What’s in the way of the Lion’s Roar?

192
Sri Lanka Cricket

As of 19th October 2017, Sri Lanka Cricket’s record in ODIs for the year 2017 stands at 4 wins 1 no result and a staggering 18 losses.

Free Hit Contributor – Sachitha Wijeyeratne

This is incidentally the worst win-loss record by a top 8 nation (no disrespect to Bangladesh or Zimbabwe) in a calendar year ever. This is easily the worst run of records Sri Lanka Cricket has ever had to endure since joining the elites as a full member back in 1982. Crushing 5-0 whitewashes on tour to the Proteas and at home to the Indians were compounded by a drawn series at home to Bangladesh and in my personal view, the nadir, losing 3-2 to the Zimbabweans at home; a team to whom we had not even lost an ODI at home before.

The record itself is indeed perplexing given that although the team has had an ‘acceptable’ record in both Tests and T20Is this year, ODIs are the format in which the Sri Lankans have generally remained competitive and for the better part of the last two decades a dominant force in. Even playing our part in revolutionising the game at various junctures of the game, it was as if ODIs were made for us. The situation is indeed dire and has resulted in tensions simmering over amongst the fans who made their displeasure quite clear during the home series against India.

Although there does not seem to be any single overwhelming factor in this alarming deterioration I’m sure we can all agree on few of the following factors at play at the poor performance.

Lack of wins under the belt

Winning is a habit, but so is losing. With the ‘L’s racking up in the most recently played list, player morale is at an all-time low and it has a snowballing effect. Gone are the days of stunning comebacks or even going down fighting. All too familiar is the sudden capitulations on the batting front and the lower order rearguards against our bowling (SL vs Pak CT17, SL vs India 2nd ODI, SL vs Pak 2nd ODI). A leading sports psychologist hired by the SLC to address the team’s inability to clear the ‘Finals’ hurdles of 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012 had famously commented saying the Sri Lankan Cricket team was the mentally weakest of all sports teams he had worked with. Maybe that elusive win which will turn our fortunes is right around the corner but till then the team is in a deep rut.

Batting

Can’t really single out anything in this department as the whole batting unit seems to be missing in action (save for a few opening salvos within the batting powerplay). In an age when scores in excess of 300 are regularly posted and gunned down, Sri Lanka actually has regressed, this coming from the land where the art of aggressive and belligerent batsmanship was initially refined and then perfected. Whilst the rest of the cricketing world has upped the ante, Sri Lanka has seemingly put the gear into reverse by actually posting a lower average total count than the preceding years. Although have been some bright opening cameos by the openers Niroshan Dickwella, Dhanushka Gunathilaka and Upul Tharanga (who actually have had a stellar year) in the batting powerplay, the rest of the batting lineup seems content to meander along with strike rates in the 70’s.

Key areas in which definite improvement is required are lowering the dot ball percentage, strike rotation and running between the wickets (in fact run-outs are one of two things we have actually managed to top the rankings in over the past year). The so-called ‘seniors’ such as Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne and Chamara Kapugedera are guilty of soaking up too many deliveries and ultimately losing their wickets for middling scores. Our batting lineup lacks an explosive element to it, with only Niroshan Dickwella having a strike rate in excess of 90.

A much cherished series win; Better times are ahead for Sri Lanka Cricket

Some of cricket’s finest captains have come to UAE and have returned empty handed. Dubai…

Maybe some initial and immediate dividends can be reaped by emulating the ‘Big 4’ batting stars of this current era in improved strike rotation and aggressive running between the wickets.

The case of Chamara Kapugedera is indeed damning, given the fact that he is averaging a mere 21 runs per innings at a strike rate of 72 after 100 games as a specialist batsman. (got to be a record of its own sorts as well)

Injuries to Asela Gunaratne, Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera have also compounded Sri Lanka’s problems. The real pity though would have to be the fact that our team is not playing to potential. I would go so far as to say that the batting line up is monstrously talented and has the ability to put shivers into any opposition.

Lack of wicket-taking options

To be fair on the bowling front, in an age when the game has clearly swung in favour of the bat over the ball, the bowlers have been steady at best (given that our bowling resources do not seem to be as plentiful as our batting unit). But our bowlers lack menace, especially in the pace bowling front and cannot make up for the misfiring batting line-up (like the bowling line-up of Pakistan). Even when the bowling unit does manage to eke out early wickets or have the opposition on the ropes, it has lacked the killer blow to finish the tail off.

With an aging Lasith Malinga clearly beyond his prime and formerly effective Thisara Perera ballooning in bowling average, economy rate and physique and young bright hopes Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara and Lakshan Sandakan being erratic, clearing out opposition batting lineups has been a painstaking struggle.

So far the only bright spot in the department seems to be Akila Dananjaya.

*Bowlers may argue that the fielders aren’t really helping them out. (see below)

Catches win matches

Now to the 2nd thing we have been ranked no.1 in – dropped catches. 56 catches (and counting)  have been dropped across formats within a one year period and this coming from a team which used to be considered one of the better fielding sides going around in world cricket. Enough said.

Ratnayake backs struggling Malinga

Sri Lanka’s fast bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake has backed…

Leadership

Gone are the days of astute leadership skills of Mahela Jayawardene, inspirational rear-guard knocks by Angelo Mathews which transformed tailenders into batting maestros or the smart alecs behind the wicket by Kumar Sangakkara to unsettle the opposition.

Much is often said of the lethargic attitude on the field with players being unable to turn the momentum against the opposition, lift themselves up on the field. As a result, Upul Tharanga has been dished out suspensions for slow over rates. The wider malaise has crept off the field as well with one captain forgetting the team call upon winning the toss and indiscipline being reported amongst the players (Dressing room biscuit fiasco and Dhanushka Gunathilaka’s suspension).

Although leadership is at a crisis point, especially given the frequent rotations due to damning losses (Angelo Mathews) and regular suspensions (Upul Tharanga) what is required at the moment seemingly is a captain who wears his heart on his sleeve and shows urgency on the field.

A great cue can be taken from Dinesh Chandimal’s captaincy during the recently concluded Test series in the UAE where his busy nature and proactive captaincy played a large part in toppling Pakistan’s desert base domination. On the limited overs front, Virat Kohli and Sarfraz Ahmed both lead their teams with passion and maybe it’s no surprise after all that these two teams faced off in the Champion Trophy Final earlier this year.

In conclusion, 2017 is a year Sri Lankan fans would like to forget and the team will be sharing the same view. With a difficult tour of India also scheduled towards the end of 2017, it does not seem that the year will end well going by the current form of the team.

However, all is not lost, despite what many may claim, the team itself has some brilliant individual players who can clearly match up to any international star currently on the world stage. The batsmen are young and immensely talented, seemingly shackled by poor playing attitude and insecurities with selection policies. With some clear guidance and perhaps inspirational captaincy this team will be able to turn its fortunes around.

But more importantly the team is still perhaps awaiting that elusive win on the limited overs front following which a turnaround may seem possible. Let us all hope that day is near and support our lions so they may get their roar back.

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ThePapare.com