The Zimbabwe tour of Sri Lanka started last month with a record ODI run-chase for the visitors and ended with another one, this time in Tests and for the hosts. All in all, the ‘low-budget tour’ was evenly contested between two teams languishing in the bottom half of the rankings in all formats.
Sri Lanka Cricket seems to have become a failed brand due to the recent losses with none of the PR stunts of the board see working with fans, who have lost interest and passion for the game. The off-field coaching drama prior to the series and former stalwarts publicly slandering each other have also brought huge losses to all stakeholders.
If one thought drawing all three-home series against Bangladesh, including losing a Test match to their Asian counterparts for the 1st time ever, was the lowest point in Cricket in Sri Lanka, how can they digest the recently concluded tour? The recent historic Test win in the one-off series somewhat saved Sri Lanka from blushes but the wounds the Zimbabweans inflicted in the ODIs will take time to heal.
A decade ago, Sri Lanka’s weakest XI in the field would beat Zimbabwe anywhere in the world, but the tables have turned, the Africans are no more pushovers for the Lions.
The Body Language
The Sri Lankan cricketers showcased very poor ‘body language’ on tour, especially when the opposition dominated play and smashed the bowlers to all parts of the ground. They dropped catches, mis-fielded and did not seem to be able to pump themselves up, particularly in the opening ODI, the last two games in Hambanthota and Zimbabwe’s second innings in the Test match.
In years gone by, Murali’s appealing, Sanga’s sledging from behind the stumps, Arjuna’s aggression with umpires and Mahela’s ‘never back down’ attitude with opposition lifted Sri Lanka in the field but presently, the players are like kindergarten kids afraid of their class teacher. They need to be fearless, they need to have some sort of confidence in the field and take the fight towards the batsmen through their body language.
The ‘Cremer’ effect
Sri Lanka’s struggles against the leg-spinners are more consistent than the monsoon rains. They have always struggled to keep the likes of Imran Tahir, Yasir Shah, Aadil Rashid, Amit Mishra away and now have added Graeme Cremer to the list.
Cremer captured 9 wickets for 275 runs in the Test match, the best effort by a Zimbabwean captain in Tests and his 87.3 overs bowled was also the most by a Zimbabwean bowler. Most of all, Cremer’s leadership was exemplary, especially during the ODIs where he outwitted the hosts in using his spinners.
Cremer placed utmost faith in players like Sikandar Raza, Craig Ervine and Hamilton Masakadza who came to Sri Lanka with plenty of pressure on their backs due to poor form and they delivered stunningly to take one trophy home.
For how long can Sri Lanka rely on Herath to save them?
What would Sri Lanka do without Rangana Herath? Fondly known as ‘Toga’, the 39-year old left arm spinner took 11 for 249 in the match and was the sole threat to the visitors. He now has 384 wickets of which 306 have come since 2011. He now stands as the 15th overall in the highest wicket-takers list and the fourth highest in the 10-wicket- haul list, with 8. Only Richard Hadlee (9), Shane Warne (10) and Muttiah Muralitharan (22) have more.
Herath is possibly set to announce his retirement sometime soon, perhaps after the Indian series or the away Pakistan series but who will be the next ‘match-winner’ for Sri Lanka? Chief Selector Sanath Jaysuriya has publicly stated that uncapped left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara, who has 558 wickets in 99 first-class matches, is the next in line to take Herath’s place so can either Pushpakumara, Lakshan Sandkan or Dilruwan Perera bowl Sri Lanka to victory after Herath retires? Tough ask indeed.
Scrutinized ODI & T20I plan
The best thing about Sri Lanka’s failed ODI series was the settled top six. They used the services of only 6 batsmen throughout the five games, which helped them cross the 300-run mark thrice. Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka prospered as an opening pair, breaking new grounds, setting records and should be given plenty of opportunities in the future as well. One might say Asela Gunaratne is the ‘backbone’ of the team and many would agree to that. His all-round ability and even temperament is priceless.
The problem lies with Sri Lanka’s bowling in limited overs cricket. Lasith Malinga was below par until his last spell in the final game, Nuwan Kulasekara is soon becoming history. Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal need to be managed well across all formats, so who’s going to take wickets in limited overs cricket? Speedster Dushmantha Chameera is an asset and should be preserved carefully and finding a fast-bowling all-rounder is a must going forward.
Sri Lanka’s newest find, 19-year old leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga impressed with the ball, picking up 8 wickets in 4 games at an average of 18 but how will he maintain his place without useful batting contributions? Lakshan Sandakan is a hero one day and a villain in the other, Akila Dananjaya showed great signs in the final game but it all depends on how the selectors form their bowling attack.
Captaincy change to extend transition?
Mathews can be more valuable as a player, if fit as an all-rounder rather than a captain but will this change eat up more time, more losses and more explanations of transition?
Chandimal started off with a hard-fought win on a flat Khettarama surface as his quest to become the number 1 Test team but the real challenge lies with the upcoming Indian series where they will go up against a real power-house in the Cricketing arena.
Tharanga has only one goal in mind, how to guide Sri Lanka to World Cup glory in 2019 in England & Wales! He has little over 30 games in 2 years to build a solid limited-overs lineup but before all of that, Sri Lanka will first look to secure automatic qualification. They need to do well against India at home and hope West Indies falter at the hands of England.
The undying hope
It is natural to have a bad phase but lower-ranked Zimbabwe clearly dug up Sri Lanka’s weaknesses throughout the tour and India will be eager to pounce on those. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s cricket is the one thing which brings joy to all citizens irrespective of religion, race and caste. It’s high time that a change in attitude, change in administration, change in management, change of perspective occurs to save Sri Lanka Cricket.