Sri Lanka was expected to struggle after the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena. Fans knew that the results won’t be in the affirmative. The team was expected to make mistakes and learn from them. A barren period had already been predicted.
But the performance of the team is still demoralizing. It’s not the results that are hurting the fans, so much as the way the team is performing. The Sri Lankan brand of cricket is known for its uninhibited, undercooked, undaunted style of cricket which was let lose in the 1996 World Cup. But the conservative and fretful approach this young team has adopted has appalled every Sri Lankan cricket fan.
The over-cautious approach (which is actually a euphemism for skittishness) has forced the team to lose from a position of strength throughout 2015. The two times the team played as if there was no tomorrow, they ended up winning a test that was already lost and notched up 368, their highest score during the last five years in ODIs.
They seem to be bereft of a proper game plan too. They seem to be bowling just because they are supposed to bowl and they bat only because they have to until they get out. The team lacks a plan. The players are divested of a role. The team doesn’t make a move with a goal in mind, but instead a move is made hoping that something would happen.
So is Sri Lanka going down the insidious path of the West Indies? Is there any way by which they can get back on track? If so, how are they going to do it?
The long goodbye
As teams are looking to build a team for the 2019 World Cup, Sri Lanka is still unable to say goodbye to both Rangana Herath and Tillakaratne Dilshan. A team that is winning matches can justify not wanting to risk losing games. But should a team that is constantly losing games be worried about the lack of experience in the team? Isn’t it better to lose with youngsters than losing with seniors?
Dhanushka Gunathilake was ignored for a very long time, in the face of him scoring bountiful of runs for the Sri Lanka A team. Had Kusal Perera not been banned, he most likely would not have opened the batting for Sri Lanka. Why is that a 39-year-old opener, though still performing for the team, more important than a promising, talented young opening batsman? Shouldn’t this team be building an eleven for the next World Cup instead of trying to fulfil short term goals which would have no relevance when the World Cup comes in another three years?
Herath is still a match winner. But even with his presence, Sri Lanka don’t seem like winning matches. So isn’t investing on a youngster during this barren period a better wager? Why is the management worried too much about the immediate future while being oblivious to long-term goals? Didn’t that strategy backfire in the 2015 World Cup when Sri Lanka failed miserably after having a rampant 2014?
No permanency within the Sri Lankan team
The stark reality of the Sri Lankan team is that no player, barring a few, has a permanent position within the team. With every series comes new combinations and new plans. In one series you find Angelo Mathews batting at number four and Dinesh Chandimal batting at number five, in another series, you find them with their positions swapped. Shehan Jayasuriya was Sri Lanka’s number seven during the series against West Indies in ODIs, but for no reasons he was dropped and Kapugedera was seen batting at his position against New Zealand.
The management and the selectors are merely taking pot luck in finding the right combination. They juggle the team hoping that they would accidentally hit the right chord. They are too hasty with the youngsters. The time most youngsters seem to have to prove themselves seem to be really short.
A game plan that isn’t there
Against New Zealand in the first test, the Sri Lankan batsmen were too defensive that they played more overs than the home team and still ended up on the losing side. To compensate for their apathy, they were too aggressive in the second test, often bordering on arrogance, and this resulted in them getting bundled out for 133 in the second innings. 4 of the top 7 got out playing a shot that wasn’t necessary.
What can be inferred from this is that the team is not really sure about the approach that they should adopt as a team. Not every player can be defensive, and not every player can be aggressive. Each player should be assigned a role and every individual should have their own game plans which would be a part of the holistic team plan. What is obvious from Sri Lanka’s recent performance is that the management is yet to figure out the right approach for the team.
A slow decline or light at the end of the tunnel?
Mathews has repeatedly shown that he is not as strong as Sangakkara or Jayawardene was. The team is fret with players who are skittish and demoralized. Jerome Jayaratne, after he assumed duties, told the media that the players were afraid of dropping catches which dissuaded them from being effective in the field. A cursory appraisal would lay bare the fact that this abjection has pervaded almost every discipline in the team.
As is the case with everything, the first step to finding a solution to this problem is to admit that there is a problem. Sri Lanka needs to look at the future and build a team that can consistently win matches in another two years’ time. The selectors should pick horses for causes and find the right batter for a particular position instead of picking up the best batsmen in the country and trying to fit them in seven different positions. Each player should be selected for a particular role and should be persisted with at least for 20 straight matches.
The team should also ditch its over-cautious approach and adopt an aggressive strategy which, in fact, has worked well for the team last year.
England is a perfect example for Sri Lanka. The English team has shown how a mere change in decision making and attitude can have a telling effect in the performance of a team. One can safely state that there is a revolution in cricket in England and the management has thrown their old school, conservative approach away and has embraced a diligent, more-pragmatic, avant-garde approach, and the results are there to be seen in the team.
However, West Indies are also a deterring example for Sri Lanka. The Caribbeans have shown how a financially frail board, fret with political tensions and poor management can do to a bunch of talented individuals.
Sri Lanka has two paths ahead of itself. One is the path of the English which will put Sri Lanka back on track at least by the end of this year. The other is the path of the West Indies which will slowly erode Sri Lanka Cricket and ultimately lead to the apocalypse.
Need of the hour
The need of the hour for Sri Lanka Cricket is a healthy team management that can pick a team of youngsters and throw its weight behind them perpetually, and then you will see the real Sri Lanka stepping up.
Chandimal has found his form back. Milinda Siriwardana has proved his match-winning abilities. Dhanushka Gunathilake has shown Sri Lanka would keep on producing aggressive, left-handed openers. Dushmantha Chameera is hypersonic. Dhammika Prasad was the highest wicket taker in tests for Sri Lanka last year. There is an assurance in Thirimanne’s batting. Jeffrey Vandersay looks as if he can play a big role in the team. The ingredients are great. What Sri Lanka needs is a good recipe and a better cook.