Uncle Herath’s bastion- often impregnable-beyond any siege, hoisted his country’s flag to flutter gloriously to the tunes of the Indian Ocean winds. Big teams would come, try to sneak past the Lankans, have them pinned down and perilously close to defeat, but uncle would go on. Much like how a family’s only breadwinner would.
In how Sri Lanka lost to India – we see a disturbing revelation – that to play the game at test standard is a big deal for the current side. We all, as cricket’s fans would like to believe that this is a mere aberration, but to see that team falter and flounder series after series, only makes it more difficult for us to cling on to such claims.
The second innings of the second test showed us that the Lankans have the pedigree to stage a comeback and the appetite for a tough contest, but why such a demonstration was needed in the first place- after ensuring that all the odds had been stacked against them- is a troubling question. Had they batted any better in the first innings, playing decisively and tactfully- leading to the erosion of India’s advantage, their second innings would have demanded much less. While we have to appreciate how they held India away from victory for as long as they did, eventually, the pitch, the numbers and the mind would side with India- and they did.
Talent not backed by performance
Chandimal is perhaps the frailest of all the top order batsmen currently playing test cricket. Form has never seemed to find him – a player touted as one of the most talented in the island nation and one on whose shoulders the cricket establishment has kept the responsibility of driving the game through the coming years. While he scored a hard-fought century on his tour to England, hardly anything else noteworthy has come off his bat ever since. Statistics might not reveal much of his shortcomings but a close look at when against whom and how many runs he has scored will paint a poor picture of his as a top order test batsman.
It must be extremely saddening for the average Lankan to see the team play an abysmally poor quality of cricket. For years, Sri Lankan fans have been used to seeing their batsmen pound the visitors to dust and then their spinners make a mockery of opposition’ batsmen. From those highs, these are extreme lows – those that seem to take back the country’s cricket to pre-Ranatunga days.
Now it is incumbent on the team management that they feel the magnitude of this defeat and begin to make the necessary changes. From just the last two of their home series, this team has lost a lot of self-belief. It is not right to keep the same team on the touring road and hope for a reversal of fortunes. Some players need to be dropped – not because they aren’t good enough, but more because they need to get back to domestic cricket and rebuild a part of their game, some need to be spoken to and the others taught to play more sensibly.
Only sub continent’s cricket boards can manage to shoo away their former greats so effectively – despite they having so much more to offer to these current teams. The Sri Lankan board could do well to engage the services of greats like Sanga or Mahela in the long run, while also trying to patch up with Murali, to augment their coaching resources. The world recognizes these players as stalwarts and now that the team is facing a grave crisis, its cricket board should get off its high horse and do anything and everything that’s needed to get the team back on track. Also, the team’s weaknesses have for long been overshadowed by individual contributions and it’s only natural for such an arrangement to fail the test of time.
The need to focus on team composition
A more robust and reliable alternative has to be planned – one expects all the players to contribute consistently. There is no scope in present day cricket for victories built solely on a diet of individual brilliance. If such revamps demand that some of the big names from the current setup be done away with, they aren’t too outrageous and must be considered.
Sri Lanka cricket needs to look inward and rebuild its team, because it is important that it remains competitive at the test level. For a format already dealing with an audience that has found newer and more colourful alternatives, such hopeless defeats only act as a death knell. We need these Lankans to fight for their bastion and at least reclaim it. We aren’t really wondering about how they will produce test victories overseas, for now.
However loudly we yell that age is just a number, it really is more than just that. We see that in Uncle Herath’s salt and pepper hair and more in how he cannot so much be the bulldozer, destroying batting line-ups heartlessly, anymore. While he will keep going for as long as he can, there must be a Sri Lankan team that can afford to rest him once in a while. And only a unit that plays a high quality of cricket passionately can manage so.