Cricketing defeat - should be an eye opener

Sri Lankan cricketer Mahela Jayawardene (R) with his wife Christine (2R) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (L) with wife Manjula (2L) arrive at a tea party hosted at the Presidential residence in Colombo on April 4, 2011. Sri Lanka lost to India by six wickets in a thrilling World Cup final on April 2, in Mumbai. - Getty Image
by Dr. Nimal Chandrasena

(April 07, Sydney -Australia, Sri Lanka Guardian) Given the subjugation by India at the recent ICC World Cup Final (or was it wanton capitulation?), many Sri Lankans appear to console themselves by saying how great cricket ambassadors our cricketers have been. I have personally received several messages from friends, saying ‘not to stress out too much’, but accept being beaten by a better team ‘on the day’. I am sorry, I beg to differ in my assessment, and will go further to say that the match typifies some problems apparent in Sri Lanka’s cricketing world.

You, as selectors, are largely responsible for giving Kumar Sangakkara, a Team that he could not win with. Therefore, the defeat was of your making, rather than the fault of those who tried hard in the field.
As a Sri Lankan, I delight in watching the Indian team, their fans and the fanatical passion with which they play. Most would acknowledge that the Indian team was by far the most talented group of cricketers and individuals, man-to-man, traipsing the tournament; they were always going to be the team to beat, this time round.

However, Sri Lanka played well to recover and had a winning total on that day (thanks to a few), and then gave the match away. Not only was India allowed to recover, re-build and punch their way out of trouble, much to our dismay, they were allowed to finish it off spectacularly!

We did that by being wilfully naïve from the outset, lacking intent and commitment to win, almost as if - having reached the Final - it did not matter ! In any other sporting contest, this would be sacrilege.
I am not interested in recriminations against the Team, but would like to provide an analysis of what I think went wrong. Being pragmatic, I know that no matter what the cricketing public and fans say, you will not take much notice. But, the intention of this critique is to let you know that cricket tragics, like myself, do care about winning, and are not fools!

I make the following points:

1. It was reckless on your part to make four changes to a team that had done well up to that point, despite the’ soft underbelly’ (middle order batting), which often threatened to, and nearly unravelled, the campaign. Did you think that having four fresh sets of legs would make a difference? If that were the case, how do you justify Murali’s playing?

2. Those of us, who watched every ball, knew that both Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis had done enough through the campaign to warrant selection. In fact, these two senior spinners should have been able to ‘make up’ for any shortcoming that Murali may have had, due to the latter’s niggling injury.

3. To the cricket fans, it was amply clear that both Herath and Mendis were ‘in form’ and had been effective in using the width of the crease, flight, and the odd mesmerising delivery to choke opponents. Perhaps, you never watched, like we did ! In short, both of the senior spinners, barring injuries, should have played. Instead, we played the legendary, yet injured, spinner !! Watching Murali bowl that day was an agony itself. Those legendary fingers and the rubbery wrist were not working that day. More importantly, the renowned ‘killer look’ and intent in his eyes were missing, and I knew that we were in trouble. In no other cricketing nation would an injured bowler play in such a crucial match. Did you not consider that it was a crucial match, worth winning?

4. In my view, many Sri Lankan and Indian players are good at playing spin; that is those who move their feet and are not afraid to leave the crease. To sell us the story that it was a seamers wicket was really hogwash. Whatever India did, we should have maintained our spin combination of Murali (if you really wanted to give him his swan song), Herath, Mendis, who could have been effective on that wicket.

5. The introduction of a mediocrity – Suraj Randiv – was a total disaster, something that the cricket fans like us will never forgive you selectors for. He was out of match practice, and had nothing to offer in nine overs of rubbish! Compare him with the mesmerising effects of Saeed Ajmal (a specialist off-spinner) and Mohammed Hafeez (a batsman, cum off-spinner). Over several weeks of the tournament, the two Pakistanis reminded us what a good off-spinner could do. Whose bright idea was it to bring in and play at the last minute a player like Randiv, who lacks variety and is fundamentally mediocre? He was not good enough to be in the original squad; yet was considered suitable to play in the Final! India’s batsmen must have had a laugh.

6. One of the most puzzling aspects of the Sri Lankan team selection was the omission of a truly great player – Chaminda Vass. Were you not aware that Chaminda Vaas was easily 2010's 'T20 Player of the Year' in the English summer, named as such only in October 2010? The English appreciated his performances and prowess with both bat and ball. But you guys failed to notice his potential value as a left arm seamer in the Sub-continent. In the end when he was called in, he was not played ! A superbly fit Chaminda should have been in the original squad, and perhaps even Vice-Captain. Hadn’t he done enough with his sweat and blood to deserve some recognition ?

7. Kumar Sangakkara displayed a certain lack of intent, inventiveness and the fierce desire to win on that day. Kumar is such a popular figure in Sri Lanka (quite rightly), because he has done so much to lift our image in the World – that criticizing him also appears sacrilegious to some Sri Lankans! In my assessment, his hands were tied by your selections. The outcome was evident about half way of the Indian inning. Kumar made a number of inexplicable mistakes, including the non-bowling of Malinga at the death.

8. You continue to persevere with Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva and Chamara Kapugedera. All three have now been given enough opportunities, over more than five years. They simply lack the natural talent of a Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay and quite a number of young Indians. These people should be replaced by others who have the ingredients missing in them –namely, natural talent (i.e. footwork and hand-eye coordination).

9. Planning is such an essential part of the modern game. India’s planning and build up has been spectacular. Sri Lanka’s planning is also seemingly notable, but until and unless you make selections largely on merit and have the capacity to override any undue influences, Sri Lanka’s cricket will remain in this second class level for ever.

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