Courtesy of the Sunday Leader where the title is “Former Stars, Officials, Call For Major Changes”
The Sunday Leader interviewed some of Sri Lanka’s former test stars and leading administrators over the woeful performance of the Lankan team in the Boxing Day test at Melbourne where the Lankans were crushed by the humiliating margin of an innings and 201 runs in just two and a half days by a rampant Australian team. Those interviewed all called for major changes and blamed the surfeit of limited overs cricket as one of the causes for the lack of application at Test level. Former Sri Lankan opening batsman, former board official and chairman of selectors SidathWettimuny was visibly emotional about the match. Wettimuny was one of the most stylish and technically correct batsmen produced by Sri Lanka and has to his credit some of the best batting performances by a Sri Lankan overseas including a monumental 190 against England at Lords.
What are your thoughts on our performance at Melbourne?
It was a woeful batting performance and it clearly shows we are not playing enough test cricket and the longer version of the game – most of our batsmen were guilty of playing strokes more suited for the limited overs game. The match was effectively over on the first day itself and we were always playing catch up after that. We are showing our mindset is not right and we clearly lack the temperament to compete effectively at test level which is the ultimate form of the game. Without playing test cricket regularly we are doing ourselves no favours by playing in limited overs tournaments and neglecting the maingame – test cricket. Test cricket is the ultimate form of the game and it is here that a cricketer is really tested and can really prove his class.
What needs to be done now to rectify this situation?
The administrators need to make some tough decisions right now about where we want to be in the future – are we serious about test cricket and will we make that our priority or will we continue to cancel or postpone vital test series in order to promote the other forms of the game and continue to be a feeder for tournaments like the IPL. I was shocked to hear that we have actually postponed tours in preference to limited overs tournaments. Not only should we be seeking more tests we should also be increasing the A team tours as well – that is the feeder to the top level.
Do we need to introduce new blood to the ageing team?
Definitely. The selectors too need to make some bold decisions and bring in some new blood and be aggressive about pursuing the right skills required for test cricket – in fact we should have done so about two years ago. We’ve had a good run for about 10-15 years but now a whole batch of seniors are set to leave and I fear for what our standards will be like without adequate replacements. The key is to identify potential and class and not look merely at scorecards – we need to recognize quality and the guys who can deliver at the highest level.
Otherwise the way we are going we will soon be struggling to beat Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and no one else will want to give us test matches because we are no good.
Back to the match itself – were there any positives at all?
Apart from Sangakkara who batted well in both innings until his injury there was little else. Even in the second innings – I thought a total of over 250 would be a good effort but once again we let ourselves down with some indisciplined strokeplay. I thought Mathews shot in the second innings was regrettable. Mahela’s poor form was also worrying – more so because there was no one to raise their hand and step up when a key batsman is going through a bad patch – that is the sign of a good team where one person’s failure is compensated by an extra effort from one of the other batsmen.
Some credit must also be given to the Australians and their planning – their bowlers put in an exceptional effort and I thought Mitchell Johnson was outstanding.
Q and A Review with Somasundaram Skandakumar * *
What are your thoughts on our performance at Melbourne?
It was certainly a shocking batting display by our team and I feel really sorry for all the Sri Lankans in Australia who rallied round the team and flocked to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to cheer them – they deserved better than to see their team with some of the best batsmen in the world last only 43 overs in the first innings and then just 24 overs in the second. This was the third consecutive defeat we have suffered in tests which began with our defeat to New Zealand at home in Colombo last month and underscores a serious malaise in the side.
Where do you think the problem lies?
I think the problem is a much bigger issue today – it is about a whole mindset change that has sadly come about through the advent of T20 cricket – particularly the IPL and the role that it plays. Today, our cricketers have two employers – the SLC and the IPL and the latter hopelessly dwarfs the SLC in wages for the players. It is now far more lucrative for a player to engage in a T20 game where he is required for only four overs and a little batting and can earn about 20 times more than what he would in playing in a five-day test where the demands are greater and chances of getting injured too are more. I seriously question the role of the IPL in the career of some of the younger set of cricketers that are just coming in.
The overall mental concentration of the players has waned considerably among the countries which play more T20 cricket all year round. Look at India losing to England in their own backyard.
What needs to be done urgently to rectify the situation?
Test cricket must be accorded its rightful place as the topmost priority of the country. We as a country that valued test cricket are now postponing test tours for more lucrative limited overs tournaments. In my time as an administrator we had to struggle to convince countries to give us more tests and now we are reducing the number of tests.
The ICC must insist that countries should not be allowed to poach players from other countries for their national tournaments. It must be remembered that the ICC itself conducts a World T20 tournament and that must always be the main focus of all countries.
I would like to see some of the senior players instilling a sense of national pride in the younger set and what it means to go out into the field and represent your country.
* * a former Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka and keen follower of the game and he too stressed the fact that the emphasis on the more lucrative limited overs games was the main cause of the decline of our test cricket and the lack of national pride in our team.