New Zealand vs Sri Lanka 2018-19: Do Sri Lanka even bother anymore?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of Sri Lankan cricket. And by that, of course, I mean I loved to hate Sangakkara and Jayawardene, Murali and Chaminda slice through everything I cared about. When Malinga burst on the scene I was the first to criticise his stupid hair in one breath, whispering gasping praises with another.
Even when the old men retired to crab restaurants and coaching gigs, I held on for dear life, shouting empty admiration for Angelo and Chandimal. They told me I was crazy. They threw bricks through my window. They had a licensed therapist certify that I was delusional. And still, I endured.
I held on to the rain-affected draw at Lord’s, the series win over Australia, the Champions Trophy victory against Kohli’s juggernaut. I treasured these things like the new dawn. Kusal Mendis was going to be the next Mahela. A hundred Tests for sure. Dickwella would calm down and be the next Sanga. And Lakmal, oh boy, after that performance in South Africa, he was going to be my Steyn, McGrath and Bond all bundled up. I even thought he’d find a decent barber. Such was my hope for Sri Lanka. The minnows that had risen above their stock, sans proper administration, facilities or financial resources, they’d do what Sri Lanka does best: find a way.
Or so I thought.
Let’s recap the last few months. The board told their best batsman that he was fat, and couldn’t play. They got knocked out of the Asia Cup, where they finished third out of a group of Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The selection committee, after being rehauled not that long back, was rehauled again. The great coach who was going to fly in from Bangladesh and give everyone the tough love they needed to remember how to score runs and take wickets, has inspired exactly zero Sri Lankan cricketers to do anything of the sort. Worst of all, they lost to England at home.
England, as a team, as a country and as a culture, know nothing of either bowling or playing spin. Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali are a great pair of dudes, and I would totally watch a sitcom where they have to live in a rowdy university dorm due to a housing mismatch, but they’re just not Test quality spin bowlers. And those batsmen weren’t that good.
The point I’m trying to make is that Sri Lanka were good at two things: manufacturing turning tracks where <insert spinner’s name here> could go wild and take <insert ridiculous number> wickets, and playing India so often that the players knew Indian immigration officers on a first-name basis. Now, with another India series distant, and a 3-0 loss to England at home, they have nothing.
Oh, and let’s not forget the new corruption story that comes out of the cursed island. Jayasuriya’s in hot water, who isn’t at the SLC anymore. Earlier, we were talking about a broken first-class system, issues in coaching and other generic mumblings during an ebb. Now we’re going through selectors like Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends, throwing away wickets like they’re postcards a Jehovah’s Witness gave you and the worst bit of it all is that we look so unsexy doing it.
Now in 2017, by no stretch of the imagination a stellar year for the Lankans, the team at least had some wristy concoctions of Sandakan, Lahiru was bowling pace like fire, Dickwella was on his knees Dilscooping and Mendis was just about as languid as a new Lamborghini.
Angelo was there for that musky, old-man hard-fought innings that had the tragics oozing from all parts, Chameera sprayed it but looked damn good doing it. They had boshers and bashers and cantankerous turners and said interesting things to journalists. They went from horrible loss to era-defining win, inspiring hope, only to snatch it away at the last second. Last year, I wrote a piece lamenting the good old days of 2014, when the team could last call itself a decent cricket outfit.
But here we are in 2018, nearing to a bleak 2019 and all I want is the good old days of 2017. Partially due to jet-lag and partially due to a deep masochistic urge that makes me want to keep watching this bumbling gang of losers, I’m awake at 3:30 in the morning. It’s torture. The commentary team is bored.
Kane Williamson has scored the world’s easiest 91. Tom Latham is giggling his way to a double hundred. Now I’m not remotely suggesting that the Sri Lankan attack is toothless. Oh wait, I totally am. Lahiru ‘the enforcer’ Kumara, is bowling mid-130s. Lakmal is being penetrative and what is a Kasun Rajitha. If the universe had to design a man least apt for the seductive art of fast bowling, it would choose Rajitha. Yuck.
And let’s not even start on the fact that Angelo Mathews, the guy bowling legitimately slower than most good club-level bowlers, is their first-change. I mean, c'mon. This isn’t even to mention the shocking paucity of wily spin. I keep saying this, Sri Lanka. Karunaratne, Angelo and Dickwella scored some runs, sure. But honestly, at this point, on a pitch where Bangladesh eased 500-odd, that’s just not good enough.
We knew they were going to lose. Not just in New Zealand. They’re going to get hammered in Australia, which is going to be annoying because nobody should be letting this Australian team win and South Africa is going to be an abject disaster. Let’s just admit it. It’s not one of those situations where you can cause an upset. Test cricket rarely works that way, and never when the difference in levels is this stark.
Frankly, it’s not the losing I’m worried about. Sri Lanka have lost plenty of Tests, and they always will lose games of cricket. They’re a small fish in a game full of sharks. What bothers me is the fact that when they used to lose earlier, they used to fight and scrap and go down in a giant fireball of glory. The island would curse and scream and fight and swear.
The bars are empty, the crowds are waning, the TVs don’t have the game on. The screams are replaced with a resigned “ehh”, the silver linings are a dullish grey because deep down we know that this lull is going to be a while.