Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Curse in disguise - 2

Curse in disguise - Cont.

At the conclusion of the ODI and T20 series against South Africa, Sri Lanka will look back and think they have done rather well. They beat the Proteas 4-1 in the ODI series, and stumbled in the T20 series but somehow managed to hold on to their Number 1 ranking by the end.

Sangakkara, Mahela and Dilshan were in sublime form, so much so that towards the end of the series, it looked as if the three seniors were just playing for amusement, much like how you would play FIFA on easy mode to try out your trick moves. If Sangakkara wasn't dropped for the last T20, I would'nt have been surprised if he came in to bat with a golf stick,  one hand tied to his back, with blind folds on. The ease at which the three seniors played were emphasized by the fact that all three tried and connected the reverse scoop at least once in the series.

The bowling really started to click too. Sri Lanka played two spinners in almost, if not every game. Herath, Sachithra, and Mendis all delivered the goods, while Sachi proved that he should be a permanent fixture on the one day side with exceptional bowling performances every time he was included. The pace had discipline. And depth. When Malinga had an off day, Thisara would come to the rescue. Or Lakmal. Or Kula. Sri Lanka had options. Good, solid options. Apart from maybe Jeewan Mendis, who looked like he didn't know what he was doing in the middle.

But Jeewan's approach of never knowing what to do in the middle is a trait not only he has developed in the past 15 months or so. It is a trend that spreads throughout the Sri Lankan junior batsmen. A trend they have come to embrace and worship to a point that I am convinced that Kusal Perera has a tattoo that says "Inconsistency is everything" on his left forearm. Chandimal and Thirimanne have shown us glimpses of the superior batsmen they could be, but the memory of a match winning knock from either is as distant as those photographs of "The Bridge by the River Kwai" in Kithulgala. A long forgotten memory, of a beautiful start to a tale that ends up in blowing everything to little pieces. Upul Tharanga sort of tried to differ, but he has backed up towards the same wall he fell over, 3 years ago.

They come. They impress.  Is that it? Patience is key.

If you need someone to take responsibility, let them
be the only ones responsible.
Sri Lanka's success in the series owed to the massive workload done by Sanga, Mahela and Dilshan. In the games they failed, Sri Lanka failed too. And soon will come a day when the big three would start failing consistently, for the candle lights brightest when it's about to go out. And when it does, Sri Lanka cricket will go to a dark corner, with no one left to re-ignite the fire.

But it must be remembered that the one who breaks the lamp is the one who tries to light it. Therefore, youth must be persisted with. With different combinations and better strategies. Starting with resting Sanga, Mahela, Dilshan, Malinga and Herath for the series in Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka might lose all the games, but they will know that this is the future. Take away the saving grace of the juniors, and let them save them selves. And hopefully, along with it, the future of Sri Lankan Cricket.

Patience is key.

Cusre in Disguise - I

Another great innings by Sangakkara. Another century by Dilshan in Pallekele. Just at the right time you would think? Or is it? For me, from here onwards, each and every good knock Sanga, Mahela and Dilshan scores happen to be a not so good thing for Sri Lanka Cricket. It was one hell of a majestic knock by Sanga in the first ODI that made all the cricket fans forget about the recent ups and downs in the field for the country. This seems to be the tale for Sri Lanka Cricket. Eventhough they are doing badly, an innings in the type of Sanga's 169 comes up and spoils the party. What I mean by spoiling the party is that it's better off if Sri Lanka went much deeper into the hole, so that there is one way around. The more the senior players score, the more Sri Lanka will be reliant on them, and you can't change. The less the opportunities the young guns will get. And the cycle will keep on going forever, and everyone will keep on complaining about the younger brigade.
A Blessing or a Curse?
However, you can't complain when you see innings of that calibre can you?  Yet, I still believe, there is enough room for the team allow more chances for the youngsters. For me, this depends upon a crucial decision, of enabling MJ to open the innings. Yes, Tharanga's position will be at stake, if that's the case, but it will clearly enable the likes of Thirimanne and Chandimal to bat at no.4 and 5, which is much better. We have already seen Thiri grabbing the opportunity whenever he was given a go at the top. The 68 runs he scored in the final ODI demonstrated his capabilities. He just have to fine tune the rotation of the strike, which in my mind he will, and we have got our future No.3 batsman. True enough, if Tharanga keeps on performing he should be given a go, but I honestly doubt how long term will Tharanga's return will be, especially thinking of 2015WC, to be held in Australia and New Zealand. However, I personally thought that Angelo Perera could have come ahead on Sanga on the final ODI. Angelo has had only one chance, and on a pitch where most of the Sri Lankan batsman struggled, he also succumbed to the pressure. Yet, the final ODI could have been used as the ideal platform to enable the youngster some time in the middle. Watching him play in the warm up match, he was really in good shape, and I though deserved a better opportunity.

The bowling and the fielding looked sharp. You tend to be so, when you have 300+ most of the time on the board. I believe that, Shaminda Eranga, despite all the critics he has earned himself, will be the next bowling sensation of Sri Lanka, and become the mainstay for a long time. True that he's quite weak at the death, but with experience and time, he will prove to be a match winner in my opinion. The early wickets of Duminy and ABD clearly provided the edge for Sri Lanka in the matches.. Both of them were in supreme touch but just couldn't fire in the series, eventhough Duminy scored a 97. The loss of wickets in a sequence clearly halted the chases.

The real struggle for the batsmen was against the accuracy of Rangana Herath. This also raise anther important question of why aren't Sri Lanka playing the second or third spinner more often. Maybe the conditions, but still Sri Lanka's strength is spin bowling, and I would say you should back it, even on a green surface. You go with what you are best at. Sachithra Senanayake grabbed the opportunity provided with both hands, and clearly bamboozled the likes of Amla, and the young De Kock.

All in all, it was nice to see Sri Lanka win in an emphatic manner like that. However, as mentioned earlier, the real problems are yet to surface for Sri Lanka, as the 3rd ODI demonstrated. Out go Sanga, Dilshan and Mahela early, Sri Lanka seem to be struggling. Therefore it could easily be seen that eventhough a lot of good things actually happened in the series, a lot of not so good things are hiding underneath the surface, which will surface soon or later. It is up for the youngsters to take their opportunity, just like Thirimanna did, and dig Sri Lanka out of the hole.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Old faces, same problem

Two weeks ago we saw the revival of the international career of Dilhara Lokuhettige, who played an ODI after lapse of 5 years. Some of you may argue he in fact was playing a Test, and not an ODI, at least that's what it looked like from the the way he batted. Sri Lanka's need for an fast bowling all rounder in the mid 2000s was once again highlighted, when Mathews had to bat up the order, Kulasekara split his webbing and Thisara was given an abrupt vacation. Dilhara stepped up to the plate, as he did in 2005, and shined in patches, a good spell here and there, but failed to make use of the opportunity. Old faces, same problem.

 And this week on Mummies Alive, SLC has decided to resurrect the  career of Jehan Mubarak. Yes, the very Jehan Mubarak that once almost broke the record for the fastest T20 50, and smashed Brett Lee so far out of Nottingham, that he had to take the flight back to Australia. But this was two moments of glory in a career that spanned over 7 years. Undoubtedly, like Dilhara Lokuhettige, Jehan too has talent. And potential. The only thing they lack, are the performances on the big stage when they are given the floor. Sri Lanka's mid 2000s problem of having a fragile middle order have come to light again. Many were tried, and many had failed. Until the so called young brigade stepped up. The Chandimals, and the Thirimannes and the Mathews had given hope for a depth in batting order that Sri Lanka once boasted of in the 90s. But, they've started to falter and the Commander has called for back up. And Jehan Mubarak is it. He is the back up. Old faces, same problem.

A failing middle order, pressure on seniors, irresponsible youth;
maybe being thrown in to the deep end is just what Jehan needs to show his true colours.
If Jehan fails, although even if he doesn't he's got only about another 3 years left in him, maybe next we will see Thilina Kandambi, trying to impress us with his resemblance to Arjuna and the similar agility in the field, or the lack of it. Then we will see Chamara Silva. He will defend out another world cup semi final until Andy McKay bowls him through the gate and Mathews will hit a six and a four and all will be well. We might even see Chamara Kapugedara. And Ashish Nehra. Just so Chamara Kapugedara can hit a six off him the last ball, and save his place for the next 6 games. Old faces, same problem.

Well, moving on, Thisara Perera's holiday VISA has expired and he's had to return to the team, and in the absence of Kula and even Angelo for the first two games, Thisara's place would be safe and secure. Dilshan also makes a return, at the expense of Kusal Perera, who needs to go back to Colts CC and remind him self that you are not given out of your strike rate drops below 100. He'll be back though. Dilshan's only another 3 games away from injury, and worst case 2 years away from retirement, anyway.

Angelo Perera has been named in the squad again. From what I remember of him, he is a SOLID bat, although Maneesha would be a better judge at it having played against him in the age group circuits, and Maniya considers him one of the best he's seen. He'll be hoping he gets to do more than bowl 1 over of off breaks for 17 runs, this time around. Nevertheless, new faces are always good to see, because when new faces perform, they put much more pressure on the seniors than any of the old faces would. New faces add security. Make us feel that there is someone in line who is actually willing to take the job after the seniors call it a day. Let's hope they play him.

All in all the squad looks all right. To manage with what we have is something Sri Lanka have learnt over a long period of international cricket. This series won't be any different. Old faces, same problem.

The 1st game starts on the 20th.
Catch you then,
Kumma and Maniya

Monday, 15 July 2013

Faults, blames and solutions

Yet another final is over. Yet another series is over. Yet another defeat in the final. Yet another defeat to India. This seems to be a familiar sequence for the Sri Lankans for the past few years. However the sad thing is that even though we think, ''Hell no, not this time around also'', it keeps on happening again and again. It's heartbreak time again. for the Sri Lankan fans.

In the first place, the Sri Lankans clearly demonstrate consistency in ODI cricket. Come a major tournament, and you can almost guarantee that we will make it to the Semi Finals. That kind of an achievement itself is great, when comparing how late Sri Lankan entered to international cricket with the other nations. Therefore we should be proud of ourselves. However, the sad side of the story is we never improve and take that golden step ahead. That's where all the heartbreak happens, and that's what the cricketing fan is missing in Sri Lanka. Yet, for me, I have hope.

The recently concluded series ended up in a pretty sad note. The final swung from our hands to the Indians, back and forth again and again, only to let MSD perform one of his heroics once again. However the main point of concern raised by the critics is about the younger generation of Sri Lanka cricket, and their below par performance. And for me, it is pretty sad to see all the fans losing faith on the younger brigade this soon, when the best of them is yet to be seen.

Dinesh Chandimal played a bad shot, and Kusal Janith played irresponsibly. And someone might complain Thirimanne played too slow. All these facts maybe true. However, yet, what I believe is that these players aren't getting enough time in the middle to prosper and rise to the occasion. True enough that the final was a good opportunity, but they failed. But the fact is, it's unfair to judge their performance solely based one or two performances. We all know that they have the potential. Remember the Durban test in 2011, remember Adelade 2013, Remember Brisbane 2013. It's not the case that they never deliver when the team wants.

The Chandimals and the Kusals of today
will only be the Sangas and Mahelas of tomorrow
 if you let them play both today and tomorrow.
However, the real success lies on giving the newcomers a consistent run. You can count on my word, these guys will take up the responsibility of Sri Lanka cricket. For the country to reap the best out of them, they should be thrown into the deep end, and let them survive on their own. This is where I believe the T20 team should not include MJ, Sanga and Dilshan. More and more chances should be provided for them to groom on their own. That is exactly how India groomed their youngsters leading to the World Cup in 2011. The first ever T20 World Championship was captained by MSD, who was still an emerging figure in Indian cricket. That is how India initiated their transition.

The true fact about the 2015WC is that MJ, Sanga and Dilshan will be there in the team. Probably the last major tournament they will be playing in. That is where I like the decision of letting Mahela open the innings. This clearly enables the likes of Thiri, Kusal and Chandi to spend more and more time in the middle in crunch situations, and with time and experience they will be better players by 2015, which should be our target. And then after the 2015WC, the trio would be hopefully able to replace the senior trio. And we must not forget it's only this trio. The likes of Dimuth Karunarathna, Angelo Perera, Kithruwan Vithanage, Niroshan Dickwella will all enter the scene at one stage. And this is where the national T20 team is really helpful. I have mentioned earlier in this blog regarding the lack of test matches for Sri Lanka. The test matches are being cut off for more and more T20 fixtures. This clearly enables more and more time for the younger brigade to expose themselves in the international arena. For me this will mould the younger players well enough to take responsibility on their own, and play for the country.

There is still a lot to learn for these guys, and improvement will only come with time. As we wait, us fans can only aspire to learn that in both victory and in defeat, a forward step will always be laid towards a brighter future for Sri Lanka's Cricket. .

Until next time,

Maniya and Kumma

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Three days, two results, same old finalists

Finally the two day, one day match is over. It seemed to drag forever, ultimately the visitors coming on top. And now, the Sri Lankans can help themselves in not entering into the finals, with a crushing loss against India. However, the odds are against such an incident occurring, as of my knowledge and gut feeling.

The win against the Windies could be said as a hard fought one. The visitors were inserted to bat on an pitch with lot of life, and also sometimes behaving two paced. The opening bowlers on the Windies did exploit the conditions very well, which could clearly be seen with the footwork of the Sri Lankan batsman. Upul Tharanga's technique and the ability to handle the moving ball will always be a question mark. He was clearly disturbed by the bounce of the wicket and was laying back, with no footwork, ultimately lobbying the ball to extra cover. You cannot find any fault in MJ, even though it could be said that Jason Holder had the better of him, in his first over. However it could be said that it was an unlucky dismissal for Mahela.

Chandimal was on 150 not out when he drove that ball. At least he looked so. It happened out to be a great opportunity for Chandi, to have some good time in the middle. Questions, will be asked if he was given the vice captaincy too early in his careers and whether its affecting his A game. However, for me, he does have the potential to become the next MJ, even though he is still far away from achieving it. Of late, he seem to be going for more extravagant stroke play instead of applying himself. We cannot remember a solid knock by him, except for that cameo he played in the CT13 match against the Aussies. It could well be said, that the remaining matches of the series and the South Africa series could be a defining series for Chandi, as he badly need some runs, to back his potential and the faith selector have bestowed upon him.

The rise and fall of Chandimal may well be the deciding factor
of Sri Lanka's success in the final stage of the series.
The batsman who looked so much at ease in the wicket was Kumar Sangakkara. It could be easily be seen when studying how solid he played his knock. He was unlucky to miss on a richly deserved century. However, it was enough for the team to get through. People may be blaming young Thrimanne that he was too slow or struggling, but for me that was required by his part. Just to steady the ship and support Sanga. I'd assume if Thirimanne got out on day one, Sri Lanka would have been all out for less that 200. That partnership was the defining point of the match, event hough Mathews came and played a free flowing 30.

Getting into the bowling, Shaminda Eranga bowled wicket taking deliveries in midst of all the wayward stuff he produced. He clearly does seem to have the potential to turn out to be a true match winner for Sri Lanka in the future. He seem to be just one or two 5 wicket hauls from becoming a more assertive bowler for Sri Lanka, which he will in my opinion in the future. Mathews proved again to us, and to himself why he should be bowling more often, even with the new ball. Clearly he has the ability to use that white ball well, and move it around just enough to get results. Huffing and puffing, Sri Lanka finally pulled the rabbit out of the hat, and sealed victory, and laid one foot on the final, which was to be decided in their next game.

At the back of that victory, within 15 hours, Sri Lanka were back on the field against India, to decide which two teams would face up in the final, with all three countries still with a possibility of making it. Although the bowling seemed to be above par, keeping the Indians quiet for the whole 29 overs they batted, the fatigue clearly showed when the Sri Lankans came out to bat. Catalysed by a brilliant bowling spell from Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Sri Lanka stumbled in an exaggerated run chase, put forth by Duckwroth-Lewis, to hand India a win with a bonus point, to set up yet another Sri Lanka v India final in two days time.

More that soon.

Until then,

Maniya and Kumma

Saturday, 6 July 2013

With the odds, against expectation

Stephen Fry once said in an interview on the 2005 Ashes; "When we beat Australia, it is a joy you possibly cannot transmit or communicate to others. It's so intense, it radiates your whole being, and you skip on air for weeks." Now, I am neither English, nor have I experienced beating Australia in Test as a Sri Lankan. A vague memory of a victory against the Aussies in 1999 in Kandy lasts in the back of my mind, which I remember thanks to a youtube video, but it's nothing that makes me skip on air.

The closest I could get to that feeling, the feeling of "Someone please help us beat Australia" and actually winning it, is when Sri Lanka win against India. Sri Lanka have a record of something like 320 to 4 against India in the past four years or so and we just cannot seem to find a way to beat them. And when we do in the fashion we did the last game, it really does radiate in our being, and make us skip on air for weeks. Now, this is no comparison to England winning the Ashes in '05, but it is somewhat a relatable feeling. Unlike the Ashes though, Sri Lanka haven't really won anything substantial yet. They need to win at least one out of two games to qualify to the final, but in contrast to the other two teams, Sri Lanka have their destiny under their control.

With the highest NRR of the three teams, Sri Lanka technically only have to win once. With two games in hand, the rather obvious thing to say would be that Sri Lanka have the final in the bag. Well, that is if Sri Lanka are a consistently performing, focused and well managed set of individuals. Sadly, we are quite the opposite. The last win being so huge and convincing only makes you wonder if its a fluke and makes you think twice about any chances of qualifying. The easiest way to do it though, is to beat West Indies tomorrow, and seal the deal.

Port of Spain offers more pace and swing than Kingston, by the looks of the bowling figures, but these could be varied by conditions controlled by weather gods. Sri Lanka might rethink playing two front line spinners, but are unlikely to change the winning combination form four days ago. The opening combination seems to be working better than expected and will remain unchanged, but anyone expecting Upul Tharanga to perform twice in two games might as well be still believing in Santa Claus. Sri Lanka's earmarked pair for the future, Chandimal and Thirimanne have been found wanted in the middle order, and for one of them to fire in tomorrow's game would be ideal for Sri Lankas winning prospects.

The way the tournament has progressed, it seems as though
the performance of Mahela and Gayle will dictate the progress of either team.
I've been saying that Kusal is due a knock for ever since the Champions Trophy started and like a university fees receipt of a middle class student at the start of the 3rd week of lectures, it is still due. Sangakkara and Mathews have been at their solitary average good, accumulating 20s and 40s and occupying the crease, not too less to blame a loss, nor enough to force a win. The bowling has been stable, no one seems to be out of sorts, but neither has anyone peaked as a top performer, but stable. Sri Lanka will back themselves to defend anything over 240 and to restrict the Windies to under 260 if they bat first. Whether they would get 240 if they bat first, or chase down the 260 they concede, is the question that Mathews will need to prepare his answers for, for the press conference after the game.

Apart from their own woes, Sri Lanka would have to deal with an upbeat Tino Best who has made himself a presence in the ODI team, an in form Kemar Roach who consistently throws in solid pacey spells, a confident Sunil Narine, at least against Sri Lanka with a back of a four-for, and a hard working Darren Sammy who's been under 4.5 an over all tournament. In terms of batting though, West Indies are at sort of a Pakistanesque stage. Intimidating at times, but generally rather ordinary. Every one from 1 to 8 can come out and make a century at less than run a ball, but when or where they will deliver that century is as consistent as a roulette table, and the whole line up is as equally reassuring as the table it self. [Insert match fixing joke here].

Either way, the odds are quite unusually, stacked in favour of the Lankans this time around. A win against the Windies will put them through to the final quite safely, and even a loss would mean that they have yet another chance against India to win and delay their flight back home by a further 2 days. But fittingly, it would seem that Sri Lanka should lose to West Indies tomorrow, and battle India in the last game of the group stage with a Net Run Rate in mind to make it to the finals, the way they have made familiar to them selves to finish the group stages, as they have done against India in the 2010 World T20, against Australia at the CB series in 2012 and again at the Champions Trophy in 2013. Sri Lanka would also expect to win both against the Run Rate and the game, as they did in the three previous occasions. But fittingly, Sri Lanka should go on to lose this; finally losing to the NRR rule, getting knocked out of a tri-series since Ruchira Perera retired, and also letting India through to another final, a habit they've picked up in reverse since having directly or indirectly knocked India out in the 2007 WC, 2012 CB and 2012 Asia Cup.

Off late, we've come to support Sri Lanka like we would support a second division soccer team, in a strange sort of way. Like we would support Queens Park Rangers, or Norwich City. We really don't mind when we lose, because we expect us to. But when we win, we are SO happy, infinitely happier than any Arsenal supporter or Chelsea supporter could EVER be.

Tomorrow will be no different. I won't expect Sri Lanka to win, but if we do, expect the emotion to flow through to the next post.

Until the,


PS: The Norwich City quote also belongs to Stephen Fry. It would only be fitting for me to finish the post with one of his lines, just the way I started it.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Payback Time

Sri Lanka vs India matches in the recent past has associated with some common features. An OK, but not so good batting performance by the Sri Lankans. A Virat Kohli century, or a half at least. And of course an Indian victory. This seemed to be the pattern, and we were expecting a repeat of that tale again in the ODI in Jamaica. The script seemed to be perfectly matching when India won the toss and invited the Sri Lankans to bat first on a tricky wicket with overcast conditions. And then, the rest is history.

It could be fairly said that Sri Lanka covered up for around 3 ODI defeats against India from that match itself. A number of new records were created, including a special record of losing only one wicket for the entire 50 overs of the match, the first in ODI history.

Much is talked about the great knock played by Tharanga. Indeed it was by the batsman. None of us would have given him a chance, and was wondering after the first match with the way he struggled against the pace, why was he given a chance in the team again. However, he had the mental strength to overcome all those critics and replied with a bang. However, for me, still Upul Tharanga was struggling in his knock. It wasn't the swiftest of 174 runs I've seen Tharanga play. Even though he scored at will after the century, the first few overs were a struggle for him again. It could clearly be understood by comparing the ease with MJ batted. The master was able to counter the early demons in the pitch with aggression, taking on Umesh Yadav and Shami Ahmed, and then Ishanth Sharma, with utmost ease and perfection.

I happen to be a big fan of MJ opening the batting. He seem to be at his very natural best when opening, taking on the bowlers. Some may counter argue that he is a too good batsman to loose early in the match. But since he happens to be the best batsman in the team, in my ranks, he should be given the maximum time in the middle. And his record as an opener is quite staggering compared to coming at no.4. Plus, MJ opening the batting would clearly enable the ranks of Chandimal and Thirmanne to bat higher in the order, which I do believe is important. However, this would leave a bit of a headache for the selectors, as there are potentially 4 opening batsmen going on at the moment, with MJ, Dilshan, Tharanga and Kusal. The fact that Mahela opened in the team where Kusal was also playing, clearly demonstrates the thinking of the management. Maybe Sri Lankans were planning to use Kusal towards the latter end of the innings, including the power play. Therefore it seems like Kusal would not be opening for some time, except for T20s.

Sri Lanka seem to have found out another opening combination, in ML and Upul, but how is it going to adapt and change after Dilshan is back in the team?
The promotion of Angelo was a smart one, and it worked off. It would have been a choice between Angelo and Kusal to come at no.3 at that moment, and maybe to keep the right hand-left hand combination going, Angelo was sent. However he stuck to the task perfectly, taking his time initially and then going for the lusty blows.

India clearly seemed to be out of character. The killer instinct they showed in the CT13 was missing, and was evident the way the fielded. It is to be found out whether it was just an off day or the missing influence of the captain cool, MSD. On both occasions where India lost, MSD was missing in action, maybe signifying what a big role MSD is playing in the team. They never looked like they wanted to chase down the 348 runs. The bowlers of Sri Lanka stuck to the task of bowling line and length and to the field. If any team is going to chase down that total it should be India, with the kind of batting line up India posses. Taking Dhoni out of the equation, there is still Dhawan, Vijay, Kolhi, Rohit Sharma, Raina, Jadeja, DK. That list seem to be never ending, However the clear attitude of chasing down the target was missing and they well short of the target.

The surprise selection came in with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar being dropped or swapped for Shami Ahmed. Kumar has being the new sensation in the Indian bowling ranks, and it was quite surprising to see him being dropped in a surface like that, with the overcast conditions.

All in all, it could be well said the the payback time has started. Sri Lanka need to continue the winning habit, if they are to payback for all the suffering since the CWC2011 final in Mumbai. Focus should be on winning the next game, which can clearly knock India out of the tournament. After all, Sri Lanka do have some business to settle with the West Indians also.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Back to square one

Maniya: Each and every time a new tournament starts after a concluded ICC tournament, it seems like getting back to square one for Sri Lanka. They are increasingly being reputed as the elder brothers of South Africa, as chokers at the wrong end of the tournament. However, a mere 5 days after the tournament, here we are back at international cricket. Against West Indies, and of course, the Indians. Taking a look at the composition of the team, the injury of Dilshan might be a blessing in disguise. For me, the real essence for the success of limited over cricket in Sri Lanka since 2007 has been Tillakerathna Dilshan. Surprised? Not Sanga, nor Mahela, but Dilshan. The numbers prove it. Dilly has scored 15 centuries since the 2007 World Cup, compared to 9 by Sanga, and 6 by Mahela, which includes one century for the Asian XI. More important is the pace at which Dilly carry out the innings that clearly provide a winning platform. Therefore we can safely say that Dilly has been the key man for Sri Lanka in the past few years, even though the presence of the stalwarts have helped.

Kumma: First things first. When Maniya gives you a number, you believe it. You don't think twice. He's always right with these numbers. And yes. In total agreement here when it comes to Dilshan. Dilly has been the driving force behind Sri Lanka's scattered success in the limited overs format since 2009. Ever since he stepped up as an opener, he has filled the void created by Jayasuriya and always been the charismatic work horse behind most victories. He also enjoys playing against the Indians, unlike most Sri Lankans of the recent past. Apart from that one time in Rajkot, I believe every time Dilly scored a century against India, Sri Lanka have gone on to win. The way he bats deceives us in to thinking he is such a selfless player playing for the team, when he is actually being as arrogant and mindless as Sehwag or Afridi. I mean, for a guy who plays a shot behind the keepers head, with his eyes closed, infront of his nose, I guess he's done well not to draw a fine line between mindless and selfless. He surely is going to be missed. 

Maniya: Getting back to the match, Kusal Janith Perera is under fire to perform after a disappointing CT13. The maximum number of overs he lasted in the tournament was 3. The aggressive stroke play seem to have resulted in his own downfall, however it is unlikely that he will change his natural instinct. Nor he should. He seem to be in the best flow when attacking the ball, and could be a boundary or two away from finding his form back. Upul Tharanga has been given a lucky break after the injury to Dilshan, and a good performance in the tournament will clearly pose a threat to Kusal's position in the team. However both openers will be under pressure as the A team openers Dimuth Karunarathna and Niroshan Dickwella has been performing well in the Windies tours, and even though not been selected to the Tri Nation series, chances are high in one of them earning a place in the South Africa series.  

For a man who's dubbed as the Next Sanath Jayasuriya,
Kusal has already shown the resemblance to the great man
 in terms of stroke play, aggression and sadly inconsistency as well. 
Kumma: I'm in a bit of a disagreement here about Kusal. He seems to be trying a bit too hard to play his "natural game" that it looks like he is forcing him self to attack more, when his natural game, from what I remember is a patient yet marauding sort of style where he respects the good ball and backs him self to hit the bad ball out of the park. At the moment he bats as if he thinks if his strike rate drops below 100 that he will be given out. To partner him is Upul Tharanga, who's been given the umpteenth time to shine at the helm. Tharanga is like a long running family business that keeps failing. Too much failure to have confidence in his performance, but too much time invested in him to just let go and move on. Let's just hope the confident Tharanga shows up this time, and not the "I'm playing for my place" one we saw down in Australia.

ManiyaYet, I feel that attacking is quite natural to Kusal, even though he can drop anchor like he did in Brisbane. Backing him to perform on his own way. Then comes the most important question for me. Is Chandimal and Thirimanne getting a fair chance spend quality time at the middle? Most of the time, the two have been thrown into the caution, whenever Sri Lanka needed to rebuild, and in fairness they have delivered. However having Thirimanne and Chandi at 1 down and 2 down seems unlikely, even though it seems the best option for the future. Yet, the management should be wise enough to enable the pair to obtain the same exposure Mahela and Sanga in their younger days. The more they play at the top of the innings, the better cricketers they will turn out to be. Chandi and Thiri seem to be the next duo produced by Sri Lanka, following Aravinda - Arjuna, Sanath - Kalu, Sanath - Marvan, Mahela - Sanga. They always come in pairs in Sri Lanka.  

Kumma: Plain and simply, I don't think Chandimal has what it takes to succeed on the long run at this level. He's probably one of the best in terms of talent base in the island, but when compared to a lot of youngsters around the world, he is pretty mediocre. Thirimanne, on the other hand, is the man to look out for. Unless Chandi changes his game both technically and mentally, Thirimanne's rise to the top would be a lone one. A fair decision would be to keep rotating numbers 3 and 4 between these two and Mahela/Sanga, but Sri Lanka's selection panel is as fair as Adolf Hitler's foreign policy, so we can forget about that. If only they let Maniya in. I dream of the day. 

The latest batting duo of Sri Lanka deserves more time at the wicket, even at the expense of Sanga and Mahela batting below their usual positions
Maniya: The batting of Angelo Matthews has not been so great in the recent past.  However time has come for him to step up, with the added burden of captaincy, as fans seems to have started questioning his form, and even his existence in the team for a certain extent. Therefore it is upto him to answer those critics wrong. He seems to be suffering the traditional all rounders problem, being stuck in the middle. He surely is categorized as a batting all rounder, yet seem to be under bowling himself, in crunch situations. 4 more slots left. Players fighting for these slots would be Jeevan Mendis, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Shaminda Eranga and Ajantha Mendis. However you could say that we could play 2 steamers and 2 spinners, with Mathews to fill up the 5th bowler spot, may be with some aid from Thiri. Thus the two seamers would be Malinga and Kulasekara. It would be quite harsh to leave out Rangana Herath, due to his excellent line and length, hence it would be a fight between Ajantha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake. It was here in Windies that Mendis made a name for himself in the international arena, therefore would not be surprised if he is picked ahead of Sachi.  

Kumma: The biggest trick missed here would be the exclusion of Thisara Perera. Angelo better be thanking the heavens for his captaincy, because if not for the mic infront of his face at the press conference, Thisara would have kicked him so far down the pecking order that Angelo might even have to play a few games of Division III County to get him self back in contention. He's shown us he's got the mental game to handle a situation but whether he chooses to bring in that mental game, or let the game go mental is what we are left to kept pondering. Looking at the squad, I personally think Sri Lanka might play three seamers for starters and then move on to two spinners later on in the tournament. 

Maniya's  XI- Kusal, Tharanga, Thiri, Sanga, Chandi, Mahela, Angelo, Kule, Malinga, Herath, Mendis.
Kumma's XI - Same, except for Herath missing out to Eranga. 

Maniya: The main threat for Sri Lanka would be the likes of Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Pollard and Narine. Out of the lot Narine would be rated as the most dangerous players, in their own conditions.

Kumma: Adding to Narine's magic, I would also take a note of how Ravi Rampaul has been bowling through out the year, and also the form of Sri Lanka's party crasher; Marlon Samuels. Let's hope most of us won't end up quoting Shane Warne at the end of the game. "F*** you, Marlon". Priceless, Warney.

Maniya: Gayle won't score much, nor will Pollard. But the likes of the Bravo brothers will. Narine will bag at least 3. Expecting a big one from Kusal early in the tournament. Regardless of their form, surely India can't win this one right? So backing Sri Lanka to win the match by 4 wickets or 42 runs.

Kumma: Agreed. One of the Bravos and Samuels to keep Sri Lanka in check, but banking Sri Lanka to win this one. As for the First Law of Maniya, when he gives you a number, you go with it. Win by 4 wickets or 42 runs it is.

Signing off for now,

Maniya and Kumma

Time to expand

Cricket, we all love that word. Well, it made no difference to me, having grown up in an era Sri Lanka winning the World Cup in 1996. So it was running through my blood veins, since the day I remember. However, it is quite sad to say that I cannot recall that wonderful moment of the World Cup triumph in 1996. The oldest memory for me would be that special test match played by Sri Lanka and India at Colombo in 1997. So forth and so on, cricket always found a place in my life. Talking of credentials,  not so much to talk about. Having played cricket since age 7 (wanted start playing at 5, but the coach refused), 15 years of cricket seems a lot, but seems quite minute compared to 15 years of cricket played by Mahela Jayawardena, for that matter. However, holding a record of taking more wickets than the runs scored in a season, doesn't seem that bad as it looks. 

Anyways, getting back to cricket, I would like to draw attention on a serious matter with regard to the future of Sri Lanka cricket. Sri Lanka never boasted itself as a challenging test nation, except for a few purple patches. However, test cricket is becoming an increasingly alien format for Sri Lanka. We were lucky enough to have 2 test matches earlier this year against Bangladesh and one at the start of the year against Australia. That seemed to be it for this year, since the test series against the West Indies was scrapped off, and replaced by the ODI series, in which later India also confirmed participation, making it a tri nation series. The home series after the Windies tour against South Africa consists of 5 ODIs and 3 T20s. Exciting enough it seems, we are sure to get a hangover of limited over cricket pretty soon.

So only 3 test matches for the entire year. Well, Australia plays 4 test match series against India even, forget about the 10 back to back Ashes matches scheduled this summer . Survival of test cricket seems pretty tough in Sri Lanka. And so are the careers of players like Chanaka Welagedara, Prasanna Jayawardena. Thilan Samaraweera, one of the unsung heroes of Sri Lankan cricket has already succumbed a victim. Rangana Herath has somehow managed to survive in the pyjama suit form, with his pinpoint accuracy and reliability.

Rangana Herath's magic goes beyond Welagedera, PJ and Samare.
He has broken the curse of Only Whites and moved on to coloured clothing
However, forget about individuals, the country is to suffer as a whole due to the lack of test matches. Test cricket brings out the best a cricketer has to offer, from character to mental strength, and that's why it's rightly called "Test" cricket.  England have reaped the most success in Test cricket recently, not to mention that they have played the most number of matches in the past, which has clearly helped them to become a stronger opposition in the other formats as well. England emerged winners in the T20 World Championship in 2010 and emerged runners up, ( Winners upto 36 overs of the 40 over final), in the recently concluded Champions Trophy. This clearly reflects the success England have managed.

So maybe, it's the time to rethink the entire strategy. One smart person could point out that test cricket being boring, would not attract the crowds, hence the sponsors. For that question, I can only make a  request to watch 1 day of the forthcoming Ashes test series, if test cricket ever had any doubt of being boring, or uneventful.

Thank you

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Of sentiment and content

After losing to New Zealand in a closely battled contest and yet conceding a huge Net Run Rate, Sri Lanka started the game against England needing two wins out of two to get through to the semi finals. A lot went right for their bowlers in that opening game, and they probably haven't bowled better after that. The batting though, was a right mess. And after two games, the batting has come together. The seniors have stepped up. The juniors have, somewhat, contributed. Malinga and Herath have been consistent, while Kulasekara, after sitting out in the first match,  has so far been Sri Lanka's player of the tournament. And after two games, Sri Lanka have two wins. They have made it to the Semi Finals.

Against Australia, it is always a battle of sentiment for the Sri Lankans. So much history for them. The 95/96 Benson & Hedges tournament, where Sri Lanka really announced them selves as a cricketing force, but were strapped down by means which go beyond cricketing attributes. The Murali-Hare incident. The 1996 Wills World Cup final. Then Arjuna's walking out on the 98/99 Ross Emerson incident. More recently, the 2007 squash ball fiasco. And the Mathews/Malinga-scripted 2010 "Melbourne Miracle", resulting in Sri Lanka's first ever series win in Australian soil. And it's second coming in 2012, with Dilshan taking David Hussey's catch to put Sri Lanka through to the finals.

Sri Lanka hold sentiment in every victory against Australia. It was seen in Dilshan's determination. Sanga's frustration when he got out. Mahela's desperation to try everything he could to get to 250, mind you in about 15 years of watching him bat, I haven't ever seen him turn down a single to farm strike in a One Day game. He was down right desperate. Then, in Kulasekara's aggression when every time he involved him self in an Aussie dismissal. Mr. Baby Face looked ruthless and focused, at times it was quite funny too. In Malinga's celebration and send off to Maxwell. Malinga hardly bears anything other than a wry smile when he gets a wicket. He celebrated heartily when he got that hatrick against South Africa. But this was bigger. He needed that one. And he held this one with more sentiment than anything else. In the number of discussions between Mahela, Angelo, Sanga and Herath, setting different fields, trying different lengths and not waiting for something to happen. Then finally, in Dilshans leap of joy, cry of satisfaction and lap of honor. What more is there to bear witness for the fact that this was not just another win for them.

In victory; Sri Lanka find sentiment and content.
In defeat; they find nothing different.
The team though, is far from perfect. Kusal Perera has looked out of sorts the moment the practice matches ended. Shaminda Eranga is probably thanking the injury-gods for keeping Welegedara out. If not, with the sort of performances that he's put in, Eranga would have missed out on at least two games, if not all three. Thisara Perera must be sitting in the dressing room wondering what he did wrong, not to be included as the genuine all rounder in the team. Sachithra Senanayke must be sitting behind him thinking, Thisara has not the slightest idea of how it feels to not know why he is not being picked. And we haven't even started on Chandimal and Mathews.

Pleasingly, apart from a few dodgy fields that were set to tail enders, Mathews' captaincy has looked steady. He's held his nerve,and made some crucial calls. Such as sending Thirimanne up the order, and bowling out Herath, and attacking. Then, throwing the ball to Dilshan when Sri Lanka's bowling seemed to be getting predictable. He's shown us that he has a cool head. But we already know that about Angelo, the cricketer. We just need to see it from Angelo; the Batsman. His batting has been appalling this tournament, and I can't think of any team other than Australia, who would have a place for Mathew's in their batting order, let alone to be captain. Even in the Australian line up, he might end up losing his spot to Mitchel Marsh, as he did in the IPL.

The only consolation Mathews has is that he is STILL not the worst performer in the team with bat. His deputy Chandimal has looked not just out of form, but out of place. When Sri Lanka needed him to play a long innings against New Zealand, he went for a big shot and got out. When they needed him to play big shots against Australia, he holed out. It's a bit sad for fans, knowing that instead of Chandimal, if Thisara Perera had come in, it would have been rather pleasing to watch him get holed out, rather than watching Chandimal trying desperately to get one in the air, three quarters of the way to long on. In a way, he's complimented his captain pretty well, hiding his skipper's weaknesses with greater ones of his own.

But despite the lack of performance from the middle order, a hitter in the death overs, and a much needed second spinner, Sri Lanka have made it to the semi finals. Against India. Which is going to need every little drop of sweat and blood of this team to win. But that is a story for another day.

As much as Sri Lanka hold sentiment in every victory against Australia, Sri Lanka also hold content in getting through to Semi Finals. This is their goal, and once achieved, the path to a trophy is, so to say, irrelevant. The feeling of content; "We are such a proud little island for making it this far against the big teams", is killing the spirit that they need to be ruthless and relentless. It is as if we are a nice team, not a mean team. And we take what ever we can get. The trophy holds no value to us.

Every victory towards the semi finals, and every defeat from then on; is of sentiment and content.

Sri Lanka have to change that. They have to turn that around. Harness that sentiment, in to emotion and aggression. Control that content, and stop at nothing, and be hungry for nothing but victory.

It isn't easy. After a history of ten semi finals in the last sixteen ICC tournaments, and only one championship. But if that number needs to change from one to two, and two to three, it is what needs to be done.

Angelo; the Captain, the move is yours.


Thursday, 13 June 2013

A tale of two unfinishers

Unfinishers. I don't think that's even a word. But I'm going to use it. And define it to be the opposite of a "Finisher". A sort of batsman who gets runs in the middle during a chase, but falls short of the target towards the end. Or plays a blinding cameo, and gets out before he could hit the winning runs. An opposite to the likes of M.S Dhoni or Michael Bevan. Comparable to Sachin Tendulkar, or Jaques Kallis. Or Kumar Sangakkara. and Nuwan Kulasekara.

Prior to this game, Sanga had scored 14 ODI centuries in 300+ ODIs. Out of which 6 had resulted in losses. Almost 50% of the time when Sanga scored a hundred, Sri Lanka had lost. A staggering conversion, compared to Mahela, who has scored 15 ODI centuries of which Sri Lanka have only lost ONE game. We all know what that game was. On top of that, out of 14, Sanga had only scored 3 during chases. Out of that three, Sri Lanka had lost 2. The only time they won, Sanga wasn't there to finish it off either. Sachithra Senanayake had to come in the last over, block the first ball, and hit the next one, the penultimate ball of the match, for a towering six over cow-corner to win the game in Johannesburg.

Meaning tonight, was the first time Sanga had experienced the joy of getting a century and hitting the winning runs for Sri Lanka, in his illustrious 13 year old One Day career. The first time he had guided a chase and watched Sri Lanka get over the line. He had a smile on his face, at the end of it all. A calm, satisfying one. The sort of smile that tells you how badly he needed that in his list of accolades. He had finally, before he retired, done something to take that "selfish and unlucky" tag off his back.

Kulasekara on the other hand, was quite the opposite. He was jubilant and emotional. Over the moon. His happiness was not one of relief. It was one of sheer joy. Childish and genuine. Much like the cricketer he is. For him it was not a case of falling short every time he tried. It was a matter of trying and somehow pulling it off. Kula always gives it his all. When all hope seems lost, he would come out and blast a few around the park, and spark a bit of energy in the fans. But until tonight, he had never made a big score in a chase and saw the team to a victory. A 50 in a big chase against New Zealand in the last edition of the champions trophy in 2009, another at one of the CB series finals against Australia in 2012, again chasing a big total, and also during that T20 world cup final against West Indies in 2012 had all resulted in losses. Kula had tried his best, but fallen short. But not tonight.

The two unfinishers had got together, put on a partnership in excess of 100, and stayed not out till the game was finished. They had come through victorious and alive. Finally, they had cracked the code. And Sri Lanka had moved up and moved forward. They had done it. Against all odds.

A smile of joy and a sigh of relief.
The tale of two determined workhorses; The Unfinishers
Sanga and Kula's performance would have hidden the short comings of Sri Lanka's display in the field, but its not going to stop me from ranting about it. Dilshan dropped three. One was a sitter. Sanga dropped a sitter as well. Misfields all round. Over throws too. But that was the sort of day Sri Lanka had in the field. An off day. It didn't look like it was a habit.

What was a habit though, was the lack of intelligent field placing and bowlers sticking to that field. Fields that were set reminded me of the interval soft ball games we used to play in the 6th grade. The captain did not know how to set a field, so everyone would stand where ever they felt like. The bowler wasn't told to bowl at a certain area, let alone knew an idea of what field was set for him. The batsman's weaknesses, the bowler's strengths and the situation of the game were regardless. Stand where ever you like, catch the ball if it comes to you, and bowl where ever you think is smart.

Sri Lanka's display wasn't as bad as ours in school, but it wasn't far from it either. And some serious changes will need to be made to combat them. Starting with playing an extra spinner. And setting more attacking fields. And bowlers sticking to those fields.

A must win game against Australia looms in the vicinity. Monday will be a Quarter Final. Win and go to the semis, lose and get kicked out. That Net Run Rate isn't getting any better if we lose anyway.

A win is a win though. Sri Lanka had to win 4 games to win the tournament without losing a single one. They are a quarter of the way through. But three such games still remain. No matter how impressive and convincing that win was, it still doesn't reassure the fact that we have what it takes to go all the way. But before thinking of going all the way, we need to get through Australia.

More on that on my next post.
Until then;


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Move up, or move over.

Win and move forward. Lose and get out of the way to make way for the other teams. The equation is simple for Sri Lanka. Every game from here needs to be a win. One can argue there is an outside chance even if we lose to England, and beat Australia, and England lose to New Zealand, and by some black magic our Net-Run-Rate turns out to be better than England's, that we can still stay. But trust me, if we lose to England, we are as good as out.

And all this is because Sri Lanka lost that opening game against New Zealand. And they lost big. It may have seemed a lot closer than the points table suggests, but according to the NRR, which is calculated for SL with 50 overs and New Zealand with 41 overs, the loss seems much bigger, because once you get all out, your run rate is your total number of runs divided by the total number of overs. And that's what cost Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka didn't lose because of bad bowling, or  great batting by New Zealand. Not even the horrid umpiring. For one, Sri Lanka already wasted their review. Above that, Sri Lanka only posted a target of 139. With 7 specialist batsmen, excluding Thisara Perera. 6 of them didn't even bowl. And Angelo Mathews, being the captain, and being the so called "Pure All Rounder" in the team, did not even have the courage to run in and bowl a single ball.

You play 7 batsmen, you expect them to score you at least 200 runs. Which is nothing if you think about it. Less than 30 runs each. Which is much less than their career averages, to begin with. Instead, Sangakkara managed more than half the team's total, and the other six fell apart like a pack of cards. The umpires cannot be blamed for the loss at all. If you wake up at 8.50, to go to a meeting that starts at 9, and your driver somehow pulls you through the traffic and ends up at the meeting at 9.03 because he had to wait at a colour light for 4 minutes, it's not the light's fault or the driver's that you got late. It's your fault! If you set a target of only 139, no matter what happens in the second innings, if you lose, it's your batsmen's fault. Specially if you have 7 of them.

But Sri Lanka fought. And showed that their bowling isn't as weak as it looks. And they will need to fight again tomorrow at The Oval. And the team composition will be key.

By the look of how this tournament has gone, Sri Lanka desperately need to play two spinners. Every other team is exploiting the conditions with spin, and we are the one team left wondering whether the idea of playing two spinners is smart. To think, about 6 years ago, we were the team that always bowled at least 20 overs of spin in any oneday game we played, anywhere.

The choices are Jeewan and Herath, Jeewan and Sachithra or Herath and Sachithra. Ideally, the two best spinners must play, and to make way for both, either Shaminda Eranga or Lahiru Thirimanne will have to sit out. In my opinion, Eranga should sit out either way. Even if Sri Lanka don't play two spinners, Kulasekara must come in to the team in place of him. He has been the most consistent Sri Lankan ODI paceman in recent times, and rather oddly, one of Sri Lanka's best batsmen in run chases as well.

Then the question is, do we drop both Thirimanne and Eranga, and play 4 front line bowlers with the aid of Mathews, Thisara and Dilshan to cover for the other 10. I say we do. Yes, we played 7 batsmen and we only posted 139 and the last thing we need to be doing is dropping another batsman, but I say, if you can't win a game with 6 batsmen, namely Kusal, Dilshan, Sanga, Mahela, Chandi and Mathews, I say having Thirimanne in there makes no difference. Just like we saw in Cardiff.

Ideally, I'd like to see both Thiri and Eranga sitting out and Kula and Sachithra in the team on the field tomorrow, but if I was a selector for the Sri Lankan National Cricket Team, I might as well be Chuck Norris. But it is my opinion and to me, this is our best combination I see which would win us tomorrow's game.

But defeating England will be a tough ask. Apart from India, England are the only side to have at least looked like they are playing to win a tournament. Add to it the fact that they'll play in front of a full house home crowd. And on top of that, Anderson, Broad and Bresnan offer a stiff challenge with the new ball and the old, let alone Morgan, Butler and the inform Ian Bell with the bat. Jonathan Trott also never seems to fail too often against Sri Lanka. It seems as though odds are only getting worse for Sri Lanka. But, don't count them out just yet.

He's never had a bad run in England,
and Mahela would be more than determined to keep his track record in check.
Mahela Jayawardane's due a few runs. And vs England in England is even better than vs India at SSC for him. 5 centuries to 4. Malinga's picked up his rhythm. So has Sanga. Chandimal had an off day, but he doesn't have many. And either Kusal or Dilshan is bound to fire at the top, if not both. Kula and Herath are ever so reliable. And the Josephian Mafia promises not to disappoint too often. This is still well within Sri Lanka's reach, and if they are going to do it, England are so far the team to beat in this group.

I can't remember the last time Sri Lanka won a tournament after being back to the wall. Sri Lanka have 2 games left, if they win those, they'll have 2 more. If they win those 2 as well, they will be champions. Sounds simple, but the chances are we'll lose tomorrow and it will all be over.

So, here's to me being proven wrong.

Catch you after the game.


Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Mental Game; a weakness or a strength?

India and England. The only teams so far that haven't looked as bad they sound on paper. That's the thing about this tournament.No one is a clear favourite. Well apart from South Africa. Who started as the best team on paper, until they lost the plot in the middle, as they always do. Not to mention being hampered with injury after injury. Steyn, Kallis, AB, Morkel. Even Greame Smith, although that probably was a blessing in disguise. Anyway, regardless of how other teams look on paper, Sri Lanka look the weakest. Yes, I've mentioned in my previous post that we've picked the strongest team possible. But just because you prepared for an exam like you never did before, doesn't necessarily mean that you will get better results than every one else.

Against New Zealand though, Sri Lanka face a similar opponent. Well picked side, yet weak on paper. But New Zealand have a decent side, going in to a big tournament, after a while. Not just 2 superstars and 9 passengers. They actually have a well bonded, contributing side. Yes, the league of Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum are still a class apart from everyone else, but the likes of Kane Williamson, Tim Southee, BJ Watling, Martin Guptill, Kyle Mills and unfortunately missing Trent Boult, offer good substance. On top of that, even players like Nathan McCullum, Mitchell McCleneghan, Doug Bracewell and James Franklin have started to contribute to victories more often than not. The only New Zealand player who seems to be a passenger in this team seems to be Luke Ronchi, and he's an Australian.

But if you think about it, this is Sri Lanka's game. Sri Lanka plays a mental game. A game that is defined by momentum, dictated by confidence and rallied by morale. That's our strength, and as much as it is our strength, that's our weakness. It is the reason we keep losing to India. It is the reason we kept losing to Australia in the early 2000s. It is the reason that we have lost countless ICC finals. And it is the very reason we actually won that one time back in 1996.

Arjuna Ranatunga harnessed Sri Lanka's mental game in to an advantage. He took a team of average players and turned it in to a champion team. Every captain that followed him, apart from maybe Sanath Jayasuriya, for a while, has seen this quality of Sri Lanka cricket as a weakness. And that is why, every single one of them has failed to convert this team of champions, in to a champion team.

Arjuna Ranatunga made sure Sri Lanka's mental strength;
or the lack of it, was a reason for success
But that is our very advantage against New Zealand. They are a side we are confident of beating. May it be a superover, or a last minute rescue by Angelo Mathews, or a century by Sangakkara, in recent times, Sri Lanka have somehow or the other, found a way of beating New Zealand. Even that ONE time they lost, in South Africa in the last edition of the Champions Trophy, Nuwan Kulasekara almost pulled off a heist with the bat.

The point is, this is the one game Sri Lanka can win. And Sri Lanka should win it. But time and time again, Sri Lanka keeps to fail to accomplish what it SHOULD do.

Cardiff offered spin, play Jeewan and Sachithra, keep Eranga out. 7 batsmen, 4 Pacies, 1 leggie, 1 offie. Sounds good enough to me. Emphasis on "me". Let's see what the big boys think, and how it plays.

Catch you after the game, until then;


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Best we could find

With less than 12 hours before the final edition of the Champion Trophy kicks off, I decided to piece together my long overdue thoughts about the selection and prospects of the Sri Lankan cricket team for the tournament. Don't get me wrong, they aren't long over due because people are expecting them. They are long over due because I've had the content for this article planned out in my head for way too long, but too lazy to write them down. First things first though, no one should expect Sri Lanka to win this tournament. Not even Angelo Mathews. That's just absurd, far-fetched and against all odds. Hoping for Sri Lanka to win this would be nothing but stupid. But that exactly what us fans do. We'd rather be stupid and loyal, than smart and logical.

In terms of selection, Sanath Jayasuriya and his boys have done an excellent job. The fifteen best players in the island today have been selected to the tournament. Ajantha Mendis, Akhila Dananjaya as spinners, Suranga Lakmal, Dhammika Prasad as pacies and Kapugedara and Tharanga as batsmen have been left out for obvious reasons of lack of performance, barring Akhila, who probably lost it to Sachithra Senanayake on experience and match practice or simply due to injury. Youngsters Kithruwan and Angelo Perera have been left out and sent off to West Indies with the A team, where they will have more opportunity than carrying drinks in England. Akhila missing out on that squad probably further strengthens the case that he is injured. If he is not, he is one of the only TWO mistakes made by the selection committee, with the first being Dilhara Lokuhettige.

Even Angelo Mathews knows better than to pick Sri Lanka
as favourites to win this trophy
Ask your selves, what do you do when your premier Left-arm paceman, who is generally a swing bowler who can capitalize on the English conditions, breaks down a week before the tournament? Do you; replace him with another quick who can swing it with the assistance of weather and the pitch, preferably another left armer, or do you go for a hard hitting all rounder who's bowling is as threatening as Lahiru Thirimanne's dibbly-dobbly-back-of-the-hand-wide-of-the-crease-Chris-Harrisers? Well, Sri Lanka's selection panel goes for the latter, for reasons that are beyond me. The fact that he got a quickfire 42 in the practice game, doesn't justify anything. If Welegedara wasn't injured, he wouldn't have got it anyway. But he would have gotten a couple of wickets. Or at least bowled for better figures than "1-0-18-0". What the hell kind of a replacement is that? The only way Lokuhettige's selection is justifiable is if he was flown in for hindsight cover for Mathews or Thisara, given their knack for breaking down towards the end of big tournaments; 2011 world cup and 2012 CB series come to mind. If they don't, Welegedara can sit at home and laugh at the TV screen saying; "Heck, here I was thinking I was the easiest person to replace in the team."

 Now for the prospects. Who are we facing? New Zealand, England and Australia, respectively, with the last two being day night games. Realistically, who are we actually facing? Mills, Southee, McClenaghan and Franklin. If their ODI series was anything to go by, that's right up there with the best pace attack in the group. Say we somehow, maybe Kusal or Dilshan puts them off early and the middle order digs in and somehow get past them, who do we face next? Anderson, Broad, Finn, Bresnan. Probably the 2nd best Test pace attack in the world, at the moment. Say somehow, Mahela and Chandimal's grit prevails and Thisara tonks a few out of the park and we get past them too. Where to then? Straight to face Johnson, Starc, Faulkener and Watson. Yeah yeah, we did beat them in Australia twice, but they did beat us twice too. The odds aren't looking too good, and we haven't even got to their batting yet. And our bowling is HORRID, to say the least.

Given all that is possible, Sri Lanka; namely Malinga, Kulasekara, Thisara, Eranga, Mathews, Herath or Sachithra will have to overcome the in-form Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Shane Watson, Jonathan Trott and Josh Buttler and the ever unpredictable Brendon McCullum, Eoin Morgan, David Warner, Mathew Wade and Glen Maxwell. And a dozen more batsmen I haven't even mentioned here. And did I even tell you about Michael Clarke? Yeah, he's a beast. 

And this is just to get past the group stage!

So if you are a Sri Lankan fan, don't put your money on Sri Lanka. Put your money on South Africa, or Pakistan. Or just South Africa. Because we all know what happens to people who put their money on Pakistan. I don't want to be legally responsible if any of you reading this end up going to jail with Salman Butt again. 

But we aren't just Sri Lankan fans. We are Sri Lankans. Therefore we hope. We hope that Kusal and Dilshan give us blistering starts. That Sanga and Mahela put on century stands every time they go out to bat. That Chandimal and Mathews take care of the run rate towards the end and that Thisara's big hits come off every time he wields the willow. That Herath's arm ball bamboozles every right hander. That Malinga's yorkers fall just where he intends them to. That Kula and Eranga bowl like fire and ice with swing and seam. 

All too dreamy. All too far-fetched. All too Sri Lankan. 

But in the end, if Sri Lanka won't make it, we will know it was because we weren't just good enough. That the other teams were actually better. Because this time, after a long time, the 15 men (I have made up my mind that Lokuhettige was the best of the worst), are the best we have to offer at this moment in time. And if they can't win, then that is as much as we can do about it.

So let's just cross our fingers, and hope for the best, like we always do.

Catch you before the first game against New Zealand in two days time.
Till then,


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Back to writing and ranting

It's been four months since I posted anything here due to being over-worked with my studies, and after seeing the back of my last semester exam, I'm free for another four months to combine the two things I enjoy the most; Cricket and Writing. A hell of a lot has happened since I last posted here and there's a bit of time before Sri Lanka start any international cricket, so let's use that time to catch up what I've missed for the past few months in the cricketing side our beautifully disfigured little island.

Sri Lanka ended the year 2012 in the lowest of lows, losing the boxing day test by an innings and another heap of runs. Then they went to Sydney for the new year's test and stumbled further to give away the series 3-0 to a limping Australian side, who literally walked all over Sri Lanka on one functional foot. The one-dayers gave more promise to us ever supportive fans, with Sri Lanka winning 2 and losing 2, and having almost won the series in Sydney before the rain and a questionable call by the match referee intervened. Then, under the captaincy of Angelo Mathews, the team took the two match T20 series 2-0, with the last game ending in a nail biter and also a bit of drama at the end involving Mathews, Mahela, Thisara Perera and Glen Maxwell. Although Sri Lanka were beaten, clobbered, stomped and humiliated for most part of the tour, the two T20 wins gave a much needed icing to a horribly cooked and burnt cake, which covered up for the mess which it in reality was.

At the end of that series, Mahela stepped down as the captain, once again vacating the spot at the right time for him self and the team. Sadly, this time his predecessor does not seem as capable enough as the first, to lead an under performing, talented yet mentally fragile bunch of individuals and to mould them in to a fit, strong, fighting team. The task is a lot harder, and the fact that the leader is below par doesn't help the cause at all either. 

The lack of team work, tactics, strategy and guile was show cased in the Test series against Bangladesh which followed. Sri Lanka struggled to get a grip of the first test, on a road of a track. The roads that lead to the ground probably looked less levelled and flat and hard as much as the one that was laid at the centre of it. Then they struggled to win the second and last one, but managed to scrape through with the help of an ageing Rangana Herath, who at the end of the test had a look as if to say, "Getting real tired of your sh**, guys. Time to find more bowlers to win you games, or else just name a team with 10 batsman and me." The revamp of the selection panel although, which now included Sanath Jayasuriya, Hashan Tilakaratne and Promodya Wickramasinghe seemed to have paid off, with the inclusion of fresh blood in to the team which had started to look like a gathering of grumpy old men by the end of the Australian tour, with most of the young guns performing, exceeding expectations, with the exception of a few.

With the inclusion of new faces in to the team, seniors such as Mahela, Thilan and Prasanna had to sit out, which had meant that Test specialist Thilan would have to wait till the December of 2013 to be in Sri Lanka colours again, prompting him to retire from international cricket and pursue a career in County. Just as many of his batting records, his retirement too went unnoticed, with a few reminders here and there that he had retired from the game. And just as he had done so many times in the past, he had come to the crease, accumulated runs swiftly, made a score that supported the team to get in to a strong position, and had left when it was time to go. Quite a fitting end, to the over achieving, under rated, off spinning prodigy that was once ear marked to replace Muttiah Muralitharan in the Sri Lanka team, who ended up making a name for himself as Sri Lanka's wall, a position which did not exist in the Sri Lankan test line up until he had established it, and a position which will not be existing as of now, after his retirement. 

The end of the Bangladesh Series summed up two careers. Thilan's "I'll just handle my side of business and leave unnoticed", and Herath's "I have to do everything on my own around here." Both of which were pleasing, heart warming as well as fear inducing when thinking about the future.

A lot more has happened since then. The IPL has started. All three Sri Lankan captains have faltered. Apart from Malinga, Thisara and suprisingly Sachithra Senanayake, every other Sri Lankan player has looked out of place. More on that on my next post, along with a preview for the Champion's Trophy.

Nice to be back here again,
Honestly, feels like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.
Until the next post;