After SSC fiasco, scheduling a Test for Khettarama has its risks. . .
Premadasa conundrum looms


Tours have an unerring habit of levelling a team’s ability to adapt to conditions.

Sri Lanka’s last tour of England, in 2006, is an example, Yahaluweni of how success can breed success. It also has as much to do with leadership as anything, and understanding the needs of the team. It was also a series which the now retired Muttiah Muralitharan helped level the series with eight wickets in England’s second innings on a wearing pitch at Trent Bridge in Nottingham.

Following that tour was a 2-0 home series win over a seriously weakened South African side, although the second Test at Saravanamuttu Oval was as good as the result in Mohali last week with the game being won by one wicket after a century by Mahela Jayawardene. As this followed his Sri Lanka Test record innings of 374, his second innings effort did much to win that Test and played a major role in the 2-0 series success.

Apart from being one of those last wicket performances where the knife-edge balance can end in three results – a tie being one of them – it was a Test that again showed the typical character of the players involved.

It was also a Test where Dale Steyn first displayed his talents on how to handle South Asian conditions. His first innings haul of five wickets was remarkable enough under the circumstances as were his post third day’s play comments of "It was a matter of sticking to our game plan that was so important. Bowling here is always a challenge and it is a good way to learn – getting the right length for a start. It is a better pitch to bowl on than that at SSC."

Steyn, as have others since, praised the pitch conditions at Tamil Union. Yet, for some reason those in charge of the West Indies tour starting next month and possibly because the last Test against India ended in defeat by five wickets on the back of a brilliant structured century by Vangipurappu Laxman, have allocated the second Test to the refurbished Premadasa Stadium.

History shows that the pitch at the venue is as bad as that at Sinhalese Sports Club. After 1998, when New Zealand beat Sri Lanka, the last Test played at this venue was against Bangladesh in 2005, where Sri Lanka’s bowling overwhelmed a side out of its depth and out of its league. As there are four limited overs internationals against West Indies at Premadasa, why play a Test at the venue. It is as soulless as any in the world.

It is argued they want to trial the conditions. Do you need a five day game to do this? It doesn’t make sense at all. Rather play it at Dambulla, as was planned in the initial tour schedule, when there was a panic that Premadasa may not be ready, than at a venue where they want to trial the conditions. It is a slap in the face to the visitors as well.

Possibly the over-confident view is that as West Indies are these days a weak Test side, those running the touring committee decided, after the stinging criticism of SSC pitch conditions against India, which provided a high scoring draw against India four months ago, rather try, yet untested conditions at the Khettarama venue. It makes you wonder if whoever is responsible has thought this through as well as understand that the paying public want to see a competitive game, not tired draws played on surfaces that have been imported from Stonehenge.

It is also the first time that SSC has been pushed aside as a tour venue for a Test series. The excuse being they want to trial the venues for the World Cup, which is about the least profiled international event you can find. So far the local organising committee has issued only what is coming out of the ICC offices in Dubai and also Mumbai. It explains certain dysfunctional administrative problems in promoting an event that has Sri Lanka acting as one of the three host nations.

It is why a colleague from India on a brief visit last week, wondered whether anyone was aware of the event now five months away, or is it going to be similar to the build up to the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi with its running repairs to put the show together and more gaffes than gags a minute from questionable types like Suresh Kalmadi, telling the media that Princess Diana was among the guests before correcting himself.

Which is as bad as the howler in a Sri Lankan paper when someone quoted "former England captain Peter May" when the spot-fixing row was smudging the game’s image, not realising the former England captain had died in December 1994 and the Peter May quoted was someone else of the same name.

The Indian friend wanted to know where he could buy CWC11 merchandise to take back to his two sons and daughter in Hyderabad. He trawled Colombo and has done the same in Mumbai and Bangaluru (the renamed Bangalore). So far, not even a mug or T-shirt that we could find with the logo signifying CWC11 and it is not too far off.

"Why, in South Africa a good twelve months before the event there was a whole range of goods available in places I visited," he complained. "And friends in Port of Spain sent me some T-shirts in July before the last World Cup. I have seen nothing here or in India. It seriously makes you wonder if, like the Commonwealth Games, it will be last minute chaos.’

As we mulled over that issue, and of tour schedules, he also chuckled did anyone hear the caterwauling along Maitland Place last week? Surprisingly, there has been little written about the failure of Sri Lanka’s players to earn more than one acknowledgement at this year’s International Cricket Council awards, held in Bangaluru (Bangalore).

About the only genuine complaint locally could be over the choice of Kumar Sangakkara ahead of Mahela Jayawardene in the Test side. Why, the selectors even kept it straight, instead of bowing to sentiment, giving the spinners role in the Test and ODI squads to obvious candidates, ignoring Muttiah Muralitharan.

At least the ICC presentation in Bangalore didn’t have the list of faux pas that the Sri Lankan equivalent, the CEAT awards, had at the pretentious Waters Edge a couple of nights earlier. Apart from the spelling of Tire B (it should have been Tier B), and the mispronunciations of several names by the guy holding the mike who loved to hear his voice, and his toupee seemingly one the wrong way, and one of the government ad-hoc interim committee wallahs failing to turn up to present an award, the event was as tawdry as can be expected.

As someone suggested, it was as bad as a cheap Sri Lankan wedding minus the bride with canned music from a distorted sound system.

Local daily newspapers published a montage of photos that gave the impression the ceremony being an event to be remembered when it was an embarrassment. Most award winners smirked and there was a lot of backslapping. Even whispers of who would be winning an ICC award later in the week.

Team of the year, ODI player of the year, Test player of the year, Test XI and ODI XI captain of the year, the T20 player as well as the emerging player; move aside ICC, all the winners were at the Waters Edge. The ad-hoc interim boys were ready to roll out the red carpet. Reality is so different. Like the cartoon of the guy with the hangover, who the night before told a packed bar as he drank his arrack how after taking a hat trick, and his amazing catch to dismiss the opposition’s last batsman, he hit the winning runs with a six. The icepack on the head the next morning tells its own story. Sri Lanka were out of their place and out of their depth in 2009/10.

There were rumours sometime during the Asia Cup and discussion with a couple who know the way the ICC awards work that Sri Lanka’s on-field behaviour had slipped to what it was under past captains. The term, "Sprit of Cricket" is what it means, and Daniel Vettori’s tough but fair leadership has been cited as a reason, which is a fair argument.

Keeping control of a bunch of individuals on the field for any length of time is hard enough, but it is the captain who sets the trend and in this it is where a team works together. At Test and ODI level, where teams are on the field for six hours (Test) and three (ODI), discipline is such an important factor. It is about being calm in fractious conditions and creating a link of understanding between the umpires as well as his players.


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