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Look left, look right, do nothing

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Or we could go right, invest in youth following a full exodus of the current team. Risk losing a few matches and ignore complaints about how we should never have replaced the players from our golden age.

But what the selectors do is go neither here nor there. They remain afraid of making those ‘big’ decisions. And even when they do, politicians get involved to turn the clock back and undo the rare occasions when the selectors have displayed the courage to take a tough call

The continued selection of Sanath Jayasuriya in ODI’s is shameful. It is as if we are afraid to try new players for the fear of losing.

To be clear, this post is not a random meltdown on my part in hindsight following the loss to India at home not so long ago.

Sri Lanka's flailing form in cricket is only too apparent if you look at their win loss record over the last 2 years
 

M

W

L

Year

29

16

11

2007

22

 9

11

2008

Compare that now with Australia

M

W

L

Year

34

24

8

2007

18

13

4

2008

You will notice the clear difference in the amount of matches won vs the amount of matches played. That is the difference between what makes a great team and what makes the average team that Sri Lanka is at the moment. Consistently winning matches home and away over a period of time is key.

Not long ago our cricket board envisaged a goal for our national team. To be the the Number 1 team in test cricket (and ODIs) by the year 2000. This was a bold statement on the back of our remarkable world cup win in 1996. It was a time when anything seemed possible with Aravinda, Arjuna, Sanath and Murali/Vaas leading the charges. For a while it looked like an attainable target.

Then reality set in. Arjuna, Aravinda retired & left cricket. We invested heavily in Mahela and Sangakkara and it paid dividends.

But years on from that goal we are languishing at 4th in the test table and 7th in the ODI table (debates on the ranking system itself at this point is useless). We are where we are, so to speak.

Are teams like England, New Zealand, Pakistan really better than us? Perhaps not, but the rankings show otherwise. And it tells a story.

We lost to England for the first time in our history last year in an ODI series. Now we have repeated the same against India. This lack of form, specially at home, is highly concerning. So what is the problem here?

As mentioned earlier on in this piece, when Arjuna and Aravinda were about to leave we invested in Sangakkara and Mahela. Now it is time to do the same andprepare for the end of Murali, Sanath and Vaas.

Ajantha Mendis has been a breath of fresh air for world cricket. But in my opinion, as a Sri Lankan fan, ‘a sigh of relief’ is what would describe Mendis’s rise to fame accurately. Ideally, Murali should retire from ODI cricket within 2 years to focus on test cricket alone and target his 1000 wicket landmark and in the process, possibly secure more overseas series wins for us. In these two years Mendis will learn more from Murali than he would from anyone else and those 2 years transitional phase will give Mendis time to gain more confidence, play against more opposition (he has currently only played against and destroyed India on a regular basis), in different conditions. And in 2 years, I believe he will be ready to lead our spin attack.

Sanath Jayasuriya; in my humble opinion, is past his sell-by date. I felt that 2 years ago. I still feel it today. The century in the recent Asia Cup was just a momentary dent in that belief. It is time Sanath bowed out of cricket with honor. It is possibly a fear of never finding another Jayasuriya that causes us to fall back on him time and time again. And therein lies our mistake.

Expecting any upcoming opener in Sri Lanka to take up the mantle that Sanath did is asking for the impossible. Australia did not replace Gilchrist with Haddin asking for the same results and the same contributions. They replaced him with the best man for the job. That job was wicket keeping. What Sri Lanka desperately needs now in an opener.

No, not a stop-gap opener like Sanga is.

A real opener who plies his trade facing the new ball on a daily basis. Whose footwork is assured and knows when to leave what.

Sri Lanka needs an opener, not another Sanath. I’d dearly love to see the day when we can put on 75-80 in the first 15 overs without losing 4-5 wickets. For that we need solid openers. Sanath was a one-off. There will be no other like him. Just like there will be no other Aravinda. Sanga is good. But is he in Aravinda's class?

The few youngsters who have stepped up to the mark showed relative promise. But it's time to invest. Time to stop lingering on with players who can no longer contribute to a successful team effort. Nostalgia can play no part in selection policy.

It is time to rebuild the ‘core’ of the team. Right now the only people in my opinion who would fall into that category are Sangakkara and Mahela. A team cannot simply be built around 2 players it must consist of at least 4 or 5 like the 1996 team was.

It can no longer include Sanath or Murali. It’s a time that calls for patience from the fans as well. Once a dramatic change is made we must give it due time to respond and adapt to that change. The team needs to grow together. Dealing with the loss of gigantic legends and assigning responsibility to new shoulders is not an easy task. It's time consuming.

But the signs are good. The rest of the year in terms of the quality of cricket Sri Lanka face is not that competitive. It’s a great opportunity for us to give these youngsters the chance to find their feet in the international game.

Its time to look right, look left and finally decide to cross the road.

(You can also find Damith at www.fly-slip.blogspot.com. Click here to know more about him) 

 


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