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.


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