An exciting series on the cards


Kumar Sangakkara is in prolific form.

by Rex Clementine

Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka had disappointing outings in the ICC Cricket World Cup making quarter-final exits. With both teams rebuilding with the old guard giving way to the young ones, an exciting series is expected.

Star batsman Kumar Sangakkara, who has been representing English county Surrey, will arrive in Colombo in the early hours of today and will soon head to Galle to join his teammates. But before that he will meet the selectors Sunday morning.

With the former captain already retired from T-20 and ODI cricket, he has not got much international cricket left in him. Sanga will quit altogether after the Indian series in August. In a superb career spanning 15 years, Sangakkara accumulated over 12,000 Test runs at an astonishing average of 58 significantly higher than some of the all time greats of the sport like Sachin Tendulkar (53), Ricky Ponting (51), Rahul Dravid (52), Brian Lara (52), Steve Waugh (51), Sunil Gavaskar (51), Sir Viv Richards (50) and Greg Chappell (53).

Not one of the most naturally gifted players, Sangakkara’s quest for perfection was the hallmark of his greatness. You can be assured that when Sri Lankans resume training in Galle on Monday afternoon, he will be the first to turn up at the nets and the last to leave. By then he would have at least done one private net session getting his driver to do some throw downs.

Sanga will be dearly missed. Journalists covering cricket loved his press conferences as much as his batting. He hardly ducked a bouncer, but was frank and forthright in giving his opinion.

Once when NCC stalwarts were trying strong arm tactics to avoid relegation after finishing bottom of the Premier League, Sanga expressed his loyalty to the club and his willingness to bite the bullet. "If NCC goes into Tier ‘B,’ it’s the responsibility of all NCC players to make sure that we turn up for every game and play every game and win every game and get on top of second division and come back into division one. I think it’s going to be a test of character for all players at NCC if and when that happens. NCC was my first club and it will be my last club. It’s our duty by the club for the opportunities it gave us to turn up and do well for it," he said.

NCC manipulated the system and remained in the top division, but the whole episode revealed the characters of many. But once again Sanga earned the admiration of all. There could be a few more interesting press conferences coming up.

Sanga was the highest run scorer in the world in Test cricket in 2014. He was the highest run scorer in ODI cricket as well last year. Into the bargain, his 39 dismissals in 2014 were the highest by any wicketkeeper. He had an equally productive 2013. This year, he has played just one Test and scored a double hundred in that. In ODIs in 2015, Sanga, again, remains the highest run getter. He is going at a time when everyone is asking why? In ICC Rankings, Sanga is the highest ranked player in Tests and the second highest in ODIs.

One of the mini battles in this series will be the contest between world’s top batsman and the two left-arm quicks from Pakistan – Wahab Riaz and Junaid Khan. In recent years, Sanga has had a few issues with left-armers like Trent Boult, Mitchell Johnson and Zaheer Khan. During his county stint in South London with so much of technology and one of the finest coaches in Graham Ford available, he would have worked tirelessly on ironing out those glitches.

Pakistan after losing the World Cup have shown lot of purpose and intent looking towards the future. Recently they suffered a humiliating ODI series loss to Bangladesh and criticism was growing. But the PCB has hit back saying that they are looking at the future and would have to bear up with the temporary setbacks.

Sri Lanka’s Cricket Interim Committee has done quite a lot of good work since the World Cup. They have found remedies to address the team’s fielding woes, increased payment for first class cricketers, cut down on waste and given priority to infrastructure improvement. However, the selection of batsman Jehan Mubarak to the Test squad is a step in the wrong direction by them.

With criticism mounting, authorities have attempted to pass the ball onto captain Angelo Mathews. Apparently, now that there’s no Mahela Jayawardene, Mathews feels that there should be someone whom he can rely on to help him to make tough calls. There are of course better ways to solve that puzzle and one of them is for Mathews to let someone else who is capable of making those tough calls take over.

No other cricketer in the country except perhaps Ramith Rambukwella has got the opportunities that Mubarak has received. The late Guy de Alwis first picked him as an opener. When he failed, Ashantha de Mel picked him as a middle order batsman. Now they are picking him for his intelligence! That’s fairytale stuff. Forget Mike Brearley, we have Jehan Mubarak.

It will be interesting to note whether the selectors will give all what the captains ask for. Next week, Lasith Malinga can turn up and ask for Chamara Kapugedara instead of Dinesh Chandimal for the T-20 clashes that are ahead. Will the selectors say yes?

Some others are blaming this selection on politics. The game was heavily politicized during the last ten years, but the trend can’t continue. Weren’t we promised an era of good governance?

There’s nothing against Jehan Mubarak. The former national swimming champion has had a prolific two seasons with the bat. But at 34 and the team on a rebuilding process, he doesn’t fit into the equation. After 15 years of First Class cricket, Mubarak has a First Class average of 38 and List A average of 32. There are better talents in the system. A recall after eight years for a 34-year-old doesn’t send the right message to the younger generation. Furthermore, all nations are rebuilding after the World Cup. We are going backwards.

Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath troubled Pakistan in the last series between the countries played here. He is sure to have a major impact in this series as well

Younis Khan and captain Misbah-ul-Haq are the mainstays of Pakistan’s batting while the likes of Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez featured frequently in several Pakistan wins in recent times.

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