That painful defeat to Bangladesh


Sri Lanka captain Rangana Herath reacts after the team’s painful defeat to Bangladesh in the second Test at P. Sara Oval.

by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s humiliating defeat to Bangladesh last week in the second Test at P. Sara Oval has brought intense criticism. It must be reminded that when the Sri Lankan side was going through a tough time in South Africa, the criticism wasn’t that extreme.

A team in transition playing world’s number one ranked team in tough conditions was bound to go through hard times. But the defeat to Bangladesh, the youngest Test playing nation was hard to accept.

We should not take anything away from Bangladesh. They have improved steadily over the last three years under Chandika Hathurusinghe, the man who was chased away by Sri Lanka Cricket. Before their historic Test win in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh had already beaten England at home in a Test match last year.

However, last Sunday’s defeat is a result of problems that have been troubling the team for sometimes. It has been highlighted on numerous occasions, but little attention has been paid.

When Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, they were one of the best fielding units in the world alongside South Africa and Australia. However as much they deny, the Sri Lankan side at present is the worst fielding unit in the world alongside Pakistan. Fielding cost them dearly during the Test defeat at P. Sara Oval.

For several years now, Sri Lankan players’ attitude to fielding has been lukewarm. The time they spend during practices to fine tune fielding skills is far from ideal and the fielding woes aren’t surprising.

It’s no secret that the gap between Sri Lanka’s First Class cricket and Test cricket is massive. In order to bridge this gap, SLC sometime back introduced an Inter-Provincial Tournament comprising five teams and involving the cream of players in the country. The tournament was praised by former captain Kumar Sangakkara, who said that it was the most competitive domestic tournament he had played in.

Another former captain Mahela Jayawardene had given a comprehensive plan for domestic cricket two years ago. He had suggested a Provincial Tournament on top of the club tournament. That plan ensured that the clubs weren’t undermined. When the current administration under Thilanga Sumathipala took office, the first thing they did was to put the proposal to dustbin. Thilanga’s team argued that Sri Lanka won the World Cup with the club tournament in place and were happy with status quo.

The 14 clubs that were involved in Sri Lanka’s domestic tournament was way too many. Sumathipala went and gave away First Class status to ten more teams. Currently we have 24 teams playing First Class cricket. You don’t get that many First Class teams even if you put South Africa, Australia and New Zealand together.

Thilanga loyalists have blamed that the woes that the game has suffered should be attributed to previous administrations that had failed to put structures in place. Rightly so. Nishantha Ranatunga, who ran the game with an iron fist for the larger portion of the last decade, needs to take fair share of the blame. Upali Dharmadasa in 2011 cancelled all ‘A’ team cricket and argued that the board didn’t have enough funds. Going by the argument of Thilanga loyalists, the current administration will be held responsible for whatever happens in a few years time for their misdeeds.

The match fixing saga in domestic cricket is one of the lowest points in Sri Lankan cricket history. But the top brass of SLC seems to be turning a blind eye. Two of the biggest culprits who were involved in this sordid act are key members of Thilanga’s Executive Committee. Both of them were given opportunities to show up at the podium during the presentation ceremonies in Galle and P. Sara Oval. It was a clear indication that whatever the media criticism that was going on about the match fixing saga, SLC President didn’t give a damn. For him his friends were more important than the reputation of the game taking a severe beating.

The team that Sumathipala formed during the last cricket elections was a formidable one. Knowing that challenging Nishantha Ranatunga, who had built up his vote base with firm government backing, rival fractions led by Sumathipala and Jayantha Dharmadasa joined hands. It was a successful campaign. But now it seems there are clear divisions. The President’s friends seem to be running the show.

For ages, during international cricket series, the Tour Organizing Committee of SLC did all the arrangements. But this body has nowadays become a mere appendage. The Provincial Associations have taken over. Decentralizing the responsibilities carried out by SLC and increasing the number of First Class teams are all part of the President’s plan to strengthen his vote base.

When Sri Lanka was thrashed in South Africa, the SLC Chief was asked whether the batsmen could have acclimatized to conditions by going to South Africa earlier than they did. He wasn’t concerned. If the President shows the interest that he shows to solidify his vote base to improving the game, cricket will be safe.

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