Sri Lanka's Test cricket movie - same script, different casts
Every cloud has a silver lining, it is said. But Sri Lanka’s cloud seems to have no end. Sri Lankan fans have got used to seeing the same paradigm being executed, re-executed and re-re-executed over and over again like a movie played on a loop.
A batting collapse to start with, forcing either Sangakkara or Angelo Mathews salvage the sinking glory, with Chandimal joining the repair crew lately, a meek surrender by the tail, seemers striking early and then a couple of opposing batsmen getting off the hook and running away with the game.
Ever since the longtime director of the Sri Lankan movie retired, the new director in charge seems to have run out of new scripts. The play button was hit in New Zealand and the pause button is yet to be hit, let alone the stop button.
Sri Lankans on the field have looked like Ebola stricken for some time. Sangakkara looks like a kindergarten teacher who is tired of telling the kids not to shout. Perhaps, he might do better with a cane.
Herath runs after the ball like a granddad running after his grandson. Jogging after the ball only because, in case if it stops in front of the boundary line, it might need a collector. Jehan Mubarak was touted to have the ability to make it into any side as a specialist fielder by Jonty Rhodes, but it is not clear as to where he hides in the field.
The fielders field as if they are doing a favor to the team by languishing in the sun, often looking at the fans sitting in the shamianas, envyingly. They chase balls, only because the cameras are panning at them.
Mathews stands at slip as if he is rehearsing for the role of a robot in a Hollywood feature film. Dropped catches aren’t rued, because that has become habitual. Perhaps, if taken, he might be wonderstruck. There is always a leg slip even for the slow left-armer, placed like a mouse trap for a mouse that is never there.
Herath seems to have run out of spells. He averages 148.66, since Mahela’s retirement, often bowling with the expression that tells Mathews, “this is the most I can give you, for the kind of field you set me”. Dammikka Prasad seems to be the only one who really wants to play, pulling the Lankan chariot all by himself.
None of the Lankan fielders want the ball in their hand. Instead, they wish the ball would swerve away from them. They wistfully wait for the batsmen to make mistakes and that is how they have broken partnerships. They don’t want to send a strong message to the oppositions, nor do they want to show intent. They would be happy if the batsmen reach out to them, smile and hand over their wickets.
The dully fielding
In the 4 matches without Mahela, the close in fielders have never come into play. The silly mid-on which used to descend in to the scene, now and then, has bid adieu along with the former captain.
Mathews doesn’t set a field that would put pressure on batsmen, and spinners’ only option of picking wickets is by either getting the batters out bowled or caught in front. The only thing a batsman need to do to get a single is to get bat on ball. Mathews must be the most philanthropic of all the active captains.
When Dolby digital was brought into cricket for the very first time, the Sri Lankan fielders made the producers halt it, thanks to their raucous appeal and incessant chirping. Many a times has Mahela been fined for excessive appealing. Now, it seems, even if they announce an award for appealing, Sri Lanka would be left with no winners.
In contrast, Indians were raucous, if not bellicose. In the first innings, when Kohli noticed that Dammikka Prasad was comfortable dining on his front foot, he placed a man right underneath the batsman’s nose. Prasad would camp on his back foot and get rapped on his pads.
In the 3rd innings, a silly point was in place for Dimuth Karunaratne dissuading him from going forward. Ashwin would soon run through his gate as the batsman pushed, rooted to the crease. That’s how wickets are picked. That’s how test matches are played. That’s why test matches are loved.
Kohli placed 5 men around the bat for Kaushal Silva. The pressure, thus created, got the better of Silva. He is the second best player of spin in the side. However, Sri Lanka were already one down, and with only a handful of overs to go for stumps, Silva was aimless. He lost focus. He lost his concentration. He mind went blank as he fired blank at a googly. This is precisely how you force a batsman to make a mistake. That’s exactly how you extort wickets.
On the other hand, even Ishant Sharma was given a benign field by Sri Lanka. Get out, if you really need to, was the message as only two men stood closer and more than once the ball went into where silly point would have been. The pitch when Sri Lanka bowled looked flat, because the team was flat. Their laidback, lethargic apathy, let India walkway with a mammoth lead, much like how the French let the German walk into Paris in the Second World War.
Mathews merits criticisms
The whole team should not and cannot bear the brunt for one man’s insaneness. 6 months ago, the Indian team faced the same criticisms. At the helm was Dhoni, insinuating he doesn’t have the right team to attack with. Under Kohli, however, they are spitting poison. A perfect example of what sheer positivity can do to a team.
The batsmen of Sri Lanka have been tantamount to a vagrant. They have no intent or purpose. They are there to bat well and that’s all what is said to them. We want to bat well, bowl well and field well- that’s exactly what Mathews speaks of in press conferences- the kind of tautologies that will even have toddlers dozing. They bat without a target in my mind, wanting to bat as long as they can. They bowl without set plans, hoping fate would collude against the batsmen. That’s not how you play test cricket.
Mathews and Chandimal played the Indian spinners really well, because they took them on. They were not ready to be consumed by the turn of events, instead, they wanted to hold sway. They didn’t want to be controlled. They wanted to control. This is how the rest of the batsmen should have batted.
At one end, you have a captain who is breathing fire. At the other end you find Mathews, snuffling with a running nose. He doesn’t seem to have added anything new to his list of tactics as body line seems to be his last resort. You have two contrasting styles of captaincy- one parading how test cricket should be played, the other, how not to.
Chandimal seems to be the best of the new batch but still the management wants him to bat at number seven. Twice he has run out of partners in the recent test matches, and the management does not seem like maximizing his ability. Mathews has never done justice to his place in the first slip and no one has even batted an eye at it.
The ignored weakness
The gaping chinks in the armour have been thrown into limbo while the coach takes potshot at the bowling department. Chaminda Vass was initially sacked on Marvan’s request and in the recent ODI series, the Lankan coach accused Lasith Malinga’s excess weight as a cause for defeat. The batsmen’s inability to bat well consistently, however, has been ignored since 2014.
The only time the team batted with purpose, grittiness and mettle was in England way back in 2014, when the team had Chris Adams as a batting consultant. Marvan Atapattu as a coach looks uninspired. He doesn’t have the capacity to spur a team on. Mathews is no different. In the T20 match against Pakistan, Dilshan was seen discoursing a motivational monologue as the youngsters around him ardently listened. The game was lost but the players were hurt. Hearts were broken and tears were shed- signs of a team that hates to lose.
Contrast that with the blithe of the test team. Snatching victory from the flannelled men is like nabbing a candy from a kid. Yet, they are oblivious to mistakes, perhaps, they have become immune to it. Success comes with attitude and the test team has no such thing.
The dying, neverending hope
I don’t know how long the fans should put up with seeing the same mistakes repeated on end and the matches lost to the same script. Mathews speaks of being positive and being aggressive in front of microphones and that’s all what he does.
It is easy to succumb to thinking that Mathews has the right ideas, but they are nearly hollow words. He might end up being a rival to the campaigns of the politicians running for the general elections with his faux words.
Yes, the team is in transition but the teams we have lost to are no different. The board needs to send the team a strong message. Perhaps, by trying to groom another captain by Mathew’s side.
Sri Lanka has almost lost this Test match. They might very well lose the other two, too- a bonus whitewash for the voluntary whitewash accrued in 2014. The change in the management is becoming more and more necessary with every series.
Marvan Atapattu’s contract ends in September. But Mathews doesn’t seem to have a competitor. Maybe the rise of Chandimal would fill the obvious shortcomings in leadership, but that’s too far away for the time being, until then let the same story be retold again and again and the same rant be grumbled until it becomes a cliché.