Sri Lanka’s cricket plunged to an all-time low when the team was unceremoniously dumped from the Asia Cup tournament in just three days and after two big defeats at the hands of Bangladesh and newcomers Afghanistan.
The heady night of 17 March 1996 when Sri Lanka was crowned World Champions remains a mere memory in the distance after the night of 17 September 2018 when the young Afghanistan team sent the Lankans crashing out of the Asia cup with an emphatic victory.
The Asia Cup Cricket tournament was supposed to be Sri Lanka’s best tournament as they had been the most successful side – winning the tournament five times and emerging runners-up on another seven occasions. However, this time the champs made all their die-hard cricket fans feel like chumps with some abject displays in their two games. Perhaps what hurts the most is the manner in which the team meekly surrendered in both games – emphatically outplayed in all departments of the game.
Even after their defeat in the opening game against Bangladesh, the fans had remained mostly upbeat counting the positives and believing that the game against Afghanistan was not a difficult hurdle to overcome. Come Monday evening the favourite sports clubs and other venues around Colombo were packed as fans turned up to watch the cricket on the large screens especially set up for the occasion.
Even as the Afghanistan batsmen were building a strong platform for their side the Lankan fans were unperturbed – any total could be chased against Afghanistan it seemed. When the Lankans batted, the gaiety subsided and then stopped altogether as the Lankan batsmen went into familiar suicide mode.
Halfway through the innings the venues started emptying as reality began to sink into the horrified fans – we were about to be dumped out of the tournament in just three days! It is fortunate that there was no play-off for the fifth and sixth spots in the Asia Cup – we would have almost certainly lost to Hong Kong too!
The reaction to the result by most fans was as expected – sack the whole lot – coach, captain, chief selector and all the support staff. Thankfully, there has been no such knee-jerk reaction, although the Sports Minister has already asked for a special report on the Dubai Debacle.
Regardless of the result – one person who needs to be fired is the Chief Selector Graeme Labrooy – not because he has been getting all the selections wrong or opening his mouth and putting his foot in, but because he simply cannot do two jobs at the same time. Whilst our team was getting thrashed in the Asia Cup, Labrooy was performing the role of ICC Match Referee in the series between Sri Lankan women and Indian women teams.
The one good thing on Sri Lanka’s side is that things cannot get any worse than they are today – so in that sense anything from here on can only be an improvement.
The selectors must now ring in the changes and pick at least 20 players from which the final 16 will be chosen for the World Cup in June 2019. The bowlers have done a reasonable job but the fielding and the batting are absolutely shameful.
The World Cup 2019 is just eight months away and Sri Lanka is still at square one in terms of picking a squad that will give a good account of itself in England. Sri Lanka needs to recruit batsmen who put a price on their wicket and are prepared to work hard for their runs, the selectors need to make some bold long-term decisions and stick with them.
All is not lost – Sri Lanka certainly has the talent – it is the mental game that they are losing, they simply cannot handle pressure and each player selected must be made aware of his specific role in the team – be it to bat through the innings, rotate the strike or play the big shots and get some runs.
Young Kusal Mendis must be released from the squad. He is an extremely talented youngster with the ideal temperament for test cricket and he should not be pushed into playing the shorter versions.
One blessing from Sri Lanka’s early exit from the Asia Cup is that they now have more time to refocus for the test series against England in October. Mendis should be an integral part of that series.
Skipper Angelo Mathews has now become to Sri Lanka cricket what Ranil Wickremasinghe is to the UNP – he is the captain almost by default because there is no one else around, on paper he has excellent credentials, talks a good talk and is a good reader of the game, but he simply cannot win matches!
To make matters worse Mathews dropped a vital catch in the game against Bangladesh and also figured in two run outs of his partners in the two games. Mathews is still unable to bowl and this lack affects the entire balance of the team as Lanka is always forced to play an extra bowler or bowling all-rounder to fill this gap.
Perhaps it is high time for the management to bite the bullet and make Dinesh Chandimal the captain for the World Cup and let Mathews earn his place in the side with runs and wickets to his name.
The team sorely missed the services of the injured Chandimal who is always a calming influence in the middle order. The reluctance of the management to include Niroshan Dickwella in the team was also baffling. Dickwella would have been the ideal opening partner for Upul Tharanga and the pair had forged a good rapport together and could have given Sri Lanka a more solid start.
Dhananjaya de Silva is our best bet at number three and must be persisted with and urged to bat through the innings. His bowling is also a bonus and gives Sri Lanka at least five overs and often a wicket or two.
Dickwella could be the first choice wicket keeper, but Kusal Perera could play as a specialist batsman at number four with Chandimal at five. Asela Gunaratne should be recalled into the side as he is a useful all-rounder. All-rounders Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanaka were pencilled in for the world cup after their performance against the South Africans early this year but whilst Perera has been among the wickets both players were below par during the Asia Cup.
Spinner Akila Dananjaya, Lasith Malinga and Lahiru Kumara should make the rest of the playing eleven with support coming from Mathews, Dhanushka Gunatilleka, Jeffrey Vandersay, Kasun Rajitha, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Lakshan Sandakhan, and Amila Aponsu.
Sri Lanka needs to start picking up the pieces and begin training in earnest and in this respect picking a squad at the earliest possible date will be a good move. Remember Sri Lanka is already right at the bottom – from here the only way is up!