Sri Lanka are slowly losing the plot . .
What a debacle


The Chesterfield Files
by Trevor Chesterfield

As a week, although not everyone will agree, this past one has been a disaster. And don’t blame it all on the rain.

First, Yahaluweni, as a venue Premadasa Stadium presently represents what the ancient Greeks would suggest is giving a dystopian view of the game. It was exposed for what it is, a shabby building site. With 82 days left to February 19, it suggests that it is woefully behind schedule.

Also, viewers outside the island were bemused at what they saw of the ground in preparation. It was certainly no place to hold a Test, despite Sri Lanka Cricket’s excuses and reasons for doing so.

Second, as Sri Lana’s captain Kumar Sangakkara explained, you cannot judge a playing surface from this one-off Test. There are too many imponderables, which was always going to be the case, despite the SLC efforts to justify using it for this one game before the limited overs series.

Sangakkara had every justification to complain about playing on an untested pitch before the Test. Why, even your social Sunday League player could tell you how the judgement made by Sangakkara aka "Cap’n Cavalier" in his analysis of the Premadasa pitch is what officials need to understand.

This is how will it play after 2.30 in an afternoon with the white ball, and behave when the lights come on? That is the nub of the argument and he has every right to pose such questions. Despite the rain and what play there was available, the pitch said nothing.

"You cannot gauge what a one-day match is going to be like from a Test match," Sangakkara said.

"We have to see how the pitch behaves under lights. How it will play as more and more matches are played. How it behaves with the white ball."

It is one thing to restructure a playing surface, but without a genuine pre-Test trial with games being played, it is useless. This is why, several weeks ago, it was suggested in these files that to play the Test at Premadasa at this stage would pose problems.

Eventually Premadasa it will be a class stadium, hopefully not the soulless concrete bowl it was before refurbishment began. Work on the project, however, has taken far too long. Rather to have allowed it a few more days and the workers to get it ready for the ODI 50-overs slogs than a Test as crucial as has been this one.

Third, warnings made in these files on November 1 about the team being sent to the Asian Games was set for an unqualified disaster were shown to be closer to the truth than those who selected this squad are prepared to admit.

Headlines "Mixed signals with this no-name brand squad for Asia Games . . ." and "Lost in translation" were used as part of the caveat of what to expect. It was not a case of being clairvoyant, but being brutally frank about the selections for the event.

Written at the time are the following comments. "The problem is the Ashantha De Mel coterie had lost touch with reality and was struggling to find a formula. Now there has been a sudden throwback to this style of thinking with the squad for the Asian Games tournament. Several players who should have been pensioned off are being given a final farewell handshake. And amid all this, Malinga Bandara finally gets a backhanded acknowledgement.

"As the shape of this squad is for the T20 tournament, certain excuses can be made for selection policies, yet despite being on standby for the Australian tour, why are Farveez Maharoof, Thilina Kandamby and Thushara Mirando not in the Asia Games side? And what is the purpose of two wicketkeepers, with Tillakaratne Sampath, it is suggested a mystery selection.

"With none of the Asia Games squad on the selectors radar watch for the World Cup, it gives the impression they have been selected to make up numbers at the tournament."

There were no comments to the question of how did the selectors view this tournament and what had been their thinking behind those in the 30 plus has-been bracket being included when it would have been ideal to select a team from the A squad and the standby players for the three Australian ODIs.

Frankly, Sri Lanka were fortunate to come fourth. They almost lost to Nepal and what this explains is how out of touch were such selections.

It is going to need more than a five minute quick fix to sort out this mess in an effort to justify the side that was selected for the tournament. It was out-played by teams of lesser experience and along with the selectors in this case, SLC need to admit they were wrong in their selection policy.

Frankly, the team sent comes across as one where there was no genuine policy. It was all about so many fancy names on a teamsheet that have since become a laughing stock of Asia cricket.

Fourth, is the matter raised in these files last week, about the decision to mothball Lasith Malinga for the World Cup and ask serious questions in support of Aravinda De Silva’s lament of the country’s fast bowlers and the coaching programme which seems to be more interested in developing fast bowlers for the ODI 50 overs and T20 games and not Tests.

Look closely enough, you find four sets of new ball bowlers in as many as five Tests and this suggests an unsettled situation. A lot of experimenting is going on and it is more to do with the World Cup and T20 than it is about Tests. What we have seen so far is a disaster and it will continue this way until the current fast bowling coaching system is capable of putting fit men into the attack, and those who can deliver impressive spells, as did Chaminda Vaas.

Sri Lanka’s bowling has revolved around the Muttiah Muralitharan factor for so long they have forgotten what it means to have a consistent fast bowling attack to give Sangakkara confidence. A team needs 20 wickets to win a Test, since Murali retired, Sri Lanka have failed to achieve even that target. What are the so-called marvellous coaches running the system doing to find replacements? Precious little it seems.

Post World Cup 2011, there are Test series in England, against Pakistan, most likely in the UAE, followed by an Australian visit and then a tour of South Africa. Is the new coaching team likely to rely on spin to win matches and have fast bowlers around just to take the shine off the ball?

If so, whoever is responsible for this short-sighted strategy needs to take a serious look at the long-term repercussions. Going to South Africa in a year’s time with the current policy has any number of questionmarks as the present set of fast bowlers are as useful as a water pistol aim at a raging fire. As with the debacle with the Asia Games such strategy will haunt Sri Lanka in a big way and shows that somewhere those in charge have lost the plot.

Lastly, Sangakkara was looking for more than brownie points at the rain scarred second Test. He was seeking solid psychological leverage over the West Indies amid the depressing backdrop of a shambolic building site.

He was in an aggressive gambling mood to play all the bruising mind games he could and pressurise whatever was available out of the decision referral system. What plan he had in mind was all too obvious from the facile declaration: to undermine the Caribbean tourists in the third Test at Pallekele, Kandy starting on Wednesday.

His declaring the Sri Lanka second innings 201 runs ahead of the West Indies was as insouciance as any act he is likely to perform at this level. It is highly improbable he will do this in the next Test series Sri Lanka play, against England in England as part of the post World Cup future tours programme.

After the mauling by the West Indies in the first Test at Galle, Sangakkara wanted to wrench back the initiative as the series heads for Kandy for the final showdown. With the series level, there is still the possibility of another rain-drenched game at Pallekele, which will become the 104th Test venue and the eighth on the island.

What will be of interest is to see what Sri Lanka’s selectors come up with in terms of the bowling attack. So far there have been two sets of fast bowlers, and while one of them, Suranga Lakmal, who replaced Dammika Prasad from the Galle Test, was given a metaphorical pat on the back by his captain. Yet he is a bowler who needs to show more than enthusiasm to take wickets.

It is the old story of learning to bowl to a length and in Sri Lanka few fast bowlers have managed to achieve that act effectively since Vaas retired.

From a belligerent manhandling of the bowling in Galle with a triple century to a meek surrender in the second innings at Premadasa, there will be questions as well about Chris Gayle’s ability to withstand the pressures he will face in the third Test starting on Wednesday.


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