|Divided we fall
Ziegelaar in Melbourne
But memories are short-lived. In 1999, the year the Lankans defended the Cup, the knives were out before the great event, and the player they wanted axed was none other than the nations hero, Arjuna. It was a vendetta against a great sportsman who had put Sri Lanka on the world map.
There were no plans for the future. The cry was: Give us his head and we will bring you a better team, and better performance, if not the trophy. Heads rolled. The casualties were Arjuna, Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama and Hashan Tillekeratne. Sanath Jayasuriya was appointed captain and Mahela Jayewardena his deputy, both with no experience.
Poor Mahela must have felt the pressure, because his batting suffered after that appointment. So, out went Mahela, and in came Marvan Attapattu.
A year before the tournament, there was much despondency in the camp. Some of the journalists and officials, who had initiated the sackings and changes, called for the recall of Aravinda and Hashan. Some even suggested that Sanath should step down. Both veterans were recalled, but good sense prevailed and the leadership was unchanged.
The team arrived in Australia, down in confidence, low in spirits, and battling for form with no formula for success.
As expected, in the one-day triangular competition against Australia and England, they failed to qualify for the final. But they produced two encouraging results in beating both the Aussies and the English.
When I asked team manager Air Commodore Ajit Jayasekera what he thought of the teams performance and their chances in the World Cup, he said: "If they play to their full potential, they should reach the Super Six (the second round of the tournament), and I think that would be a good achievement.
"We missed Murali for most of the matches, and Aravinda and Hashan joined us after the first section of the tournament. We have to also sharpen our skills and improve our running between the wickets."
I not only agree with Ajit about the possibility of reaching the second round, but also go further in stating that they could reach the semi-finals if they adopt a positive approach. Sanath and Marvan are the ideal openers and can lay the foundation for a big score.
Having watched them play (on television) in South Africa and Australia, what disappointed me most was the selectors lack of confidence in their youngsters. This has contributed to the slump in form of the younger members, especially Mahela Jayewardena.
Mahela is one of the best stroke players in Sri Lanka. He can drive, hook, pull, loft and cut. So where does he bat? Number five. What a waste of great talent.
He should be batting at number three, or four the latest, to make maximum use of the field restrictions for the first 15 overs. When he comes in at number five, he has to curb his aggressive play and is forced to push, glance, cut and find the gaps against and attack that is well on top, thanks to defensive batting. He has been forced to change his style of play.
Sangakkara is the other youngster who should be up in the batting order. He should be at number three or four. They can be followed by Aravinda and Hashan who have the experience to destroy a tired attack, and find the gaps in the field. With Russel Arnold at number seven, their line-up is as good as the best.
The bowling attack is far superior to the 1996 team. The trio of Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando and Muralitharan with the support of the spinners, Aravinda, Sanath and Russel Arnold, and good fielding should contain any batting line-up up to below 250.
They have been given a good draw. They have to beat either the West Indies, South Africa or New Zealand to reach the Super Six, which should and could. They beat New Zealand in the opening match on February 10. The other fixtures are: versus Bangladesh, Canada (Feb. 19), Kenya (Feb 24), West Indies (Feb. 28) their last match against South Africa (March 3).
With the team down on morale, I suggest they take a tape of the 1996 World Cup and view those matches each night. It is important that the team stays together as one confident and combative unit. They must talk cricket, eat cricket and drink cricket, and above all, believe in themselves.
If they change that batting order, I shall certainly have some money on the Sri Lankans to reach the last six. In fact, the Australia-Sri Lanka Friendship Association is holding a Cricket Cup Eve dinner-dance on March 22, hoping that Sri Lanka and Australia are in the final. Among the guests invited from Sri Lanka are Sunil Perera of the Gypsies, Dalrene Suby and the band, Misty and this writer.
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