ONE = Mahinda Wijesinghe: “Giving up the game when ‘there’s nothing left in the tank’,” Sunday Island, 9 September 2018
At the moment cricket fans are awaiting the Asia Cup 2018 due to begin on September 15 with Sri Lanka placed in Group B alongside Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Unfortunately Sri Lanka is starting on the wrong foot with Chandimal on the injured list while Akila Dananjaya will in all probability miss two games and has informed the selectors to excuse him since he wants to be present when he is due to become a father for the first time shortly. Family comes before profession is a motto he is following. In this time and age, modern technology enable doctors to predict births almost to the date. Taking this into account, Dananjaya has taken the right decision by the family and the team. Opting out of the tour, at least where two games are concerned, before the tour begins is the correct decision. Going on the tour and baling out halfway is obviously not this youngster’s style. Well done Dananjaya, you have set an example even to your seniors. Let me wish you the best of luck as a father and as a player when you rejoin the team.
The recently concluded Provincial T20 tournament has revealed the batting skills, especially of skipper Upul Tharanga who led Team Colombo to championship honours, and that of Dasun Shanaka of Team Kandy.
Tharanga seems to have found his touch in a remarkable manner, aggregating 414 runs, inclusive of two centuries at an average of over a 100. There were two unbeaten innings helping him to attain this average. This is of course due to the fact that Tharanga was “there at the end” in successful run chases. This is not all. He hit 32 boundaries and 28 sixes which means over 70% of his runs were scored in this manner. In the final, for Team Colombo, Tharanga blasted 104* runs in just 55 balls (six fours and nine sixes) over Team Dambulla! Similarly, Dasun Shanaka hit 26 boundaries and 19 sixes in aggregating 312 runs in the tournament. There again Shanaka had scored almost 70% of his runs in boundaries/sixes including one century. So Sri Lanka has at least two batsmen who are able to turn the tide in the current form they are in. Let us hope our middle-order batsmen will take the cue and keep the foot on the accelerator rather than remain unbeaten at the end by playing dot balls.
Maybe the selectors have opted not to pick Dickwella for the Asia Cup and include a bowler in his stead especially with another blaster batsman in wicket-keeper/cum opening batsman Kusal Janith being an automatic choice in the side.
The inclusion of paceman Lasith Malinga in the 16-man squad seems to have cleared a lot of controversy, but whether he would be picked for the eventual playing XI is another matter. After all, can he resume bowling his toe -crushing Yorkers at the death and be fleet-footed on the field?
Malinga cannot be ‘hidden’ in the ‘slips’ hence the opposition will always target him for that extra run from the outfield that could easily mean the difference between a win and/or a loss.
Let us now turn our attention to the international scene. England skipper Alastair Cook, the left-handed opening batsman who made a century on his Test debut (against India in 2006) and who has amassed over 12,000 Test runs at a commendable average of 44.88 has decided to call it a day at the end of the ongoing series against India. Indeed, after having played his 161st Test, Cook is the sixth highest scorer in five-day cricket is well ahead of his compatriots Gooch (8,900), Stewart (8,463), Gower (8,231) and Pietersen (8,181).
More than the mere statistics, here’s what he said, inter alia, when he announced his retirement: “Although it is a sad day, I can do so with a big smile on my face knowing I have given everything and there is nothing left in the tank. I have achieved more than I could ever have imagined and feel very privileged for such a long time to have played alongside some of the greats of the English game……. My family and I have had 12 wonderful years fulfilling my dreams and this could not have been done without them.”
Cook maintains he will still serve his county Essex in the English County championship. Here’s a professional who has hung up his bat at the right time. Given his decision, fans will not ask him ‘when’ (he is retiring) and not ‘why’ is he still playing!
Maybe a good lesson for some of our cricketers too.
TWO =Rex Clementine: “Can Sri Lanka end their ODI woes?” Island, 9 Septemebr 2018
Sri Lanka are the defending champions of Asia Cup having won the event when it was conducted in the 50 over format four years ago in Bangladesh. (In 2016, the tournament was played in T-20 format where India emerged champions). When Angelo Mathews’ side was crowned champions in 2014 convincingly beating Pakistan in the final in Dhaka, the big three – Sanga, Mahela and Dilshan – were very much part of the side.
Yet, Lahiru Thirimanne was named Player of the Series, after he compiled two hundreds in the competition including one in the final. Four years on, he has fallen completely off the radar. Something went wrong somewhere in our cricket.
Sri Lanka clearly will travel to Dubai next week as underdogs. Both India and Pakistan whitewashed them 5-0 only last year and the scars are still fresh.
However, Dubai was also the venue where Sri Lanka ended Paksitan’s unbeaten run in the desert that had lasted for seven years since the gulf region became their adopted home in 2010. That win of course came in the longer format of the game.
It won’t be an understatement to say that all what the Sri Lankans are looking forward to is to qualify for the Super Four stage. They have avoided both India and Pakistan in the first round as the organizers have pooled the arch-rivals in the same group. It is a clever marketing strategy as this means that India and Pakistan will meet each other at least twice in the competition. Commercially, in the form of television revenue, the Asian Cricket Council will make a kill.
Both Sri Lanka’s opponents in the first round – Bangladesh and Afghanistan have made tremendous progress over the last 24 months. Bangladesh even knocked Sri Lanka out of the Nidahas Trophy final in March this year.
Off-spinner Akila Dananjaya with his clever variations has emerged as Sri Lanka’s main weapon in shorter formats of the game and his wicket taking ability will serve the team well moving forward. The fact that he will not be available for both the first round matches is a massive blow.
The selectors were under tremendous pressure to include Lasith Malinga for the recent series against South Africa. They didn’t give in insisting that all players need to make themselves available for domestic cricket to be eligible for selection.
With Malinga making himself available for the SLC T-20 League last month, he was eligible for selection and the selectors have backed him. However, while there are no questions about Malinga being able to send down four overs in T-20 cricket, it remains to be seen whether he could take up the challenges of 50 over cricket having cut a pathetic figure the last time he played ODIs more than a year ago.
Batting remains Sri Lanka’s weakest link with the team unable to bat through 50 overs recently. The arrival of Dhananjaya de Silva, who came up with a couple of match winning performances in recent times augurs well.
Former captain Upul Tharanga was in awful form during the South African series and not many expected him to feature in the Asia Cup. But he has forced himself back into the side with some solid performances in domestic cricket having helped Colombo to win the domestic T-20 league.
How Sri Lanka will fare depends much on the form of captain Angelo Mathews. The 31-year-old in the last 18 months has struggled with injuries and hasn’t been his usual best. But during the South African series he showcased glimpses of his former self. At present, captain Mathews is the best match winner Sri Lanka have got.
Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha is determined to fix Sri Lanka’s ODI woes and he is confident that the team will be able to turn things around by the time the World Cup comes. Sri Lankan fans are keen to see their team return to glory days where they dominated the game, particular in the shorter format of the games. No other team has reached five finals in the last ten years in ICC events and the onus is on Hathurusingha to put Sri Lankan cricket back on track.
The team will certainly do well without off the field distractions. The six match suspension of Danushka Gunathilaka was highly unnecessary at a time he was looking to cement his place. The left-handed opener has got only himself to blame. He is lucky to earn selection for Asia Cup, but leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay, who was expelled from West Indies for breaking team curfew is not so fortunate. His chances of making the cut for the World Cup look almost over.
With Hathurusingha, you take chances at your own peril.