Clementine’s Reflections on Cricket in Lanka Today

Rex Clementine, in The Island, 8 September 2016, where the title is “The Carnage at Pallekele”

Australian batsman Glenn Maxwell relaxes ahead of the second T-20 International against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Friday. Maxwell’s sensational unbeaten 145 at Pallekele helped the tourists to take a 1-0 lead in the two match series. ‘Let’s rewrite history’ said a billboard at Pallekele, the venue for the first T-20 International between Australia and Sri Lanka. That’s exactly what Sri Lanka did conceding a World Record 263 on Tuesday night. Sri Lanka’s record for most runs in an innings in T-20s had stood for nine years and it was snatched away by Glenn Maxwell.

maxwell Australian batsman Glenn Maxwell relaxes ahead of the second T-20 International against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Friday. Maxwell’s sensational unbeaten 145 at Pallekele helped the tourists to take a 1-0 lead in the two match series. 

The heavy defeats in first T-20 International and the ODI series have brought some people back to earth after the euphoria of the Test series win. The 3-0 whitewash in Tests was great, but intoxicated by the rare achievement, some were wandering around two feet above the ground level. The stark reality of our cricket has brought them to ground level. The great game of ours is a fine leveler.

he Test series whitewash was owing to a couple of facts. The outstanding bowling of Rangana Herath, the sheer brilliance of young kid Kusal Mendis, three spectacular knocks in the final Test by Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva and Kaushal Silva. Australia didn’t help themselves with some bizarre selections. The whitewash gave some people a false sense of security that everything was bright with our cricket. The reality is far from it. The series win allowed people to forget some of the grey areas of our cricket. The Pallekele carnage has exposed them to harsher realities.

We are ranked eighth in T-20 cricket in the world. This year, Sri Lanka have lost 12 of the 15 T-20 Internationals they have played. Among those three wins, two were against Afghanistan and UAE. That sums up the plight of Sri Lankan cricket. It’s not a problem that we are faced with all of a sudden. The decline, like that of West Indies has been gradual. We hate to being doomsday prophets, but darker days are ahead for Sri Lankan cricket.

Even a country like Bangladesh has a top class domestic T-20 competition. Pakistan successfully ran their version of the IPL sometime back and the franchise based tournament is well established in other parts of the world too where overseas talents share the dressing room with young players of those countries.

Sri Lanka’s version of the IPL titled Sri Lanka Premier League with Indian sponsors on board a few years ago was an utter farce. There have been efforts to reintroduce a strong domestic T-20 competition, but the interest shown by corporates has been lukewarm.

In 1980s and 1990s, the keen interest shown by local companies was one reason why sports thrived. Leading companies like HNB, Maharajas, Singer, Ceylon Tobacco and Akbar Brothers treated sportsmen like royalty. Maharajas took pride of the fact that half of the national cricket team were their employees while Hebdullah Boys claimed that the country’s best batsman – Aravinda de Silva – worked for them.

The game of cricket has become professional and employing top level players is not the need of the hour anymore. However, top companies can support the game in other ways. While these issues need long term solutions, in the short term, Sri Lanka can do much to avoid further humiliations. In all, Sri Lanka’s bowlers served up 13 full tosses in the first T-20. They were easy picking for Maxwell and his colleagues. Suranga Lakmal has been around for six years, but has never won Sri Lanka a game in any of the three formats. After 29 Tests, he owns a bowling average touching 50. With his doosra banned, Sachithra Senanayake is a spent force.

Chamara Kapugedera has been in and out of the side for ten years now. His latest knock of 43 off 25 deliveries the other night has got some people excited. When he first came into the scene in 2006, he was treated as if the next big thing in Sri Lankan cricket. But over the years, Kapugedera has dabbled in cricket and modeling without succeeding in either. Given the batting talents that emerged this year alone, Sri Lanka will be better off moving forward. There’s been never a doubt about his talent, the problem lies with application.

The interest among fans for the sport has reached new heights. Tickets for four of the five ODIs and both T-20s were sold out. Tickets for tomorrow’s game actually had got sold out two weeks before. People running the sport need to find both short term and long term solutions to keep interest levels high.

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