A tale of two teams

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During the 2015 World Cup, Sri Lanka had been given one hell of a schedule. Angelo Mathews’ side had to frequently shuttle between the Tasman Sea during that campaign. For example, on Sunday they would play Afghanistan in Dunedin, the southernmost city in New Zealand and four days later were taking on Bangladesh at the MCG in Australia. Then three days after that they were taking on England in Wellington, New Zealand and the next day were flying back to Sydney to play hosts Australia. Such scheduling was tough on the players and SLC did little to raise the point.

Readers would have no idea about the hardships the players had to go through. With both countries heavily relying on farming, the quarantine laws are extremely strict and sportsmen especially have to ensure that their boots are cleaned thoroughly before going to the airport or else they would get into trouble. So literally after every game, the players would spend hours in the wash room to ensure that their boots were spotless.

Read more : Time for Upul Chandana to take charge

Soon after Sri Lanka’s big win against Bangladesh in Melbourne, the team had to fly back to New Zealand to play England and at the post-match presentation Man of the Match Tillakaratne Dilshan was accompanied by team manager Michael De Zoysa. After all the questioning to Dilshan was over, one journalist asked Michael how tough it was for his team to shuttle between Australia and New Zealand frequently. Michael, a good sport, is never one to mince his words. Tongue in cheek he said, ‘Well it is tough no doubt. But it doesn’t matter. Three days later we are playing England and England as you know is a bye’.  

The press laughed because England had little clue how to play the 50 over format at that point and unsurprisingly they failed to make it to the quarter-finals of the tournament . At Wellington, they were smashed by Sri Lanka by nine wickets despite doing well to post 309 for six in their 50 overs. Big hundreds by Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkara helped Sri Lanka to secure the easy win. England had little clue how to stop the run flow.

But three years on, these teams have gone in complete different directions. England today are the world’s number one ranked team and Sri Lanka are placed eighth in the official ICC Rankings. Sri Lanka are on the verge of suffering another series defeat and if not for rain, dare we say, this could have been another whitewash.

Something went wrong somewhere for sure. When Sri Lanka fed England humble pie in that World Cup fixture in windy Wellington, the national cricket team had a good mixture of youth and experience. The bulk of the responsibility rested on the broad shoulders of the big three – Sanga, Mahela and Dilshan. But the team also had Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne and Dimuth Karunaratne. Among the three of them, at present, one has completely faded away, the other only plays Test cricket while Chandimal is the captain of the ODI side by default.

Read more :Chandimal’s poisoned chalice

The 2015 World Cup saw a brilliant counterattack by Chandimal. A 53-ball century by Glenn Maxwell had propelled Australia to a formidable 376 in front of a sell-out crowd at the SCG. Kumar Sangakkara posted his third century in a row but it was Chandimal who took the Aussies by surprise as Sri Lanka went down fighting.

Chandimal charging down to Mitchell Johnson, who constantly clocked 145kmph that day and driving him through extra-cover was a sight to watch. When skipper Michael Clarke sought protection in that area by sending the mid-off fielder wider, Chandimal would charge down again and drive the bowler past the vacant mid-off area. It was fairytale stuff. Not since the heydays of Sanath Jayasuriya, had a Sri Lankan batsman treated one of the world’s quickest bowlers with such disdain. His 52 came off just 24 balls.

But someone down the line after that World Cup messed with the games of these young players. The freedom with which they played the game was thrown out of the window as Sri Lanka started pursuing more theory than substance. The results have been devastating. The onus is on Chandika Hathurusingha to fix the problem and allow players to play with the freedom that they used to.

Read more : Sri Lankan cricket at crossroads

One of the success stories of Sri Lankan cricket is that the excellent coaches we had over the years didn’t tamper with the technique of the players too much and accepted them as they are. Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga are all prime examples of that.

Since 2015 the national cricket team became more conventional. Sri Lanka failed to move with the times.

There’s no point in telling Niroshan Dickwella not to play the scoop or reverse sweep. Those shots are his bread and butter. After all, the man who lives by the sword has to die by the sword.

It took England less than three years to become the world’s number one ranked team from a side that had little hope. Most guys who suffered that heavy defeat in Wellington that day like Morgan, Root, Buttler, Bairstow, Moeen and Woakes are part of the current side as well. So there’s no requirement for knee jerk reaction. Just a bit of tinkering and proper planning will help them to achieve desired results.