Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Year of the Carnivore

Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, 1st Test, Christchurch 

Prior to 2014, Sri Lanka had only won two Test series away from the sub-continent; New Zealand in 1995 and England (One-off Series) in 1998. They had only won ONE world cup, the famous win in 1996. Apart from a few Tests here and there, drawing series in West Indies, Pakistan, and England, a sole test win in South Africa, and a gazillion world cup finals, Sri Lanka had not impressed the international cricketing arena to the extent they could have since the turn of the century. They had missed the ruthlessness to finish off sides, or tournaments; for that matter, and had been labelled the perennial Bridesmaids of cricket. They were omnivores; hunting, but more often than not, being hunted.

That was until in 2014, which started with Angelo Mathews re-surging the Test team to rally around him to carry them to a win on the 4th of January in the UAE. But in typical Sri Lankan style, he gave away the advantage gained by the 1-0 lead by losing the next test with shamefully negative cricket. Going from 1-0, to 1-1 was something Sri Lankan fans were more than uses to, therefore it hadn't rung any alarms at that point. Soon, all that was about to change.

In a tournament where Sri Lanka had been in every final apart from the 2012 edition, Sri Lanka defeated Pakistan in the final to win their first Asia Cup since 2008. Then in even more dramatic and emotional fashion, they bid farewell to their greatest cricketing duo of all time; Sanga and Mahela in the T20 format, by winning the 2014 World T20. A world title had eluded them for a period of 7 years between 2007 and 2014, where they had taken part in 4 world cup Finals. Then they traveled to England, where they huffed and puffed with the bat and ball and sometimes even with the DRS to crawl to a draw at Lord's, and then came back with the flashing blade of Angelo Mathews and the screaming, bulging eyes of Dhammika Prasad, and one final, carefully placed short square leg and a perfectly directed bouncer from Shaminda Eranga to conjure up a win at Headingley.

Sri Lanka had transformed, from being the hard working mediocre team that can surprise you every now and then, to the ruthless, efficient unit that can win tournaments consistently. They had gone from triers, to achievers. From the hunted, to the hunter. When ever they were ruthless, they had won. When they had dominated, they had not let the advantage slip. May it be Thirimanne's twin centuries at the Asia Cup, or Herath bowling out New Zealand with almost wizardly craftsmanship at the WorldT20, or Angelo Mathews hitting back to back centuries in England, the one in Headingley perhaps the most influential and career defining century by a Sri Lankan in a Test, or even Dinesh Chandimal and Suranga Lakmal coming back in to the side and helping to topple England at home, the Sri Lanka of 2014 had transformed itself into a team that churns out wins, not just "competitive performances". 

After the Asia Cup, World T20, and then Headingley,
Sri Lanka Cricket has turned around from being the team that"Should have won"
to "The winning team"!
They did have their fair share of losses. Sri Lanka's 2014 was not a complete world domination. Not even close. When ever they had not taken their best team on a tour, or had played under-par cricket, they were revised of the lesson they had learnt so well; Hunt, or be hunted. AB De Villiers, Dale Steyn and South Africa along with Rohit-264-Sharma and India had shown them that the team that is willing to be ruthless will be the team that is more likely to win. From a Sri Lankan perspective, 2014 was the year they had metamorphed into a world beating unit. A ruthless team, which will beat you down given the slightest opening. It was the year they went from being the hunted, to the hunter. It was their Year of the Carnivore.

Come 26th of December, Sri Lanka will write their final journal entry for 2014, and they would like that entry to be a reflection of what they have achieved in the past 12 months. New Zealand probably are the toughest opponents they face this year, in the toughest conditions. The pitch at the new Christchurch ground looks greener than the vegetable station at a Green Earth organic product store. New Zealand's last visitors, India and West Indies, were both beaten comprehensively, with the aid of such wickets and bowlers like Southee, Boult, and Wagner who know how to exploit those wickets to extract victories from them. Sri Lanka know all too well about what Southee and Boult can do. With some coaching tips from Chaminda Vaas, the then rookie duo of Boult and Southee bowled New Zealand to a famous test victory in Sri Lanka only last year.

But a lot has happened since then. Lead by Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka has become a tougher, stronger travelling team, with more venom in their pace attack than ever before. They have the world's best test batsman and the best test all-rounder, and the highest test wicket taker of the year. Above all, they have gained the confidence and the attitude needed to be a dominating side in 5 day cricket, and Christchurch provides the perfect audience for them to prove to the world that England-2014, Asia Cup-2014 and the WorldT20-2014 were not flukes, that 2014 all together was not a series of co-incidences. For it is their Year of the Carnivore, and this is the time to be ruthless and merciless.

On a different non-cricketing note, the Year of the Carnivore was a budget sex-comedy that introduced the mother from "How I met your Mother", Cristin Milioti to the silver screen in 2009. Her acting career had never been the same since then. And five years later, Sri Lanka's 2014 could well have been defined as a budget-sex-comedy that introduced Angelo Mathews to the Test Cricketing World, and changed the course of Sri Lanka's cricket in a significantly positive direction. The credits have started to roll on 2014 and there's one last post-credits scene to be watched.

Until the post-credit scene begins tomorrow,

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