Let’s move on from 2011 World Cup conspiracy theories

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Sri Lanka Cricket

So the conspiracy theories are circulating again. Former Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage’s stunning claims that the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup was rigged has made the headlines all over the world. Now then, Aluthgamage was the Sports Minister for four years after that World Cup final and you wonder why he didn’t initiate an inquiry at that point if he suspected foul play. Kumar Sangakkara, who captained the side at that point, has called for an inquiry and authorities should look at it so that we can put a full stop to all the allegations. Die heard cricket fans still feel the pain of losing a closely fought final and they should not be made to believe that there was something fishy that night in Bombay.

Also don’t forget that the brilliant Alex Marshall has done a terrific job heading the ICC Anti Corruption Unit since he took over three years ago and all what authorities need to do is to let him investigate the final if they have doubts. This will clear the air.  So far despite various accusations, no one  has provided solid evidence to suggest that there was foul play.

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Losing the World Cup final was frustrating. But take a closer look at the facts and be realistic. Sri Lanka lost a group game to Pakistan at home and had a washout against the Aussies. They were lucky that they met England in the quarters and New Zealand in the semis in spin friendly conditions at RPS. India meanwhile beat Australia in the quarters and won the high pressure game against arch-rivals Pakistan in the semis. They were worthy World Champions. They beat three quality sides – all former World Champions – in back to back games on their way to the title.

Having said that, there’s no denying of the fact that the Sri Lankans had one hand on the trophy at one point before it slipped away. A classy century by Mahela Jayawardene set up a stiff run chase and then those quick strikes by Lasith Malinga to see the backs of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag put them on the box seat. But India’s strength was that they had quite a few match winners. That was M.S. Dhoni’s turn.

Sri Lanka did some costly mistakes too. There were dropped catches and missed opportunities, but more importantly the questions that should be asked is whether a half fit Murali should have played the final? Then of course whether the squad selection could have been different. Did we actually need Tilan Samaraweera, with a career Strike Rate below 70, in the middle order? Should we have had a pace bowler in the squad instead of Rangana Herath?

This is nothing to take away from the team’s think tank. We had some of our finest cricketing brains lead up to that competition with Kumar Sangakkara as the captain, Aravinda de Silva as Chairman of Selectors, Trevor Bayliss as Head Coach and Anura Tennekoon as Team Manager. They would have looked at all scenarios and the balance of the side more than anything in settling on the final composition.

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There’s no argument with the selection of the playing eleven for the final though. Angelo Mathews was such a crucial cog in the wheel and injury to him forced the selectors to think out of the box. Contrary to what politicians are claiming, the journalists who travelled to Bombay ahead of the final were aware of who was going to play the final.

Then of course the decision to bat first. Once the dew set in when the run chase was on, the bowlers were finding it tough and India’s effort was made easier. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. The dew apparently wasn’t there the days prior to the final when Sri Lanka trained and even during their group clash against New Zealand, which was played in the same venue.

In five years, Sri Lanka lost four ICC finals and all of them, except maybe the 2007 event in the Caribbean; the others were closely contested affairs. Some can argue that the team lacked that killer punch when it came to crunch games and that could be true.

Some players who seemed to be having very few flaws in their games seemed to be cracking under pressure. This was one reason why Ashantha De Mel, who was not a selector then, spoke of the need of employing a psychologist. A suggestion that the players didn’t take too kindly.

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The fact that the captain, vice-captain, selectors and everybody quit 24 hours after the defeat in the final also arouse suspicion. In our part of the world, we are so accustomed for people to remain in their jobs despite disastrous failures that we suspect foul play when they resign.

As for the record, Sangakkara had told his team that he was quitting after the World Cup even before the event had started. It didn’t matter whether the team reached the finals or were out from the first round. He was going to step down. So were the others. Politicians sadly are tilting at windmills.