Aussie series an opportunity to come out of crisis



by Rex Clementine


This year, Sri Lankan cricket hit new lows. From being number one in rankings in T-20 cricket, we have slumped to number seven. This year we have played 14 T-20s and lost 11 of them. Of those three victories, one was against Afghanistan while another was against UAE. That pretty much sums up the story.

In Test cricket we are ranked number seven while in ODIs we are number six. Bangladesh are breathing down our neck at number seven with a small number of four rating points separating us. Defeat against the Aussies will mean disaster.

These are alarming times for Sri Lankan cricket. Very soon, we will be battling it out along with ICC Associates to qualify for ICC events like the World Cup, World T-20 and the Champions Trophy.

You can give the excuse that this is a team in transition. But so do are the others. South Africa have lost Graeme Smith, England have sent Kevin Pietersen on exile, Michael Clarke doesn't wear the baggy green anymore and India have found ways to win cricket matches without M.S. Dhoni.

So while the other teams have made the transition smoothly, we Sri Lankans are struggling to compete with not just the best, but even the bottom ranked teams.

Our administrators keep blaming each other. The elected bodies blame Interim Committees for lack of planning while the latter accuses elected bodies as corrupt. Both sets have skeletons in their cupboards and are responsible for the current state of affairs in Sri Lankan cricket.

Initial Interim Committees headed by outstanding businessmen with unblemished records such as Rienzie Wijetilleke and Hemaka Amarasuriya took the game forward with their no nonsense approach. But the subsequent ones put in place to entertain the whims and fancies of politicians did more harm than good. Sidath Wettimuny is a good man and wants the best for the sport, but he too compromised when he agreed to have Jayananda Warnaweera in his committee. Eventually, he was left egg on the face after the ICC suspended Warnaweera for failing to corporate with a corruption investigation.

It was such a shame that some of the individuals appointed for these Interim Committees did the ground work for them to compete in subsequent elections and had got elected for key positions as well.

During a recent interview with Sunday Island, former great Kumar Sangakkara stressed some pertinent points when he said that local players when they step up to international cricket find it extremely hard as our domestic cricket lacks competitiveness.

Since the Inter-Club First Class tournament consists too many teams and dilutes the competitiveness, an Inter-Provincial tournament with a maximum of five teams was mooted. But elected bodies of SLC always oppose such competitions as the interests of their vote base are severely affected.

Not wanting to affect the interests of the clubs that vote for them, elected bodies tend to fix up lots of 'A' team cricket as they believe this is the remedy to bridge the gap between domestic cricket and international cricket. It does solve the problem to a certain extent, but looking at the larger picture, a structured domestic tournament comprising four or five teams is an urgent need of the hour.

Sometimes, even 'A' team cricket doesn't work to plan. We had a former President of SLC who went onto cancel all 'A' team cricket saying that the board simply didn't have the money for this vital area of development. Upali Dharmadasa is his name.

While the administration has to share the larger portion of the blame, players need to owe up for some of the flaws existing within the system.

Someone recently pointed out that there were seven run outs during Sri Lanka's disastrous ODI campaign against England. Imagine how many catches they dropped throughout the tour and the scoreline would have been different in both formats had Angelo Mathews stressed more on fielding excellence.

Mathews in fact does the stressing part right. But he doesn't practice what he preaches. During fielding drills or fitness sessions, you find Mathews often on the physios bench. Is he actually nursing some niggles or dodging this vital discipline? As a result, Mathews captains world's worst fielding side at the moment.

Running between the wickets is another area that needs to be addressed seriously. Mathews promised not to give away even a single run out during the upcoming clash against the Aussies. He'd better live up to his words. There is a primary technical flaw in Sri Lankans' running between the wickets. Cricketers at a young age are taught that if the ball goes behind square, it's the call of the non-striker while if it goes in front, it's the striker's call.

Take a closer look at how our players run between the wickets. There's very little trust between players these days and unless they are absolutely sure of a run, they would not respond to the partner's call. In the Sri Lankan team, a striker will invariably look back to get convinced that a run exists.

SLC blundered big time when they appointed Lasith Malinga as T-20 captain. Such a disruptive element within the team, Malinga had allegedly created many divisions within the side. He became so powerful that he started telling the administration which fast bowling coach should be with the national team. SLC bowed down by taking one of our most respected fast bowlers Chaminda Vaas out of the coaching system.

No doubt the captains should have a say on the players they are taking out to the field. But when it extends to coaching staff, the captain is overstepping his line. No other captain should be allowed to go the Malinga way.  

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