A Period of Transition

If you had invested in stock market, you would have realized that the graph never follows a linear path. There are times when it moves up creating a bullish trend and the occasional troughs that triggers a panic among investors. Also, there are lucrative talks about how investments made during the 1990s would have made you a millionaire. However, there are stocks that people held on for a long time only to find them reaching an all-time low. More than the loss of wealth, it’s this nature of unpredictability that surprises the investors.

Cricket is no different when it comes to these surprises. A team won a world cup a decade back. On most occasions that team reaches the knockouts of the tournament. Their opening pair completely went berserk right from the first ball at a time when T20 was absent. Their middle order had a habit of scoring daddy hundreds. A world class spinner made the opposition batting look like a kindergarten. However, given their recent form, the team has won only 30% of the ODIs played after 2015 World cup. Now they must play the qualifiers to get selected for the T20 world cup next year. 10 years ago, no one would have felt that a team like Sri Lanka would have to play qualifiers to get selected for an ICC trophy. If the stock market is unpredictable, so is cricket. If you have been following the sport for a long time, then the sorrow state of Sri Lanka will surprise you.

Sri Lanka will now play a test series against Australia, who have their own share of problems to deal with. Right from the exclusion of Smith and Warner, things are looking bleak for Australia. They were whitewashed by England in a 5-match ODI series. Their fortress has been breached by India in the recently concluded tests and ODIs. They have faced more losses than wins. It is fair to say that even the 5-time world cup champions are really hitting a rough patch. However, Australia’s bowling still looks threatening with the presence of Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood and Lyon. In limited overs, even the new bowlers like Jhye Richardson and Behrendorff have impressed. It’s their batting that has consistently let them down. Their highest individual score during the recently concluded series against India was 79 from debutant Marcus Harris. While there exists a negative energy in the Australian camp, the return of Smith and Warner would however boost Australia’s batting. Most of the core players who were part of the victorious 2015 world cup squad will be back for the upcoming edition. So, defending the title still looks achievable. This is not the first time that Australian cricket is going through a makeover phase. There was a brief shake inside the camp when players like Gilchrist, Hayden, Mcgrath and Warne started to retire. Not so devastating as it is today but that period did show the cricketing world that Australians can actually lose a big tournament, probably because of a dominating show put up by the retired Australian players all those years.

But retirements are a part and parcel of the game. When Pollock and Donald retired, people thought that was the end of South Africa’s pace bowling. Then cricketing world saw the advent of Steyn, Ntini and Morkel. They now have Rabada and Olivier supporting Steyn and Ngidi. While the retired players have left so many experiences to cherish, the new comers have always continued from where they left off. This is a kind of transition that all teams go through. Sadly, for Sri Lanka this period is much longer.

When legends from Sri Lanka and Australia faced off- Murali bowling to Gilchrist with Sangakarra behind the stumps.

It was during the period of 2015-16 when most of their senior players retired and Sri Lanka started to face a string of defeats. One might point out the departure of Sangakkara, Mahela, Murali and the list of other elite players from Sri Lanka who conquered the 22 yards during the past decade. Their mass exits meant a complete revamp of the squad with new players who lacked proper international exposure. Let’s rewind back to 2010 when India and Sri Lanka decided to participate in a tri-series against Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka decided to rest only Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Murali and Malinga. Their bowling attack still included the likes of Ajantha Mendis, Kulasekara and Fernando. These bowlers were at the peak of their careers. Except some minor changes, most of the players of that tour were regulars. However, India decided to send a B-team for the tri-series. And speaking of B-team, can you guess the Indian players of that tour- A team consisting of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ashwin, Jadeja and Umesh Yadav led by Suresh Raina. India was beaten by Zimbabwe twice during that series. The final was between Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, which Sri Lanka won comfortably. Looking back, India would happily take that defeat considering the fact that players like Kohli and Rohit have aged well. Of course, winning the tri-series was important but the current Indian squad (which was a B-team before) was more comfortable when players like Sachin, Sehwag and Zaheer Khan retired compared to the Sri Lankan counterparts. One good thing about that tri-series for Sri Lanka other than the victory was the emergence of Dinesh Chandimal and Thisara Perera, who are now pillars of the current Sri Lankan squad. Barring a handful of youngsters, most of the current players of Sri Lanka lack that experience.

Constant changes in the team is yet another factor that brought down Sri Lanka’s confidence. The changes were too much that players had to play musical chairs even for captaincy. At one point of time, we can see Angelo Mathews leading the team and for the next series Chandimal would replace him as a captain. Sometimes, Malinga had to take responsibility as a skipper. Their batting order was never fixed. Their lead spinner Akila Dhananjaya has been suspended for illegal bowling action. They lost 4 out of the previous 5 tests of which three of them were at home against England. Their cricket association has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Dilshan entering the field for one last time

Despite all the negativity, things are not completely dark for Sri Lanka. The players have shown some fighting spirit. Fans witnessed Perera’s valiant century against New Zealand, that included 4 sixes from Southee’s over. While Sri Lanka lost the game, Perera almost took the team across the line while chasing a 300+ target. Also, during the first test against New Zealand, when Sri Lanka was trailing by more than 400, Mathews and Kusal Mendis scored centuries to save the test for Sri Lanka. Their unbeaten 274-run stand ensured that New Zealand bowlers couldn’t take a single wicket for an entire day of a test match at their own backyard. After the match, Kusal Mendis mentioned that he was ready to get hit on the body to save his wicket. Dimuth Karunaratne has been a consistent opener in test matches and have always given a good start when the team needed. Despite Herath’s retirement, spin department still looks promising with Dilruwan Perera and Sandakan. Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep have shown confidence with the new ball. While they have faced many defeats, on a given day they have the potential to win against any team. A 219-run victory against England at home in an ODI match is one such example. Not to forget the champions trophy, when they stunned India by chasing a 300+ total. These are wake up calls for the in-form teams that the World Cup is wide open. While Sri Lanka is not considered a favorite for the 2019 tournament, they can easily spoil the party of other teams.

Given the home conditions and an experienced bowling attack, Australia are clearly the favorites against Sri Lanka for the upcoming test series, but Australia will realize that Sri Lanka is down but not out. For Australia, the series will be a key opportunity for creating a balanced squad before boarding the plane to England for the Ashes, while a victory for Sri Lanka would mean that the island nation still has a lot of cricket to show.

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