On-field laurels marred by boardroom politics- Sri Lanka’s year in review
A manic year for Sri Lanka saw them stamping their authority over world cricket with outstanding performances across all formats of the game. The trophy cabinet was accessed more than ever with the Asia Cup, Twenty20 World Cup, Asian Games gold medal, a first-ever Test series victory on English soil and six other bilateral series wins bedecking their good run in 2014.
A deluge of Test matches quenched the drought that plagued Sri Lanka the previous year. A whopping 11 Tests were played, which saw Sri Lanka win five and lose three. Sri Lanka’s win-loss ratio of 1.66 is the third best by any team this year
After Chaminda Vaas took over the reins of the fast bowling phalanx, Sri Lanka’s pace battery has done exceptionally well, bowling with exacting precision and showing great courage and passion on the field. The pace bowlers — Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga, Nuwan Pradeep and Dhammika Prasad — have taken 93 wickets at 37.32. The fast bowlers’ returns are the second-best for a team from the subcontinent in 2014. It must also be noted that Sri Lanka played only three matches in conditions that are tailor-made for fast bowling.
Rangana Herath’s superintendence over Sri Lanka’s bowling continued, with him leading the catalogue of highest wicket-takers with 60 wickets. The selectors’ quest for an acolyte for Herath finally came to an end, with Dilruwan Perera plugging himself firmly into the second spinner’s slot. Perera, in 2014, has picked up 36 wickets at an average of 30.08. He is also the fourth-highest wicket-taker in Tests in the year.
After Tillakaratne Dilshan’s retirement from five-day cricket, the promotion of Kaushal Silva to open paid off. The wicketkeeper-batsman showed dogged resistance and calmness. Silva played in every Test match this year and averages 42.23 with one century (includes stats from the Test innings he played in 2014 against Pakistan, although the Test match began on December 31 of the previous year).
Silva’s partners however have not done as well. Dimuth Karunaratne often did the hard yards of seeing off the glint of the new ball, but the continuum of throwing away his wicket after getting a start perpetuated throughout the year. Upul Tharanga was brought back to supplant Karunaratne’s failures, but Tharanga’s wonted struggles against the moving ball forced the selectors to look back at Karunaratne again. At the twilight of this year, Karunaratne repaid the faith the selectors showed in him by striking 152 runs on a seaming wicket. That solitary innings has earned him a place in Sri Lanka’s ODI squad and possibly a World Cup place.
Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews were the mainstays for Sri Lanka with the bat in the five-day game. Sangakkara is the highest run-getter this year in Tests, with 1493 runs at 71.09 (including four centuries). Mathews has held Sri Lanka’s batting together in the middle order, having scored 1317 runs. His 160 at Leeds against England, batting with the tail, is a testimony of the Sri Lankan skipper’s gargantuan transformation. In 2014, Mathews averages 87.80 with the bat and has three centuries.
In ODIs Sri Lanka has had a great year, winning 20 out of 32 matches. Sri Lanka reassured its ascendancy over cricket teams this year by winning the Asia Cup in Bangladesh and bilateral series against Bangladesh, Pakistan and England.
The tribulations with the opening partnership continued in the 50-over format. The selectors shuttled between Kusal Perera, Upul Tharanga, Mahela Jayawardene and Niroshan Dickwella with no luck.
The year also saw Sachithra Senanayake falling prey to the ICC’s clamp down on chucking. Senanayake remodelled his action and returned against England later in the year, and picked up five wickets in the two matches after his comeback. The off spinner has picked up 27 wickets at an economy rate of 4.38 — and he mostly bowls during power-plays.
Mathews’s mount to the helm of Sri Lanka’s batting has been phenomenal. He piled up 1244 ODI runs at a staggering average of 62.20. Sangakkara’s authority in Tests parlayed into sumptuous form in one-dayers, as he heaped up 1256 runs at 41.51.
With World Cup on the horizon, Sri Lanka has all their four main artilleries firing. Mahela Jayawardene has looked good since quitting Tests and Dilshan’s all-round skills have given the team more options. Although the youngsters kept failing for most of the year, Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne found their charm back late in the year against England.
Ajantha Mendis leads the wicket column in 2014 with 38 scalps, while Lasith Malinga has picked up 29 victims. Thisara Perera, despite being inconsistent, has produced erratic spectacles with both bat and ball.
There were farewells galore: Jayawardene’s farewell Test series and Sangakkara’s and Jayawardene’s final ODI appearances on home soil were graced by throngs of fans and the legends received much-deserved tributes.
Sri Lanka broke its 18-year-long wait for a World Cup trophy in the World Twenty20 final with victory over India in the final in April. Sri Lanka’s win-loss ratio of a quixotic 8.0 places them in the thermosphere in T20s. Sri Lanka’s only defeat this year in T20s has ironically come against England, who have the worst win-loss ratio for a team belonging to the top tier.
The island nation also managed to snatch gold at the Asian Games in South Korea, where the T20 format was utilised, by beating Afghanistan in the finals in October.
Although Sangakkara’s and Jayawardene’s retirements from T20s is likely to be felt, the team has managed to win its only T20 assignment in the post-Sangawardene era under Malinga’s guidance.
Any pride earned through on-field jousts was however put to shame by a plethora of trivial and embarrassing boardroom politics and administrative blunders, which were seemingly destined to scar the image of the nation’s cricketing pedigree.
Another contract issue raised its head earlier this year, as the players yet again refused to sign an unfair contract. The board then threatened to send a second-string team to the World Twenty20. Later, at the completion of the World Twenty20, a Sri Lankan media outlet published e-mails exchanged between Jayawardene, chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya and team manager Michael de Zoysa.
A proposal to purchase vehicles worth 40 million rupees for high-ranking officials of SLC, against a background of bankruptcy, made headlines in September. There were also speculations about an alleged plan to purchase tickets worth nine-million rupees to be distributed free of charge to cricket board officials.
In addition, the press reported of a possible rift in relationship between board officials in September, as the officials were involved in public spats.
In the same month, Thisara Perera confirmed that he was approached by New Zealand to play for them, after he had an alleged falling out with the head of the selection panel Jayasuriya. Their differences were reportedly sorted out with the intervention of the president of Sri Lanka. Thisara Perera was denied NOCs to play in the Big Bash League and the Caribbean Premier League by Jayasuriya, citing underwhelming performances for the national team, and that too despite Perera grabbing five man of the match awards this year.
There were also allegations from players in the national women’s team about sexual harassment. Although the board launched an investigation into the matter, the results are not yet known. The scandal that took fans by storm was swept under the carpet and is now almost forgotten, but resurfaced again when it was recently revealed that the individuals under investigation continued to work with the female players.
In recent days, with the presidential elections frothing the nation, Arjuna Ranatunga complained about an effort from the government to involve cricketers in their political campaigns.
Even though Sri Lanka’s triumph at the World Twenty20 was remarkable, the high point in the year was when they conquered the English Test team in their own backyard. After squaring the first Test with just one wicket to spare, Mathews lead Sri Lanka’s fierce, unflagging fightback and helped his side win the second Test, which they sealed off the penultimate ball of the match. Shaminda Eranga and Dhammika Prasad helped form an impressive pace attack, while Mathews’s 160 (batting with the tail) showcased immense mental strength. This was Sri Lanka’s first Test series win on English soil, in a series with more than one match. They had previously won a one-off Test series in 1998.
The hastily arranged five-match series against India by SLC, replacing West Indies who abandoned their tour of India, which was done to please the BCCI, bought humiliation. Sri Lanka suffered their only one-day whitewash of the year. Prior to that, only one ODI series had been lost.
Angelo Mathews — the new flag bearer
With the careers of Sangakkara and Jayawardene coming to an end, Mathews’s responsible cricket has been reassuring. He has inspiringly lead Sri Lanka both in ODIs and Tests, and his batting has reached new heights. With both Chandimal and Thirimanne failing to impress, Mathews’s maturity and affinity to accept responsibility will help Sri Lanka make the transition from the Sangawardene era smooth.
What’s in store for 2015
Sri Lanka’s major assignment in 2015 would be the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Sangakkara and Jayawardene are set to retire after the World Cup and interesting times await Sri Lanka, as they are actively searching for reinforcements. Sangakkara will play Test cricket for awhile longer, but one does not expect him to play beyond 2015.
Dilshan has promised that he will continue after the World Cup, and his experience will help the youngsters to take Sri Lanka forward.
If there is a change of government in the upcoming presidential election, optimists can expect a reversal of fortune for cricket in Sri Lanka. The incompetent officials who have glued themselves to the seats at SLC with political support will hopefully be evicted from Maitland Place for good.