The drastic decline in the Sri Lankan cricket teams performance in recent times is a cause for concern and worry among all lovers of the game who root for our Lankan lads.
It can only be cricket that draws a shop-window crowd like this in Colombo, Sri Lanka ~ pic courtesy of: twitter.com/brysonhull
The latest defeat in South Africa has upset many and even made our unflappable cabinet minister Keheliya Rambukwella “feel horrible”.
Avid fans cannot help observing that Sri Lanka was a World Cup finalist and ranked third in Test cricket when Tillekeratne Dilshan took over the captaincy. The visible slide in the team’s fortunes after this “transition”has given rise to much gossip about intra-team splits, conspiracy theories and personality clashes as being the cause of this . The drop in form of former captain Mahela Jayewardene has added grist to the rumour mills.
Veteran Sports Journalist TMK Samat who writes the popular “Samat on Sunday” column for “The Sunday Leader” has touched on these matters in his inimitable style this week.
Sam as he is known was the Sports Editor at “The Island” when I worked there in the eighties of the last century. He then left Sri Lanka for an overseas job and returned after many years to write for the “Leader” under Lasantha Wickrematunge.
TMK Samat is a polished person and a gentleman to his fingertips. Working together with Sam at “The Island” was a pleasure and boon.
As a schoolboy I like many others had been great fans of his. I used to buy the evening observer those days only to read Samat’s writing on the matches played by College. He changed the style and mode of Sports journalism. So it was quite thrilling to be on first name basis with Sam.
I have great pleasure in reproducing TMK Samat’s column “Samat on Sunday”from “The Sunday Leader” of January 15th 2012 on my blog.
Here it is Friends-DBS Jeyaraj
Cricket team crisis due to dressing room divisions
By T.M.K. SamatMahela Jayawardene’s prolonged failure is a worrying concern, and though it would be wrong to singularly blame him for the country’s fourth straight Test series defeat, the no.4’s sub-par contributions is a significant reason for the continued cataclysm, plunging the team to sixth in the ICC rankings, from third a shade over a year ago.
By any measure, the fall is steep as it is rapid. Admittedly a slide in the post-Muralidaran years was to be expected, but a decline this deep wasn’t quite bargained for. It was hoped that the deficiencies ensuing the champion spinner’s retirement would be minimised by the weight of contributions from the team’s three senior most batsmen – i.e. they would help build the sort of totals that would shelter the team from defeat.
Given the derring-do ways of Tillekeratne Dilshan, the captain, it’s an accepted fact that just as much as he might succeed gloriously; he might just as easily fail abjectly. As ever, he remains an irresistible gamble. Which is to say that more than him, it were the other two seniors, ex-captains Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara who one banked on to rally the batting and take the team to safe ground.
Neither, however, delivered as much as one hoped they would in South Africa ; Jayawardene lesser, aggregating 132 to Sangakkara’s 185, his second Test century making up nearly two-third of the tally.
Thilan Samaraweera, incidentally, topped the list with 339, including two hundreds, averaging a shade below 67. But then Samaraweera can’t be bracketed with the ‘reliable’ trio of seniors, given that he was rejected, albeit controversially, for the previous series, against Pakistan . And his inclusion for the South African tour was more accidental than intentional, accompanying the touring party as a precaution against Jayewardene buckling under a suspect knee. But I digress.
Back to Jayawardene: It’s not uncommon for even the world’s best batsman to experience a bad tour, a streak of misfortune which the game’s pundits wave away as an aberration, a part of a batsman’s life.
But in Jayawardene’s case his run of misfortune has been too long for his and his team’s liking. Consider: Over the last twelve Test matches, he has garnered just 559 runs from 23 innings at an average of 24.30 – numbers that are some way adrift of the quantum expected of a batsman with a career average of 50.72 and who is the sole Sri Lankan to earn admission to the World 10,000 Test-run club.
It was also disconcerting that Jayewardene’s big scores over the last 23 innings have been a single century and a half century; both complied in the home series against Australia last May/June. In the three away series: his highest was 49, 39 and 31 against England last May, Pakistan last Sept/Oct and South Africa respectively – a parade of unexceptional scores that no doubt compounded the problems of a team negotiating a difficult transition. The bid to rediscover his deserted form via the ongoing ODI series in South Africa too had an inauspicious beginning, making two off 16 deliveries.
Against that backdrop, it wasn’t surprising that some critics should ask if the 34-year old has outlived his purpose. Of course, the call for his head hasn’t gotten quite as strident as when his form dipped previously, especially early after his appointment, in 1999, as deputy to Sanath Jayasuriya and then in the 2003 World Cup when his tally from some six innings barely managed to surpass single digits. In response to the critics’ castigations, Jayewardene was stripped of his vice captaincy in 2001 and then in the 2003 World Cup, he was left out of at least a game or two.
Time will tell if Jayawardene’s recent patchy form will bring banishment to the bench. His current poor form and the accompanying wretched statistics might prompt a drastic response from the selectors, but then these can’t be the only calculations in determining the fate of a proven accomplished batsman. The first question to ask is: if not Jayewardene, then who? If a long list of worthy alternatives is on the table, then discarding the one-time captain might be considered.
No such candidates exist; the struggles experienced by young bloods Chandimal, Thirimanne and J. K. Silva to get to terms with the exacting demands of Test cricket, now is clearly not the time to even contemplate ditching the coterie of our elders. So rather than suggest eviction of Jayawardene, he needs help and support to overcome what is really a crisis of confidence. Not that the veteran of fifteen years cannot sort his problem by himself, but for heaven’s sake, spare him the irritations of others deciding his time of retirement.
After all this isn’t the first time his batting has hit a patch of turbulence, and each time he has battled out of the troubles to flourish again, gloriously.
As well, it’s not as if Jayawardene was the solitary failure. Bar Samaraweera, none of the seniors contributed with the consistency expected of them, and so it’s fair to say that our batting, as a whole, had been woefully inadequate. So why he’s singled out for criticism provokes suspicion.
Indeed strained relationship between the seniors and the leader was made public by the Sport Minister himself. Gauging the influence of this estrangement on the team’s performances is difficult. But it isn’t wrong to say our cricket is much more capable than what much of the abysmal performances under Dilshan’s leadership might suggest. Thereby might hang a tale.The performances have declined progressively. It shouldn’t be forgotten Dilshan inherited a team that was World Cup finalist last April and no.3 in the Test rankings.
Though the losses to England and Australia in both Test and ODI series last year were disappointing, the one-win margin in each of the versions was at least honourably conceded. The margin conceded to Pakistan in the Tests was again by one win, but the ODIs were lost by a whopping, 1 / 4.
The first ever Test win on South African soil, one thought might inspire a bringing together of the team. But the thumping third Test defeat with a day to spare followed by our worst ever one-day defeat in the opening ODI, Wednesday night, suggests disharmony still haunts the dressing room.
As the team approached defeat in the third Test, coincidentally or not, a speculative news item broke out that Jayawardene had privately been spoken to about reassuming captaincy after the current tour, and he had consented – and if that might’ve gone to make Sri Lanka’s worst night of shame, Wednesday, isn’t implausible as it may seem.
But then a team’s innings collapsing within a session of a Test or losing five wickets in the first five overs of an ODI before being destroyed for 43 in 20.1 overs and whose ranking is in rapid decline, all in the space of nine odd months – is that plausible?