Look left, look right, do nothing…

Sri Lankan cricket is at a cross road.

We could go left, keep picking players past their due date and hope that they deliver once every 2 years or so. Heap praise on them and how we cant go forward as a team without them.

We could go right, invest in youth in a full exodus of the current team. Lose a few matches and complain about how we should have never replaced the players from our golden age.

But what we do is neither. The selectors go neither here nor there. They are afraid of making those ‘big’ decisions. And even when they do, politicians will get involved to turn the clock back and undo the rare occasions when the selectors have the courage to make a tough decision.

The continued selection of Sanath Jayasuriya in ODI’s is shameful. It is as if we are afraid to try new players for fear of losing.

To be clear, this post is not a random melt down on my part on hindsight as we have now lost to India at home.

Sri Lankas flailing form in cricket is only too apparent if you look at their win loss record over the last 2 years

M W L Year

29 16 11 2007 view innings
22 9 11 2008 view innings

Compare that now with Australia

M W L Year

34 24 8 2007 view innings
18 13 4 2008 view innings

You will notice the clear difference in the amount of matches won vs the amount of matches played. That is the difference between what makes a great team and what makes just an average team as is Sri Lanka at the moment. Consistently winning matches home and away over a period of time.

Not long ago our cricket board envisaged a goal for our national team. To be the the Number 1 team in test cricket (and ODIs) by the year 2000. This was a bold statement on the back of our remarkable world cup win in 1996. It was a time when anything seemed possible with Aravinda, Arjuna, Sanath and Murali/Vass leading the charges. For a while it looked like an attainable target.

Then reality set in. Arjuna, Aravinda retired or left cricket. We invested heavily on Mahela and Sangakkara and it paid dividends.

Years on from that goal we are languishing at 4th in the test table and 7th in the ODI table. (Debates on the ranking system it self at this point is useless). We are where we are so to speak.

Are teams like England, New Zealand, Pakistan really better than us? Perhaps not, but the rankings show otherwise. And it tells a story.

We lost to England for the first time in our history last year in a ODI series. Now we have repeated the same against India. This lack of form, specially at home highly concerning. So what is the problem here.

As mentioned earlier on in this piece. When Arjuna and Aravinda were to leave we invested in Sangakkara and Mahela. Now it is time to do the same. Its time to prepare for the end of Murali, Sanath and Vass.

Ajatha Mendis has been a breath of fresh air for world cricket. But in my opinion, as a Sri Lankan fan, ‘a sigh of relief’ is what would describe Mendis’s rise to fame accurately. Ideally Murali should retire from ODI cricket within 2 years to focus alone in test cricket and target his 1000 wicket and possibly more overseas series wins for us. In 2 years Mendis will learn more from Murali than he would from anyone else and those 2 years transitional phase will give Mendis time to gain more confidence, play against more opposition (he has currently on destroyed India on a regular basis), in different conditions. And in 2 years, I believe he will be ready to lead our spin attack.

Sanath Jayasuriya; in my humble opinion, I believe he is past his sell by date. I felt that 2 years ago. I still feel it today. The Asia cup 100 was just a dent in that belief. It is time Sanath bowed out of cricket with honor. It is possibly a fear or never finding another Jayasuriya that causes us to fall back on him time and time again. And that in lies our mistake.

Expecting any upcoming opener in Sri Lanka to take up the mantle that Sanath did is asking the impossible. Australia did not replace Gilchrist with Hadding asking for the same results and the same contributions. They replaced him with the best man for the job. That job was wicket keeping. Hadding was the right man for that job. What Sri Lanka desperately needs now in an Opener.

No, not a plug-gap opener like Sanga is.

A real opener who pries his trade facing the new ball on a daily basis. Who footwork is assured and knows when to leave what.

Sri Lanka needs an Opener, Not another Sanath. I’d dearly love to see the day when we can put on 75-80 in the first 15 overs without losing 4-5 wickets . For that we need solid openers. Sanath was a one-off. There will be no other like him. Just like there will be no
other Aravinda. Sanga is good. But is he in Aravindas class ?

The few youngsters who have stepped up to the mark showed relative promise. But its time to invest. Time to stop lingering on with players who can no longer contribute to a successful team effort. Nostalgia can play no part in selection policy.

It is time to rebuild the ‘core’ of the team. Right now the only people in my opinion who would fall into that category is Sangakkara and Mahela. A team cannot simply be built around 2 players it must consist of at least 4-5 like the 1996 team.

It can no longer include Sanath or Murali. It’s a time that calls for patience from the fans as well. Once a dramatic change is made we must give it due time to respond and adapt to that change. The team needs to grow together. Dealing with the loss of gigantic losses and assigning responsibility to new shoulders is not an easy task. Its time consuming.

But the signs are good. The rest of the year in terms of the quality of cricket Sri Lanka face is not that competitive. It’s a prime chance for us to give these youngster the chance to find their feet in the international game.

Its time to look right, look left and finally decide to cross the road.

One Comment

  1. Ottayan said:

    Indian cricket is going through the same problems.

    Join the club, dear neighbor. 🙂

    September 9, 2008

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