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Sri Lanka’s ODI performance and the proposed deal

Sri Lanka avoided the unthinkable by the skin of their teeth in the final of the tri-series involving Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabawe.

Had it not been for Muralitharan’s heroics when everything seemed lost with the dismissal of Kumar Sangakkara with the score at 114 for 8, it would have been Bangladesh who would have ended up as winners. If that had happened, it would have been the first time that Bangladesh won a tri-series involving a Test nation.

Sri Lanka’s performances in the one-day arena has been on the downward trend for sometime. In 2007, Sri Lanka, under Mahela Jayawardene’s captaincy lost an ODI series to England, thus becoming the first Sri Lankan captain to lose a home ODI series against England. Then in August last year, Jayawardene once again became the first Sri Lankan captain to lose an ODI series at home to India.

Then came the ODI series against Zimbabawe, a team which is not even playing Test cricket now. The results show that Sri Lanka swept the series 5-0, but Sri Lanka just managed to scrape through in the last three matches. It was the Sri Lankan bowlers who saved the blushes for Sri Lanka while the batsmen, except for Sangakkara put up a shoddy display.

At the end of the Zimbabawe series the Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene, who averaged 4.75 in the series stated that the would rectify the faults as quickly as possible. It is true that he scored a century in the Test series against Bangladesh, but his failures in the one-day version continued. He was out without scoring in the match against Zimbabwe and in the final.

Then in the first match against Bangladesh, Arjuna Ranatunga’s prediction of not so long ago that very soon Sri Lanka will lose to Bangladesh came true. The inability to define a goal and achieve it when batting first was seen at its worst form in this match. When a match is reduced to 31 overs a side, the approach to run scoring has to change from a normal situation. It is true that Sri Lanka had a setback at the beginning with the loss of two early wickets, but one must not forget Sanath Jayasuriya was at the wicket. Even at the age of 39, he can score runs faster than the best in the business. But it does not augur well for Sri Lanka’s cricket that it has to depend on a batsman fast approaching forty and on the verge of retirement. Take away his score of 54 and you are left with a score of less than 100. If 147 is all you can score against a team like Bangladesh in 31 overs, then one can imagine the position against better teams. To make matters worse, Sri Lanka could not last even the 31 overs! And to think that Sri Lanka allowed Bangladesh to reach the target in just 23.5 overs conceding bonus points which enabled them to enter the final was the final nail in the coffin. It was a disgraceful surrender.

In the final against Bangladesh the target in 50 overs is only 153. Sri Lanka’s innings was a succession of tragedies from the very inception. Even though the target was small, the player with the experience of playing in the most number of ODIs in the world gets run out in the first ball of the innings. Then for the first time in ODI cricket a team loses five wickets for six runs! This again shows that Sri Lanka still depends heavily on Sanath Jayasuriya. The selectors have failed to find a suitable replacement for this ageing warrior, whose name still instills fear among the best of bowlers.

At the end of the Zimbabawe tour, Mahela Jayawardene denied that over confidence stemming from playing weak opponents was the cause for Sri Lanka’s poor performances. Then the reasons lie elsewhere. Could it be that his (Mahela’s), mind is preoccupied with the next IPL tournament? Whatever it is, there appears to be a grave failure of attitude.

Jayawardene and the other players contracted by the IPL should have no cause for worry as things back home have changed dramatically in favour of the IPL. No longer is Arjuna Ranatunga a stumbling block to any shady deals. There is no interim committee to seek permission to participate in such tournaments. Once the agreement is signed next month, the road is clear and no permission would be necessary.

For some, this lucrative deal would be a godsend. Whether Sri Lanka cricket can recover from the mess it is in is another matter.

Sri Lanka’s international calendar shows that this year would be worse than last year, for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka played only six Tests last year, less than even Bangladesh who played nine Tests. More and more Twenty-20 would be the order of the day.

The details of the terms and conditions of the proposed deal may not be known till the agreement is signed. However, from what the Minister of Sports stated at SLC headquarters SLC would support the Indian board on the ICL issue, it is clear that players like Marvan Atapattu and Russel Arnold would have no future in cricket.

Both Atapattu and Arnold cannot hope to play for the ICL for long as their playing days are coming to an end, but both of them have contributed a lot to Sri Lanka cricket. Atapattu was the captain of Sri Lanka when Mahela Jayawardene took over as acting captain due to an injury to Atapattu, but he could not come back even as a player when he was fit. This classy batsman, known for his elegant high-elbow cover drive who scored six double hundreds to become the fourth in the all-time double hundred list behind Bradman. Hammond and Lara left the international scene, a sad and disillusioned man. A cricketer with such experience who has sacrificed the best years of his life for cricket deserves a better deal than to be banned from performing anything connected to cricket. The only crime he has committed is playing for the ICL and it is the BCCI which has ruled that it is a crime to play for the ICL.

With the signing of the proposed agreement, SLC will agree with the BCCI that it is a crime to play for the ICL and that players like Atapattu should therefore be barred from having anything to do with cricket. Arnold made a refreshing entry as a cricket commentator and was hailed by many seasoned commentators as one who would have a great future as a commentator. Unfortunately, he will not be able to engage in such a career once the agreement is signed by the BCCI and SLC.

Who is running the affairs of cricket in Sri Lanka now? It was reported that the Secretary of the Ministry of Sports has been appointed to attend to the duties carried out by the interim committee. One person, especially a public servant, who has to carry out his normal duties in addition, cannot be expected to carry out the various functions carried out by a cricket board. The CEO’s position is not clear. Charges have been made against him and a Parliamentary debate is likely to come up within the next few days. There is an important meeting of the ICC representatives fixed for the end of this month in Perth where several important matters are to be discussed. Who will be Sri Lanka’s representative? If the right person is not sent, Sri Lanka’s cricket is bound to suffer.

Intelligent cricketers like Jayawardene and Sangakkara have a role to play in the development of Sri Lanka’s cricket. They cannot be unaware of the future of players like Atapattu and Arnold if the proposed agreement contains such conditions which would prevent them from having anything to do with cricket. What would they feel if the two of them (Jayawardene and Sangakkara), are placed in a similar situation? It is not too late even at this stage to intervene on behalf of their colleagues and prevent a situation where their future would be ruined.

It is interesting to know the role of the Sri Lanka Cricketers’ Association on this matter. This association is expected to safeguard the rights of the present players and to look after the future of the past players. It therefore comes within the purview of this association to intervene on behalf of past players like Atapattu and Arnold in a situation like this when their future is threatened.

The image of Sri Lanka’s cricket has been defaced by the controversies which have continued to haunt it. Although some maybe happy and contented, there is much unhappiness all round. It will need the efforts of efficient and sincere men of character to prevent this slide. Fortunately, Sri Lanka is not short of such persons, but how they can come into the picture is the question.

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