Rex Clementine, in Sunday Island 12 February 2017 where the title is “Eight weeks of torture in South Africa”
The eight weeks of torture in South Africa is finally over. If Sri Lanka’s series whitewash over Australia last year gave us any false assurance that all is well with our cricket, we have been just given a rude wake up call. It’s all back to square one. The bilateral series against Bangladesh next month will perhaps open us up to harsher realities. Whitewashed in Tests, whitewashed in ODIs, many Sri Lankans boarded the flight from Johannesburg yesterday with their confidence shattered.
All credit to South Africa. Following the 5-0 win, they have unseated Australia as world’s number one ranked team. They highly deserve the top position. Despite the quota system, that gives players of colour an advantage over white South Africans, they have now won 11 ODIs in a row.
Sri Lanka embarked on the tour of South Africa confident that the younger players to emerge in 2016 like Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis will make steady progress. After 14 innings, across all three formats of the game, Mendis managed two half-centuries while Dhananjaya wasn’t able to score a single 50 also after 14 innings.
The biggest let down, however, was Dinesh Chandimal. Easily Sri Lanka’s best batsman in 2016, Chandimal never got going and was axed for the last two games after not scoring a half-century in 12 innings. Groomed to succeed Angelo Mathews, continuous failures saw the captaincy of the ODI team taken away from him after Mathews was ruled out with injury. Eventually he was dumped for the tour of Australia and now Chandimal has to reinvent himself.
There’s no question about Chandimal’s performance at home. But it’s your performance away from home that defines you. He maybe a champion batsman at home, but unless he backs up those performances away from home, he will not get his dues.
That’s why Kumar Sangakkara earns higher accolades than his equally impressive contemporary Mahela Jayawardene. Sanga had an average of 57 in Test cricket while averaging 53 away from home. Sensational record. Mahela’s career average was 49, but overseas the average dropped to 43.
In ODI cricket, Sanga’s stats were even more stunning. He had a career average of 41 but overseas he averaged 43 whereas Mahela averaged 33 at home and 29 overseas.
When the Cricket Committee headed by Aravinda de Silva meets, to review one of Sri Lanka’s disastrous cricket tours, the team’s preparation ahead of the series needs to be discussed at length. Sri Lanka just played one warm-up game ahead of the tour and that was hardly satisfactory given the challenging task and subsequent result.
Apart from discussion, there also needs to be a resolution made to make better preparations ahead of such a tough series in future. It remains to be seen what kind of preparation SLC will arrange for the team for the Champions Trophy in England later this year.
Given Head Coach Graham Ford’s contacts in South Africa, there’s much that Sri Lanka Cricket could have done to help the team in their preparations.
Gary Kirsten when he was coaching India, ahead of the team’s tour to South Africa in 2010 took some of the Indian batters to Cape Town where they worked in his academy and the results were impressive.
Historically, of all cricket playing nations, the Sri Lankans have struggled in South Africa the most. The records certainly back that statement. They have lost 11 of the 13 Tests in South Africa and 29 of the 45 ODIs. With such pathetic record and given Sri Lanka’s preparation ahead of the series, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
The series whitewash saw Sri Lanka losing three points in the official ICC Rankings. Prior to the series, Sri Lanka were ranked sixth and had 101 points and now it has fallen to 98, just seven above Bangladesh who are ranked seventh. Sri Lanka’s Test cricket is in crisis as well with the team ranked seventh.
Despite the setbacks, there were a few positives as well for the tourists. The foremost of them being victory in the T-20 series although it was against a depleted South African unit. It is in the shortest format that the Sri Lankans have fared worse in recent times as evident by their eighth position according to official rankings. That’s an indication what a lot of work needs to be done to help the team get back to glory days.
Nineteen-year-old fast bowler Lahiru Kumara impressed many with his ability to generate decent pace while the experienced Suranga Lakmal rediscovered his form during the Test series. He was badly let down by the fielders with poor catching.
Wicketkeeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella with outstanding fighting skills looks a player for the future and the aggression he showcased hasn’t been seen by a Sri Lankan for a long time.
The most impressive of them all was all-rounder Asela Gunaratne. The 31-year-old, who represents Army Sports Club has been excellent in domestic cricket and has done quite well with the ‘A’ team as well.
His unbeaten century in the final ODI at Centurion came as a huge relief in otherwise what has been a pathetic batting display by the Sri Lankans.