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.