A Cricket Lover, from The Island, 12 February 2015
There is a lot of cricket talent in Sri Lanka and they are being coached and guided well at school and at Club levels. But once they progress to the national level most of them lose track simply because they are mismanaged by the authorities. The reason for this is that there is no sound programme to carefully nurture them up to the expected level and sustain them there. As a result, SL has lost so many talented players in the past. They have come and gone. The authorities, in the past and present, are solely responsible for the downfall of these talented players.
SL has spin-friendly pitches but we have not produced spinners who can be highly rated as Murali or Warne or even come close to them. At World Cup level, we should have such a spinner in our side.
Further, the places in the National Team were not chosen on merit sometimes in the past but favouritism prevailed. The most recent examples are Jehan Mubarak and Chamara Kapugedera who were very ordinary players but continued to represent the country for a long time in spite of their continuous failures and also at the expense of some other young talents.
This was quite evident in a recent series where spectators and cricket lovers were surprised to see Jehan Mubarak coming on to the field with towels at the drink break, wearing a yellow bib meant for reserve players, although he was neither a reserve nor a member of squad in that match. No inquiry was held on this matter. Public has a right to know who is behind these manipulations as the public money is spent on the players and the country is the looser finally.
Later when the prospective players get a chance to play, their confidence and moral are declined to the lowest level. Therefore, they are bound to fail at the next opportunity given to them and when they fail they are simply thrown out of the squad. This has happened to so many players.
This process must stop if Sri Lanka wants to complete at International Level including the World Cups, players must be selected on merit on their skills, performances, experiences, temperament, fitness etc. Recognising talent is also a skill which few people possess. This should prompt the authorities to train the selectors and respective officials on Sports Administration prior to assigning them with duties in Sports Administration.
Since 1960, from my school days, I have been a follower of International Cricket. During the period of 1960-1975 I used to go and see almost every International Match whenever an International side toured Ceylon, as known at that time, I therefore had the privilege of witnessing so many world class players such as Sir Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Wesley Hall, Clive Lloyd, Basil Butcher, Lance Gibbs, Andy Roberts, Alan Border, Greig Chappel, Norman O’neil, Colin Cowdrey, Tony Lock, etc. in action. Some of them had extraordinary skills as well as other required qualities such as shrewdness, confidence, common sense, judgments etc. that put them above the others on the list.
In the last few decades, Sri Lanka also produced some equally great players like Aravinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Muttiah Muralitharan and also players like T. M. Dilshan and Chaminda Vaas. These are players whose services to Sri Lankan Cricket were outstanding.
However, when one sees the current Sri Lanka team in action one can notice so many shortcomings and drawbacks in the way they play the game. I would therefore like to highlight some of the shortcomings, which should be corrected immediately, if we want to win the World Cup 2015. Sooner it is the better. It is simply because our team has to play the World Cup games on Australia and New Zealand pitches which are generally fast and bouncy. These pitches remind me of the manner how SL lost to Australia in the series played in Australia, just prior to the World Cup in 1996. Our national coaches and the players are certainly aware about the behaviour of these pitches but I wish to highlight some shortcomings below with the sole intention of uplifting the current performance and morale of our team prior to the World Cup.
1. Playing chest/head high balls:
As the Australian pitches are fast and bouncy, our top-order batsmen should be able to play the Head or Chest-high rising balls; this I mention because of my memory of the matches played in Australia just prior to the World Cup ‘96. There we lost some matches badly as our top-order batsmen could not cope with the chest-high rising balls. If my memory is correct seven batsmen, namely Sanath Jayasuriya, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Asanga Gurusinha, Aravinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga and some other recognised batsmen (may be Roshan Mahanama or Hashan Tillakaratne) were caught behind playing the chest-high rising balls. Those batsmen were surely better than the present lot. The current team should therefore decide the technique how they expect to play the chest/head high rising balls. This weakness was shown even in the current NZ series as well. Playing a chest-high fast ball, which is coming in or going away, with difficulty and with a risk, especially early in the innings, is lack of common sense. As I see, there are two options to handle them. Either the batsman should decide to leave the balls rising above the playable height or the batsman should develop the required technique and master those shots that may send the ball over the slips or infield.
Our batsman could play such rising balls on our slow pitches, but they would struggle on Australian pitches as the rising ball comes with extra pace. So option 1 is preferable.
2. Seeing off the first 10 overs by Openers: As we do not have a Jayasuriya or a Kaluwitharana, each batsman should limit his aggression to his potential as the over-aggression has brought our downfall many times thereby bringing unnecessary pressure on the batsmen to follow.
To play off the first ten overs safely, the openers should curtail the over-aggression in the first few overs and play the ball on merit and take singles as far as possible. This I see is a way to put up a 50 runs opening partnership.
3. Get the measure of the wicket: It is prudent if each batsman plays and keeps the ball down in the first few overs till he gets the measure of the wicket and the bowlers.
4. Playing the Out-swinger: In the last few matches, we saw our batsmen getting out by slanting the bat on out-swingers and snicking the ball to slips in trying to guide the ball to the cover area. It is not a bad idea for our batsmen to be cautious enough to play the out-swingers with a straight bat at least in the first ten overs.
1. Try to bowl intelligently: In the recent NZ series we saw both, spin and pace bowlers bowling short and Brendon Mccullum and Kane Williamson took advantage of it and scored fours and sixes at will to establish world records. Even the balls on the right length were not spared. This clearly shows the NZ and Australian batsmen’s ability to score off such balls on their pitches. This is because they are quite used to fast pace and fast pitches. And when our medium pacers bowl short or right length balls it was just a cake walk for them. Our bowlers should therefore try to bowl more Yorkers and full balls to contain the batsmen. And that too should be bowled outside the off stump and not on the leg stump. This idea would be most effective against Australians, New Zealanders and English players. This type of bowling is applicable to both spinners and pace bowlers equally.
2. Spinners not spinning the ball: Spin bowlers are there to spin the ball and get a reasonable turn but we did not see that in the last few matches. We saw Vettori turning the ball considerably but we did not see such a turn from our spinners even occasionally. The turn puts the batsman in two minds which reduces the risk of getting hammered. If the pitch is not spin friendly, how did Vettori turned the ball nearly 45 degrees. Spin bowlers should have a strategy to bowl on non-friendly pitches too.
3. Absence of faster balls: When the West Indies toured SL in 1974, in one over, the great Lance Gibbs bowled three balls at his normal slow speed to our opening batsmen and the forth ball he bowled was at least 3-4 times faster than the normal speed. This faster ball shocked the SL opener and he was clean bowled before he could bring down the bat from back lift.
Since then, I have not seen any spin bowler bowling such a faster ball. Even great Murali did not have such an effective faster ball. Our spinners must develop such a ball to surprise batsmen when needed. Our pace bowlers too should bowl aggressively, like the Australians, without getting into their present nervousness
4. Positioning properly after delivery the ball: On many instances, we saw the SL bowlers not positioning behind stumps to receive the ball from the fielder to affect run outs. Some pace bowlers seem to be lazy to come back to the stumps, when needed, after delivering the ball. They expect the fielder to throw down the stumps all the time. Please play as a team and fight back till the last ball as you are playing for your country!
5. Readiness to pick the ball after delivery: The bowlers should really be ready to receive the ball back, in the form of a return catch or to prevent a boundary / a single, after delivering the ball. Some of our bowlers do not follow this. They surely must be ready to field the ball within 2-3 yards either side of the wicket, after delivering the ball. It would build pressure on the batsman to our advantage.
6. Lack of confidence: Thisara Perera is a good talent if he plays intelligently and to his potential. Unfortunately, he seems to be bowling without any sense. When Brendan Mccullum and Kane Williamson hit his short balls for fours and sixes he continued to bowl the same type of ball. He would do well if he bowls more Yorkers and full balls outside the off stump when he is attacked. Most of the batsmen cannot score off the Yorkers or full balls because they are used to wait till the ball is bumped to play it. This strategy is good not only for pace bowlers but for spinners as well.
7. Going for the kill: Again in the concluded NZ series, it was exhibited that our bowlers do not have the killer instinct. Our bowlers lacked the desire to go for the kill when things were in our favour. As a result, after dictating terms till the middle game we lost number of matches in the end game. Bowling intelligently in such a position and setting of an attacking field are both equally important in such instances.
1. Wrong fielders at wrong positions: In 1996, when we won the World Cup, Arjuna Ranatunga, the shrewd captain, placed the most suitable fielder at each fielding position. SL could therefore affect run outs, prevent singles and held on to catches offered and win the World Cup.
But this is not evident at present. During the last few series, we saw wrong player at the wrong fielding position. For example, it was disheartening to see Lasith Malinga at cover point, Thisara Perera at covers or Ajantha Mendis at mid-off or mid-on. The result was that the opposition team could score boundaries easily, take singles after playing into the hands of the fielder or capitalise on the dropped catches.
Common sense tells that Lasith Malinga or Ajantha Mendis should be fielding at third man or fine leg whereas Thisara Perera may be placed in the outfield. So at the World Cup, we should ensure that every fielder would fit into the fielding position given to him and also that we develop specialised fielders in close-in positions to prevent singles and effect run outs.
2. Close-in fielders’ inability to affect run outs: In so many occasions in the last few matches, we saw the opposition batsmen playing into the hands of the fielder and taking easy singles thereby rotating the strike as well. Close-in fielders’ role is to prevent singles, take sharp catches and build pressure on the batsman. For this, the close-in fielders must be placed at the proper distance and they should practise to throw down the stumps from their specialised fielding positions. All close-in fielders must be able to do this fairly well.
3. Dropping Catches: At International level, if a fielder is not reliable in taking possible catches he should not be in the team especially in the World Cup Squad. Every fielder should be absorbed in the game at all the time and have confidence in himself so that he does not feel any extra pressure while fielding.
There is no doubt that Angelo Mathews is a good captain who leads from the front and has the potential to win the World Cup for Sri Lanka. It surely is a bonus for us. But, I have seen instances where he relaxes when SL on top of the game, without continuing to apply pressure with a killer instinct.
For example, when a new batsman comes onto the wicket at the fall of early wickets, sometimes Angelo does not apply more pressure by placing two slips, a short cover, a short square leg, a silly mid-off, silly mid-on etc to unsettle the batsman. It surely depends on the bowler, the strength of the batsman and the game position as well.
Another strategy would be to use a reliable bowler and bowl only on one side of the wicket after packing that side with reliable fielders just to frustrate the batsman effectively.Instead of this, Angelo sometimes leaves the batsman to make a mistake himself rather than inducing him to make a mistake. It is an accepted norm that pressure must be applied when a new batsman comes to the wicket, whether the batsman is a reputed or an aggressive one.
May be Sri Lanka can take a cue from the Australians who do not give up till the end and keep the momentum going in trying to take the next wicket by hook or crook. SL too can have that killer instinct without resorting to unacceptable methods.
Trump Card – In 1996, we had a trump card by using two aggressive openers and a strategy to hit over the top from the start in order to score maximum runs within the first fifteen overs and it took the world by surprise.
Similarly, we must think of some tactical trump card(s) especially when we play the stronger teams like Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Pakistan depending on the resources available.
Certainly, all these facts are known to our international cricketers but they forget when they are under pressure or due to inexperience. So I hope the contents of this letter would be taken in good spirit in order to bring SL another World Cup Victory. Our best wishes to the Sri Lanka Team for another World Cup win!