Kolkata : The Sri Lankan team has been going through a tumultuous phase on the field of late. Once venerated as one of the powerhouses of world cricket, the former World champions are now struggling to find their feet in all three formats of the game. Over the past twelve months, the island nation has managed to win just seven of their last fifteen Tests, inclusive of a 3-0 whitewash over Australia on home soil in August 2016. But barring the series victory against Australia and a 2-0 whitewash over a beleaguered Zimbabwean side late last year, the Lankans have looked worryingly lackluster.
A loss to Bangladesh in the decider of a two-match Test series, followed by a 2-3 ODI series defeat to Zimbabwe at home earlier this year left the team exposed to scathing attacks by the media and the fans mentally scarred.
In a bid to put things back on track, the Sri Lankan Cricket board roped in former cricketers Chaminda Vaas (specialist bowling coach) and Hashan Tillakaratne (batting coach) last month to bolster the coaching staff and groom the youngsters in the side. While it is clear that the Lankan team management hasn’t yet been able to identify suitable candidates to fill the gaping holes left by the retirement of legends like Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, the newly-appointed Sri Lankan team manager Asanka Gurusinha (who is also doubling up as a selector) has advocated the need for the players and management alike to move away from the transition period and work shoulder-to-shoulder in order to spark a resurgence and help the team salvage some of its past glory.
However, Sri Lanka’s chances of staging a comeback suffered a lethal blow when Virat Kohli’s Team India drubbed the hosts by 304 runs in a lop-sided contest in the first Test of a three-match series at the Galle International Stadium last week. Despite Sri Lanka’s extended spell of poor form, spin-maestro Muttiah Muralitharan isn’t quite keen on writing off the Sri Lankan team as yet.
‘With so many people waiting to lambast them, it’s never going to be easy for the [Sri Lankan] boys to go out there and play with an open mind. The manner of defeat [at Galle] was indeed chastening but it’s not the end of the road’’, Muralitharan told Cricfit ahead of the second Test at Colombo SSC which begins on August 3.
SRI LANKA PLAYED POOR CRICKET AT GALLE
Muralitharan, who was recently in the city to monitor the progress of budding spinners as the spin-bowling consultant of C.A.B’s ambitious ‘’Vision 2020’’ program, was reluctant to join a public outcry over Sri Lanka’s humiliating 304-run defeat to India in the first Test at Galle.
’I don’t think Sri Lanka played good enough cricket at any stage of the game to put India under any sort of pressure. We were outplayed in all three departments. A defeat is a defeat, whether it is by one run, two runs or even 304 runs. Hence, there’s no point lamenting about the manner in which we lost the game’’, said the 45-year old who was unable to watch the first Test match live owing to his commitment to the ‘’Vision 2020’’ camp.
IT’S HIGH TIME WE REVAMPED THE DOMESTIC STRUCTURE BACK HOME
The First-Class structure of any cricketing nation is considered to be the supply line of players for the national side. However, when it comes to Sri Lanka, the scenario in domestic cricket is shockingly different. Despite being an ICC full-member nation, Sri Lanka still plays three-day first-class matches whereas the majority of the other full-member nations conduct first-class matches which last for four days. A series of defeats in recent times has undoubtedly put Sri Lanka’s domestic cricket structure under the scanner and thereby calls for refurbishing the domestic system have grown louder. At present, Sri Lanka has 24 first-class teams, with nine new teams being granted the first-class status for the 2017-18 season and this move by Sri Lanka Cricket is expected to thin out the quality of competition in the domestic circuit. With a view to raising the standard of domestic cricket in the Emerald Isle, former Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardene had presented a blueprint to SLC a few years ago, which highlighted the need for cutting down on the number of teams participating at the first-class level but to the surprise of many, the Sri Lankan Cricket board decided not to give green signal to the proposal.
When asked about the need to introduce structural reforms in Sri Lanka’s domestic system, Muralitharan opined, ‘’Mahela’s proposal was shelved because the previous regime was not keen on overhauling the first-class structure. When you are playing international cricket, it becomes imperative to have a four-day first-class domestic structure in place, else the pipeline to supply young blood to the national team gets blocked. I hope the new board headed by Thilanga Sumathipala takes adequate measures to revive the sagging fortunes of the national team’’.
ANGELO WILL BE FAR MORE RELIEVED AS A BATSMAN WITHOUT THE BAGGAGE OF CAPTAINCY
The 2-3 ODI series defeat against Zimbabwe a month ago prompted Angelo Mathews to relinquish his captaincy and now with Dinesh Chandimal being handed over the reins of the Test side, Mathews should find it easier to concentrate on his game. The 30-year old averages a shade over 45 in the longest format and opposition skippers know the importance of Mathews’s wicket- the most vital cog in Sri Lanka’s batting armory. Although we have seen evidence of Sri Lanka’s over-reliance on Mathews in crunch situations in the recent past, Muralitharan feels that it is not long before the current crop of Sri Lankan cricketers starts performing on a consistent basis. ‘’We certainly have a lot of talent in the squad- players with variegated skill sets. But it all boils down to channelizing that talent into a string of match-winning performances’’, he said.
Amidst a dismal batting collapse in the first innings of the Galle Test, Mathews stood tall and put up a brave fight by notching up a sublime 83 off 130 balls against a hostile opening burst from the Indian pacers. Talking about Mathews’s indispensability in the Sri Lankan set-up, Muralitharan pointed out, ‘’Mathews has always been a steady performer at the international level, even during his stint as captain. The release from the responsibility of captaincy might bring the best out of him. You never know because cricket is a game which is played half in the mind and half on the field’’.
ASHWIN HAS BECOME MATURE ENOUGH TO BETTER HIS RECORD OUTSIDE THE SUBCONTINENT
Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s most potent weapon in whites played his 50th Test match for India when Virat Kohli’s men took to the field in the first Test of the ongoing series against Sri Lanka at Galle last week. While the wily off-spinner has churned out match-winning performances one after the other in the subcontinent where the tracks are mostly slow and turgid, he has yet to assert the same kind of dominance in English and Australian conditions. But Muralitharan, who shared the Chennai Super Kings dressing room with Ashwin for three seasons in the Indian Premier League, is confident that Ashwin’s maturity and his constant hunger to surpass himself will help him improve his away record on India’s next tours of England, South Africa, and Australia.
’Look, he’s already played fifty Test matches and has a lot of experience behind his back. I am sure he has already started to chalk out a game plan for attaining success in England and Australia. That’s the kind of cricketer he is- one who takes pride in scrutinizing and working on his game. And he has already won so many laurels for India. One must never forget that’’. With India slated to tour South Africa in January 2018 and England in June the same year, Ashwin will have a big role to play if India is to script elusive Test series victories in both these countries.
GIVE THESE YOUNGSTERS AMPLE OPPORTUNITIES BEFORE MAKING A PROPER APPRAISAL
There was a time when a look at the Sri Lankan team-sheet was alone enough to instill fear in the opposition, let alone the prospect of locking horns with them on the field. The likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Marvan Atapattu used to derive immense joy from bludgeoning bowling attacks and countering the opposition tactics. But the fact that success is ephemeral can be best understood if one scroll down the Sri Lankan team-list today. While there’s no denying the fact that the current Sri Lankan team has a host of talented youngsters at its disposal, it is also true that talent alone won’t suffice at the international level unless it is backed by diligence and consistency.
Simply put, the current generation of Sri Lankan cricketers are seen lacking the required credibility on this front. Kusal Mendis for example, found himself under the arc lights when he produced a herculean effort (176) to orchestrate a famous win over a sturdy Australian unit at home last year but since then his career has sputtered along only in fits and starts. The challenges that confront the bowling department are even greater. With Rangana Herath (who is 39 years old now) still having to shoulder the lion’s share of the workload and the Pacers doing very little apart from clocking raw pace on the speed gun on a regular basis, there don’t seem to be enough reasons that exude confidence about a potential turnaround anytime soon.
Muralitharan, however, doesn’t want to clutter his mind with such apprehensions about the future and instead looks ahead with optimism. ‘’These youngsters will slowly come to terms with the tricks of the trade and the pressure one has to deal with at the international level. Holding them culpable for the downward slide of Sri Lankan cricket makes no sense. They ought to be given a longer rope’’, the stalwart said with his signature grin before signing off.