S. R. Pathiravithana in the Sunday Times
I. The A’ Team’s Caribbean tour: Mock preparation and selection muck
There is a certain school of thought in cricketing circles that feels that actions of the present selection committee and the reactions of Sri Lanka Cricket are faulty and diverse. It is rather surprising that the Present Selection Committee which includes two players who captained the country in the modern era and another player who also played the game in the same period – Sanath Jayasuriya, Hashan Tillekeratne and Pramodya Wickremasinghe – are making these faux pas. The Sri Lanka ‘A’ team which consists of next-in-line players for the national caps is on the verge of embarking on a month-long tour of the West Indies. They will play two four-day unofficial Test matches, three one-day internationals and two T20 matches between June 1 and June 28. They are scheduled to leave the country in the last week of May.
Insiders point out that in spite of the cricketers coming through the three-day Premier League Tournament, the Selection Committee which comprises two full time members came up with an initial list of 34 names. Strangely in the original list former Test player Kaushal Silva who played a heroic role in the Premier League final and won the game for SSC was missing. In ten matches and 13 innings Kaushal scored 1073 runs at average of 89.41 with five centuries and three fifties. Then again former Royalist Ramith Rambukwella who is yet to prove his worth at that level had caught the eye of the selectors early and was in the original list. Sadly the budding all-rounder is not even in the first 50 in either bowling or batting in the Premier League averages. This type of selection criteria leads to other suggestions such as personal/political favours.
Subsequently to the list of 34 names another seven were added. Now the selectors are in an elimination effort with the lot of 41 players. For elimination purposes, three two-day games have been listed at the R. Premadasa Stadium. Insiders ask why the selectors should have elimination matches at the tail end of a live competitive three-day tournament, where the cricketers were in real match conditions. May be the best of a players may not come at an artificially staged atmosphere.
However the dressing room vibes say that most of the players are disillusioned and are going through the motions at the practice matches alleging that the touring party is already under wraps. It is also learned paceman Saliya Saman who was subsequently drafted into the second seven had already left for England to play league cricket. On learning that he had been drafted into the ‘A’ team squad he had inquired if he should return. However he had received a rude shock when he was informed that he needn’t bother to return. Saman who turns out for Badureliya SC bagged 37 wickets in 9 matches at an average 17.59 with a best of 8 for 53 against the ultimate winners of the Premier League SSC. He also has a Premier league century nine 50s with a career batting average of 26.40.
The SLC should have guided the selectors and have had some stipulations, the insiders say. They should have had a solid squad during this time frame and kept the month of May for proper preparations.
Despite the fact that cricketers are scheduled to play two unofficial Tests, there are no preparatory matches as a team of the longer duration. Had they been prepared the squad could have played a few games against an invitation side instead of the spurious one-day games that have been listed next month.
They say Sri Lanka Cricket should have made these recommendations and have proper checks and balances and bring more meaning to their efforts that cost them mints of money.
Sri Lanka “A” Team tour of West Indies 2013
The Original list: Ashen Silva, Udara Jayasundara, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Perera, Kithruwan Vithanage, Ashan Priyanjan, Yashoda Lanka, Dushmantha Chameera, Kasun Madushanka, Lahiru Gamage, Madura Lakmal, Imran Khan, Vishwa Fernando, Madawa Warnapura, Ishan Jayaratne, Vimukthi Perera, Lahiru Jayaratne, Pabasara Waduge, Niroshan Dickwella, Gayan Manishan, P.H.T. Kaushal, Sohan Boralessa, Seekkuge Prasanna, Milinda Siriwardane, Chathuranga de Silva, Gayan Sirisoma, Malinga Pushpakumara, Ramith Rambukwella, Akila Dhananjaya, Dulanjana Mendis, Roshen Silva, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Sachith Pathirana.
The National Selectors added seven more players to the earlier nominated 34 member squad: They are: Kaushal Silva, Sachithra Serasinghe, Gihan Rupasinghe, Saliya Saman, Dilshan Munaweera, Janaka Gunaratne and Buddhika Sanjeewa
II. Returning to original sin: Whither Lanka’s Test Cricket?
The good book says the first reference to cricket played as an adult sport was in 1611, when two men in Sussex were prosecuted for playing cricket on Sunday instead of going to church. Then later it developed to become a game that was played between parishes in English villages.So the game we revere so much and have become an inherent part of us began with sacrilege. So the game has never been able to move out of that original sin, even though it has grown to be a global pastime and is being run by a world body that even has its own anti-corruption unit.
No sooner the cricket was brought into Sri Lanka by the English colonialists in the early 1800s than it took root. The game captured the imagination of even the locals who had not experienced soothing in the same ilk.
Elle, in all probabilities, should be a derivation from cricket though I cannot vouch for it. Elle has a lot of similarities with ‘rounders’ and ‘baseball’ and is very un-Lankan where a sport is concerned. Anyway this is not a narration on Elle at all.
Cricket developed in Sri Lanka and by the 20th century it had churned into a sport where it had even floated traditional school matches like the Royal-Thomian. The first school match in Sri Lanka is reported to have been played in 1864 between Small Pass CC and St. Thomas’ College, then situated at Mutwal.
However, with such a rich heritage, the global keepers of the game held Sri Lanka at bay without making it a full member of the circuit till 1980. In 1982, Sri Lanka played its first Test against England at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium. Though Sri Lanka lost that game, they played very mature cricket in their first time out and only the lack of exposure in five-day cricket that brought them the defeat. However, by then Sri Lanka as an affiliated member had beaten Australia, India and the West Indies in one-day games — besides their impressive performances in the first two World Cup Tournaments in 1975 and 1979.
Barely three-years after playing their first Test, the Lankans recorded their first Test win against India at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium and also beat Pakistan in a Test for the first time at the CCC Grounds in 1986. With the country enveloped in a civil war during that period, international cricket was few and far-between and a Test win was almost rare. So, two Test wins in two years were a feat to celebrate.
In 1995, Sri Lanka won their first overseas Test in New Zealand and under Arjuna Ranatunga the cricket upsurge hit the crescendo with the World Cup win in 1996. By this time the Murali-Vaas era also arrived and the World of Cricket even grudgingly accepted Sri Lanka as an equal partner in every sense.
Today the Lankan cricket is supposedly a long way as against the scenarios in the 80s and the 90s. Now the cricketers are true professionals and even the cricket administration looks quite professional and the officials sometimes act as if they are that. Yet ironically, the Lankan cricketers and officials seem to have mixed up their priorities.
At present the yardstick is the bottom-line. There was enough flowery language used by the cricketers in their urge to attend the IPL fixtures this year. The Tamil Nadu administration were against the Lankans taking part in any sport in India and the Lankan cricketers did show their resolve when they took up the challenge and crossed the Palk Straight to honour their contracts with the IPL masters. Even at this point we are with them because we, too, believe that at no point should politics get mingled with any form of sport — even when it comes to the election of a head to a sports body.
Yet, lately what have we done to ourselves. For pure economic reasons Sri Lanka is gradually running away from the longer version of the game and the players who are neck-deep in money-making also toe the line without a whimper.
Even this column was against Arjuna Ranatunga when he tried to force an English tour down the throats of the Lankans cricketers in 2008. But, in hindsight, we feel that the tour should have gone on; the entire approach towards that exercise should have been different. The ultimate result of that confrontation was the players taking control of the game somewhat and giving the crooked administrators the ideal tool to misconstrue the whole concept of quality cricket.
In 2011, England arrived in the island to play two Test matches following that year’s IPL tournament in India, but, the dark truth was that Sri Lanka had compromised one-test match to take part in the money-earning Asia Cup that year. This means when England reciprocates the tour prior to 2020 they too can cut down on a Test match if they wish to.
Then to make the West Indian players available for the IPL 2013, Sri Lanka gave up two Test matches when the country goes there in May. India is happy — they got the West Indian players and the Sri Lankan players for the IPL. As compensation, the West Indies will get a triangular series with India. Sri Lanka in the rush is still looking out for a window in FTP to play the postponed two Test matches. Following the West Indies engagement, Sri Lanka also have done away with three home tests against South Africa and will go ahead with the shorter version of the games. The test matches have been postponed for 2015. Why? Sri Lanka has to stage the SLPL and a window for that has to be opened.
Now the latest is that Sri Lankans have done away with their biggest four-day tournament — the Provincial Tournament — and instead have introduced some spurious limited overs tournament. I wonder if India would compromise their Ranji trophy tournament or Australia their Sheffield Shield, or England its county cricket for that matter.
Even the man who shoots his opponent in the middle of the day in front of a large gathering can come up with excuse. Sri Lanka Cricket also has come up with one for this act too.
The Lankan ‘A’ team cricketers who are the next in line for us are to embark on a tour of the West Indies in June. Now they are in preparation. During that tour they are scheduled to play two four-day unofficial Tests and three ODIs and two T-20s. Yet, even for that, our administration has kept no window opened for to prepare for the longer version of the game. They will have only the shortcakes. This means Sri Lankan ‘A’ team cricketers will tour West Indies with no match practice in the longer version of the game.
This alone shows how callous and offhanded our administrators are about the future of our Test cricket. The reason it is only the shortcakes that bring them the revenue and even the cricketers get more money for playing less cricket. Like the original cricket sin, we are going to pay for our follies. Just think of the just concluded Bangladesh series. Even while playing at home the Lankans had to pull out all their resources to beat Bangladesh 1-0 in the Test series. But, now the Zimbabwe cricketers have done short work of the Bangladeshis. Remember come October we too will have to face the truth in Zimbabwe. If Sri Lanka lose over there, everyone who is responsible for the present day’s game — players and administrators — should be held responsible.