Time for a clean out and retirements

There is no place for sentiment in this professional world

By Trevor Chesterfield | May 14, 2010

It was going to happen at some stage this tournament. Having initially squeezed their way into the semi-final of this ICC World T20 event in the Caribbean on the back of three masterful innings by Mahela Jayawardene, the tectonic plates, when they finally shifted, have left Sri Lanka groping for answers amid the debris of the scale 7 earthquake that has followed.

What now faces selection chief Ashantha de Mel, having watched the defeat by a well-drilled and more professional England by seven wickets, and with four overs still to bowl in a T20 game, is the realisation of just how urgently needed are structural changes within the team.

India took a decision during this Caribbean series of selecting a developing side to send to Zimbabwe for the series of 50 overs games as part of a long-term plan. For Sri Lanka, already Tillakaratne Dilshan has been suggested as captain and Angelo Mathews as his deputy for the Zimbabwe visit.

This still leaves a number of other players who can become part of the development system, especially with next month’s Asia Cup, the India tour, and next year’s World Cup in mind. Two names that should have been in the West Indies, Mahela Udawatte and Gihan Rupasinghe need to have their careers revived; recalling Lahiru Thirimanne and Kausal Silva would also show intent to give promising talent a chance, along with Dinesh Chandimal, and the all too often ignored Malinga Bandara as the senior spinner, with Suraj Randiv as his support a chance, to create depth. The Zimbabwe tour and Asia Cup also gives the selectors a chance to renew Isuru Udana’s senior career.

As have Australia, England and India moved in a new direction, the local pool should be expanded to bring back players who have already been exposed to competition at international level. It is why the Australians and England teams have prospered this T20 series in the Caribbean. Andy Flower has shown a ruthless, methodical approach in getting rid of Ian Bell, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott from the Twenty20 and one-day sides as he develops England into a genuinely competitive team in the two short formats of the game.

Examination of Sri Lanka’s defeats by Australia and England in the ICC World T20 games shows how they battled against both teams. It is why there is a need to evaluate the game against India and the seeds for its success to reach the semi-final. This was largely caused by three factors that no one in an obsequious Colombo media seems to understand or appreciate, or are prepared to criticise. First is how India’s bowling was more suited for an exercise in spray painting in a car workshop than that involved in a competitive match of this nature; second is their appalling fielding which, as was Sri Lanka’s in this semi-final against England, had descended to Sunday Social league level.

Mathews and Chamara Kapugedara (finally), accepting a form of responsibility against India by putting important runs on the board after the openers had failed, and Kumar Sangakkara had played a horrendous shot to be bowled. It was at this point, where it had become important for both young batsmen to display their skills and take ownership of their places in the side. Kapugedara has been around long enough to perform such a duty and this is against bowling that was almost schoolboy level in delivery, lacking competitive expertise and most of all penetration.

Instead of building on this for the semi-final against England, there are those suggesting how with hindsight, Sri Lanka should have batted second to chase a target against England; what is forgotten is how this type of retrospection and hyperbole is typical of certain myopic thinking. One is that it allows a player such as Sanath Jayasuriya to delay his retirement from the game.

He has looked so embarrassingly out of touch in the modern era. It is no longer 1996 or 2007 for that matter. The game has moved forward and bowling strategies have been quick to exploit his weaknesses. He has though been parading his thoughts as well in India’s media with a comment that “people want him to play in next year’s World Cup”.

What should have sent a signal to De Mel and others is the way Jayasuriya was lined up by Ryan Sidebottom’s delivery and forced into committing himself to playing the shot, with his feet nowhere, and explains why captains at the IPL picked on his co-ordination hesitancy. He was also whipped for 15 runs in the one over that he bowled in the England innings of 132 for three, looking bemused at his dismissive treatment by Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb.

Sri Lanka can no longer afford to carry an aging passenger as part of a sentimental journey. You do not win trophies that way, and the image of a fine player is that now of a pugilist waiting for a last moment of glory. Someone at SLC needs to sit down with him and talk about his future, as they do in Australia and South Africa.

Ajantha Mendis was supposed to be the mystery weapon against England and became another of the team’s growing list of passengers. Although the batsmen in general treated him as a medium-paced bowler, there was his farcical attempt to run out Lumb in the sixth over. It was fielding slapstick at its best and is now highlighted on YouTube.

It simply exemplifies the shocking lack of basic skills, with this bowler’s inability to back up a sloppy return from Lasith Malinga. As it is, Lumb’s own batting rudiments during that particular incident, attempting a run where there was none, shows how he was running with faulty radar system.

What this fielding debacle by Mendis explains yet again, is despite being in the senior system for two years and having the benefit of coaching at three Indian Premier League editions, is how such poor fielding skills can be traced back to coaching at school and club levels. You would have thought by now, how he would have an idea of what is required to improve his fielding expertise. It is why the Kolkata Knight Riders are reluctant to use him as a regular, and how his performance in the game against Australia had him looking embarrassingly out of his depth.

It explains as well, to those who have queried comments about the level of players’ fitness and fielding skills, where Sri Lanka and India, have generally fallen behind other teams. As it is, the so-called ‘famed’ fielding coach, Manoj Abeywickerema is a notable absentee in the support staff this tournament. Reasons for this could be an interesting conundrum as the whispers around the portals of Maitland Place, always clouded with suspicion, are that it has little to do with his so-called ‘skills’ of being fielding coach. It is more to do with the mystery departure of former team manager, Brendan Kuruppu from his post for exposing shady areas of off-field activities and malpractice.

Anyway, the way Sri Lanka crumbled against Australia when faced with blistering pace and the loopy bounce that has found the Asian sides groping for answers, explains how Sangakkara’s side were lucky to progress as far as they did in this tournament. As have Australia, and unlike India, England bowled to a plan. They had the measure of the Sri Lanka batting in conditions as those at Beausejour Stadium, Gros Islet, St Lucia.

In a sense, the Sri Lanka batting was smothered by such smart tactics. Mathews apart, they were unable after Mahela Jayawardene’s early departure, to find a way to counter the loopy bounce. England had worked out the right length to bowl at the Sri Lankans and stuck to that plan, the suffocation left batsmen such as Sangakkara stranded and had Kapugedara and Dilshan always guessing. It also makes anyone who questioned certain selections of the side, just what another passenger, Chinthika Jayasinghe is doing in the West Indies, or on what motivation he was included. Two games, one innings, no catches or run outs. Someone had a great holiday.

©: Copyright 2010. Trevor Chesterfield.
(For reasons of copyright, permission is required from the author and/or webmaster/editor of Islandcricket.lk for publication).

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