Tissa Jayatilaka, in the Island, 9 April 2014, where the title is “Our cricketers have put Sri Lanka on the map again”
Arjuna Ranatunga and the team he led did Sri Lanka proud by winning the ICC World Cricket Cup in the 50-over version of the game, at the picturesque Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore in 1996. After an 18-year wait, Sri Lanka are now the champs of the even shorter version of the game, by winning the T-20 ICC World Cup in Dhaka, after coming excruciatingly close to winning a World Cricket Cup on four previous occasions, during this near two decade wait. As in 1996, so in 2014, our cricketers have succeeded in putting us on the map once more, despite numerous needless impediments placed in their path, and have given all Sri Lankans something to cheer about.
Sri Lanka played well throughout the tournament, despite losing to England in an amazing game. Chasing Sri Lanka’s imposing 189, England, having been two down for nothing, managed to get the better of us in the second ball of the 20th over, thanks to some whirlwind hitting by Hales and Morgan.
We outplayed New Zealand in style in the qualifying rounds, despite reaching only a modest 119 in our 20 overs, thanks to the mesmerizing spin of Rangana Herath.
A sound all round performance helped us beat South Africa by five runs in a closely fought match. The Netherlanders who did rather well for themselves, following their entry into the big league for the first time, were unfortunately at the receiving end of Sri Lanka who won without a sweat. Although rain aided us to beat the West Indies in our semi-final encounter with them, Sri Lanka showed character and great team work by reaching a competitive 160 after the loss of the top order consisting of Perera, Dilshan, Jayawardene and Sangakkara for a mere 91.
One feels for young Dinesh Chandimal, but the decision to leave him out of the last few games was the correct one in the circumstances. Chandimal is too talented a player not to bounce back and prove his worth in the years to come. Classy cricketers do not allow temporary loss of form to deter or discourage them, and Chandimal will soon be a force to be reckoned with, especially after the departure of senior players like Sangakkara and Jayawardene from the scene.
Lasith Malinga accredited himself well as the stand-in skipper with assistance from the experienced Mahela Jayawardene. Although the input of Sangakkara, Dilshan and Mathews was not as conspicuous, they all would doubtless have contributed tangibly to pre-match preparation, planning and execution of those game plans. On the day of the final, luck was on our side as Malinga won the toss and was able to invite India to take first lease of the wicket.
India is usually more comfortable batting second and to have the luxury of taking them away from their comfort zone was an early boost for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka bowled exceptionally well to keep the Indians from reaching too challenging a total, despite Virat Kohli’s heroics, subsequent to his being dropped by Malinga before he got into his stride. One felt that M. S. Dhoni missed a trick by not coming in himself or sending Suresh Raina at the fall of Rohit Sharma’s wicket. Despite his past brilliant performances, Yuvraj Singh had had a lacklustre tournament in Dhaka by his standards. At 2 for 64 and with not too many overs to go, Raina or Dhoni himself would certainly have proved more effective, than the hapless Singh, who just could not get a move on. Even the normally calm and cool skippers like Dhoni are human after all and do wilt under pressure, don’t they? The fact that India could not reach the boundary during their last four overs is proof of how well Sri Lanka bowled ‘at the death’.
It was a very sound move to play Thisara Perera for his batting alone, and allow Kulasekere, Mathews, Senanayake, Herath and Malinga to share the 20 overs amongst themselves.
It was evident that barring a cricketing miracle, Sri Lanka would get the 131 needed for victory without too much trouble. Most of us hoped very much for our experienced duo, Jayawardene and Sangakkara, to be there when the winning run was scored. Unfortunately, such a dream finish was not to be. Thisara Perera played a cameo of an innings in helping Sangakkara to see Sri Lanka through to a much delayed T-20 triumph. It was great to see that lad from Rathgama, the often maligned Malinga, receiving the ICC Trophy.
All in all, it was good team work that helped Sri Lanka to win. We picked worthy players on merit to represent Sri Lanka. We had horses for courses. There is surely a larger lesson here for our country. If we make it a point to pick worthy teams on the basis of merit to represent Sri Lanka on all other relevant fronts besides cricket, we would have the ability to emerge victorious in those encounters too. We have the intelligence and the necessary talent.
All we need to do is to avoid the pitfall of placing square pegs in round holes.