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,