconsistent in all departments, batting, bowling and fielding throughout the tournament and the recent past. So Sri Lankans have to go about and work themselves to lift them up in all three departments. Apart from inconsistency, what is more alarming to behold is the increasing gap between Sri Lanka and other Cricket playing stalwarts in the likes of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India, of the quality and the levels of the three departments. It is a concern, for sure. Those stalwarts have brought Cricket to new heights and levels that Sri Lankans have not been able to touch them down.
Considering batting, if batting first the trend is to somehow put up a challenging substantial total to match the conditions. With the two new balls, power play schedule and the fielding restrictions it is a possibility to double the score after 30 overs and on a good surface after 35 overs. The key has been to play yourself towards the 30 or 35 over mark with wickets in hand and put up a launching platform for power hitters.
During the World Cup and in New Zealand tour Sri Lankan top order provided that platform more often than not, but when middle order or the lower middle order were required for a rebuilding or maximizing the total, they let the team down letting the good platform in vain. The key to failure as far as I am concerned is the absence of (a) GENUINE all-rounder(s) in the middle/ lower middle order. For me, Angelo Mathews couldn’t be considered as a genuine all-rounder as he is not bowling enough and is carrying issues with his bowling workload, although he is a reliable all-rounder under the current circumstances. Considering Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Sachithra Senanayake or even Seekkuge Prasanna are not GENUINE all-rounders, as their batting is far from conviction. Where are the power hitters to be found in Sri Lanka team? I can’t see a finisher in Sri Lankan set up except Angelo Mathews, who can’t do it each and every game on a consistent basis, let alone a power hitter. Sri Lanka badly needs (a) GENUINE all-rounder(s) and a power hitter.
More headaches might come in the absence of a CONSISTENT opening batsman to pair with Tillakaratne Dilshan, who will hang around for some time in the international scene, which is good for the team, to go with the unavailability of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, two of the modern greats, due to recent retirements. So Sri Lanka’s batting woes might continue, unless they find a CONSISTENT opening batsman, (a) GENUINE all-rounder(s) and a power hitter and unless they form a solid middle order. A new middle order has not been tested, yes, but I think Sri Lanka has enough players to fill in to and shuffle them around to build up a strong middle order although the middle order has to bat with more intent and increase the intensity of an innings, like what Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli do with more classical approach, proving that authenticity is still accepted in modern day ODI Cricket.
Bowling was a major concern since the last quarter of 2014, much due to the absence of Lasith Malinga due to injury, Sachithra Senanayake due to suspension, Nuwan Kulasekara and Thisara Perera out of form, Shaminda Eranga, Suranga Lakmal, Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep in and out of the side due to series of injuries. Only Rangana Herath and Suranga Lakmal and Dhammika Prasad during their limited opportunities and Lahiru Gamage during India tour, were able to bowl consistently well.
Sri Lankan bowlers were unable to attack and apply pressure in the initial power play and pick up early wickets and regularly strike during the middle session and had to compensate in the latter half of the innings during the bowling power play and death overs. This was much to do with lack of in-form and quality bowlers in the lineup who were one dimensional and less penetrative at times and fielding restrictions certainly didn’t help their course.
One thing has to be mentioned though. Sri Lankan bowling attack created chances and half chances and it is the fielders who grassed them more often than not.
One or two bowlers can’t carry the burden themselves in an ODI as in a Test match, as minimum of four or five bowlers have to perform together. What is more evident seeing missing in Sri Lankan bowling unit are a GENUINE quick bowler and couple of good spinners. I don’t expect Rangana Herath to continue playing ODI Cricket for another couple of years and Sri Lanka desperately needs him in Test Cricket for another few years. Therefore he should be managed carefully in limited overs Cricket. Sachithra Senanayake’s bowling has lost its venom since remodeling the action and I think he needs a bit of a time to settle. Seekkuge Prasanna seems too quick and flat and Tillakaratne Dilshan can’t always be expected to do the dirty work. So Sri Lanka desperately needs to find an attacking spinner or two as soon as possible.
I think bowlers like Suranga Lakmal, Dhammika Prasad, Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Pradeep will have to be managed carefully, as per their bowling workloads in Tests, along with Lasith Malinga in the pace attack and (a) GENUINE quick bowler(s) has (have) to be nurtured immediately.
Then it comes to fielding. Sri Lanka was considered the best fielding side among the four Sub Continent teams since late 1990s and 2000s. They sometimes used to win matches merely on their fielding. But now the trend seems to have faded off as India in a long difference and Pakistan to a certain extent have overtaken us in fielding department.
You would have seen the number catches dropped by Sri Lankan fielders during recent times along with their contexts and you would have seen number of potential wins out of those and who knows even in World Cup Sri Lanka would have experienced a different outcome.
Seeing New Zealand, Australia and South Africa fielding in an ODI you would have seen how they have lifted the heights of fielding to a certain level. Most of Sri Lankan fielders are lagging and unreliable, except one or two brilliant ones. More often than not in an ODI you would be on the field for a more time than you bat or bowl. Fielding is a skill. It comes naturally to someone while another would have to develop the skill. Developing fielding skill is all about commitment. A player must be the best bowler in the world, but what value does he add to the team in fielding department, if he drops couple of chances or misfields in each and every match on such consistent basis he might cost the match? Some would say those fielders could be hidden in certain fielding positions but with current fielding restrictions in place and lush out fields and with batsmen, in the likes of AB De Villiers particularly, playing 360 degrees all around the wicket I don’t think any fielder could be hidden in a Cricket field.
Fielding can add many values to a team as it is a collective effort and it showcases the team. A team can hide many of their vulnerabilities in batting and bowling departments through a solid fielding performance. Had Sri Lankan fielders had stickier hands and held up to those chances created by their bowlers who knows there would have been more pleasant stories to be related on Sri Lankan bowling attack too. So there needs to be a development in fielding department, which might not be to the elite levels of Australia, New Zealand or South Africa but at least to the manner in which Sri Lankans used to field in the past. It might need a bit time and let it have.
Apart from the three departments I think Sri Lanka needs to be improved in fitness. To compete in International Cricket a team needs eleven fit men on the field, not less than that. While batting they should convert singles in to twos, twos in to threes. While fielding they should attack and cut the twos and threes and grab even half chances.
Anyone who is not fit should not even be allowed to be considered for selections. People saw what happened in India during the hastily arranged five match ODI series in the last year, as Marvan Atapattu, the Sri Lankan Head Coach, himself had admitted that the result was more due to lack of fitness among team members.
So soon or rather than later Sri Lanka Cricket must place more emphasis towards fitness of the cricketers and declare a minimum fitness criteria for team selections. Thus this will minimize the injuries during tours, as to be seen during the World Cup too.
Last but not least Sri Lanka Cricket should have a policy to manage all the backroom procedures. There should be a selection policy which should elaborate transparency of team selections and squad selections and other relevant factors including fitness criteria, which is the first sentence of every appointed selection committee so far during their very first media brief, which is still due.
There were drastic changes in Sri Lanka Cricket after the World Cup and many ideas and initiatives had been brought front by the authorities and now it’s the time to do as say other than limiting them to presentations, files, newspaper articles, voice cuts or videos.
So Sri Lanka Cricket, it’s time to reinvent yourself.