Umpire Hora!

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Star all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga’s tenure as Sri Lanka’s T-20 captain started with much fanfare where he promised to address the team’s fielding woes and assured to take Sri Lanka to the top of the ICC Rankings. Less than two months into captaincy, the leg-spinner suffered a blow with a two-match suspension and a fine.

He was charged by umpires after the third T-20 International for bringing the game into disrepute and Match Referee Chris Broad handed him a two-match suspension, a decision the player didn’t contest.

‘Umpire Hora!’ is a popular slogan amongst us Sri Lankans. Whether we are playing cricket at the backyard after school, at Parliament Grounds over the weekend, at inter-school fixtures or at international games. The umpire becomes the scapegoat when things don’t go our way. Some 25,000 fans echoed the same sentiments at Dambulla on Wednesday after captain Hasaranga disapproved of the umpire’s handling of the game.

Umpire Lyndon Hannibal was taken to task by Hasaranga at the post-match media briefing too. According to Hasaranga, he asked umpire Hannibal whether he was a Sri Lankan? SLC wisely deleted that part while posting the media briefing in their social media platforms. The captain also called the umpire, ‘a misfit.’

The umpire’s fault was that he had failed to detect a waist high full toss that was sent down to Kamindu Mendis in the last over. It was almost chest high and should have been called a no ball and a free hit given. That would have left Sri Lanka with ten runs needed in three balls. Could Kamindu put the team over the line? Guess we would never know the answer. But here’s what we do know. Sri Lanka have never ever successfully chased down a target in excess of 200 in T-20 Internationals. On Wednesday they were set 210.

It’s a pity that those of us who are calling ‘umpire hora’ after Wednesday’s heartbreaking three run loss turned a blind eye during the Galle Test match against Australia in 2022.

Dinesh Chandimal was on 30 when he was given not out by umpire Kumar Dharmasena off Mitchell Starc. Chandimal went on to post an unbeaten 206 in the process taking Starc to task. Sri Lanka won the Test match by an innings and more importantly squared the two match Test series. Did any of us say ‘umpire hora’ then? As for the Aussies, they took it on the chin and moved on. That’s the way it should be.

Wednesday wasn’t the only occasion that an umpiring decision probably cost Sri Lanka a game. There was this famous Hobart Test match in 2007 when Kumar Sangakkara was given out wrongly by umpire Rudi Koertzen.

It was a blunder. Sri Lanka were excited about winning a Test match for the first time in Australia and as for Sanga had he not been given out on 192, the double hundred would have helped him to equal the tally of double hundreds of a certain Sir Don Bradman.

Rudi realized the mistake and after the game made a beeline to the Sri Lankan dressing room to apologize to Sanga. They buried the hatchet by visiting one of best bars in Tasmania. That’s the way it should be.

The umpiring howler has been a convenient scapegoat for everyone for pinning the blame on Sri Lanka being denied a 3-0 whitewash in the series.

However, did we take into account the other areas where we flopped? Ramanullah Gurbaz was dropped twice – when on 22 and 55 and – and he went onto post a match winning 70.

Sri Lanka were sloppy on the field and Akila Dananjaya, Kusal Perera and Nuwan Thushara collectively gave away about ten runs.

Then there was Matheesha Pathirana, who sent down ten wides in the game. Had they brushed up any of these areas, the result could have been different.

Then, if Sri Lanka wanted a 3-0 sweep they should have gone out all guns blazing and shouldn’t have done four changes for the final game. But the arrival of Kamindu Mendis did help us think differently when it comes to T-20 cricket.

These are the areas that Sri Lanka need to concentrate on during a World Cup year.

Pathirana is a great addition to the side, but he has to work on his line. Fielding has shown lot of improvement but the likes of Akila Dananjaya and Nuwan Thushara are a liability.

The batting has been steady but still collapses aren’t addressed as showcased in the first game where Sri Lanka were shot out with an over to spare.

As for the umpires, it’s always good to have your best officials on field. It is incomprehensible why Ruchira Palliyaguruge, Sri Lanka’s most accomplished umpire after Kumar Dharmasena was set aside to the comforts of the air-conditioned room to do third umpire’s duty while Hannibal was on field.