And now for the World Cup
Now the chartered official commitments are over, and the Lankans begin their quest for the World Cup in the West Indies in earnest. After a couple of free days our cricketers are India bound in order to ship-shape their final battle squad ready for the big one in World Cricket.
It’s good that Sri Lanka is making this tour and taking on a mellowed Indian outfit whose skills are rather dented after their recent combats at home and overseas. At the same time we also should remember we ourselves have done below par at all our attempts against any meaningful side while playing on wickets just on the other side of our fence. So it is very vital that Sri Lanka will make use of this opportunity to hone our skills during this tour especially in the batting department.
Sri Lanka and India are featured in the same group (‘B’) in this all important tournament and it is good that our batsmen expose themselves with a lot more purpose to what India will have to offer. During the tournament Group ‘B’ first round fixtures will be:
Thursday March 15 (4th World Cup Match, Group B) - Bermuda v Sri Lanka
Saturday March 17 (8th Match, Group B) Bangladesh v India
Monday March 19 (12th Match, Group B) - Bermuda v India
Wednesday March 21 (16th Match, Group B) - Bangladesh v Sri Lanka
Friday March 23 (20th Match, Group B) - India v Sri Lanka
Sunday 25 (24th Match, Group B) - Bangladesh v Bermuda
All matches at Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad with a spare date.
When you look at the first round line-up you do not have to be a cricketing pundit or a soothsayer to come to the conclusion that Sri Lanka is almost sure to book their passage to the next round of the tournament which will take place from 25th March. At the same time one could draw up this as a similarity between the qualifying matches at the champions Trophy which was held in India a few months ago. The only difference here is that all top sides get a chance of pitting themselves against some of the ‘green horns’ in cricket before slipping on to the real battles in the super eights – which will be the World Cup in its true sense.
The next question is does Sri Lanka posses the “Big Match” temperament that they possessed in 1996. If you take the Champions Trophy which was played in India a few moons ago one can hardly be satisfied. After a thunderous beginning in the qualifying rounds, the Lankan huffed-puffed and fell by the way-side when it came to the crux matches.
In my last chat with none other than Arjuna Ranatunge the captain who brought home the World Cup in 1996, on the subject of the yo-yo performances of the Lankan team, he said that he was not perturbed much about it and it has been the pattern of our cricket right through.
However during the 1996 World tie Sri Lanka after being given a head start by the Australian and the West Indian pull out at the initial stages, went through the entire tournament without dropping a single game till they brought home the biggest prize in our sporting history. In that tournament though Sanath and Kalu wrote a new paragraph in how to approach the initial half in limited overs cricket, contributions came from all quarters. Though not remembered, besides the above mentioned, Aravinda de Silva, skipper Ranatunge, Asanka Gurusinghe and Roshan Mahanama came up with note worthy contributions towards that concerted effort. At the same time in bowling Sri Lanka played more towards their strengths and subdued their opponents with a SPIN and medium pace combination which worked more than well for them.
Moving on to the present, we do still have some of those stars who brought home the ‘plum’. Though hardly known at that time, now Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas have become much respected and feared cricketers in the world arena and are three cricketers who change the fate of a game on their own. Then with the addition of the talents of Marvan Atapattu, Kumar Sangakkara, skipper Mahela Jayawardena, Upul Tharanga and fast developing Lasith Malinga we do have one of the best combinations in the world – well at least on paper.
Going to our real strengths in batting (confining ourselves to one day internationals) on whom do we pin our hopes at present. During the recent past it only has been the duo of Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara who has been performing consistently with the bat with bits and pieces coming from Upul Tharanga, Marvan Atapattu and Farvez Maharoof. Since elevating himself to the number three spot in England and doing well in unfamiliar conditions skipper Mahela Jayawardena’s confidence seem to be eroding. In the last ten ODI he has made –35, 4, 34, 31, 48, 36, 34, 4, 1, and 0. Ironically this is hardly anything to go by when you take his real talent into consideration. It is good that the team management also decided to show the door to T.M. Dilshan after his weak-kneed performances with the bat, and he also should be made to run like the Samaraweera’s and Arnold’s till he comes back to his own. Now it is up to the two Chamara’s to hold on to the number six slot in Dilshan’s absence.
Stepping on to the bowling side of it, besides the Vaas, Murali and Lasith Malinga threesome I mentioned before the Lankan bowling looks totally inadequate. At times I wonder what merits a bowler in the form of Dilhara Fernando to be in the company of those mentioned above. In his last ten ODI outings Fernando has only captured 8 wickets with a best of for 2 for 28 with an average of 32.57. But, come September, Dilhara is there present in every outing, while leg spinner Malinga Bandara who could do much more than that both with bat and ball sits out like a wall flower.
What I feel is. What is happening to Malinga Bandara is almost a deprivation of basic human rights. I wish he too had the same contacts like what some others had in the side being able to go to the “Pandukambalasailasanaya’ (God Shakra’s chair that heats up when it hears of some ones justified woes) and have a look at this gross abuse of talent.
In a good mood or a bad mood Sri Lanka this time is within reach of repeating history, but, let sanity prevail and let there be the best Xl that Sri Lanka could have.