Sri Lanka's Anathematized Young Batsmen

Sri Lanka is quirky among Cricket Playing Nations. Among the Top Cricket Playing Nations, Sri Lanka has the least GDP; is the second least populated; has the worst domestic structure; and has the least number of International Stadiums.  Sri Lanka has a Sports Minister who has no idea about sports. The island is fret with media who are too naive to unravel the political plot surrounding various pogroms but are too strong and patriotic to accuse the Cricket Team of dishonesty, match fixing and lack of devotion.There are journalists who permeate hearsay for their own ballyhoo and wangle happenings to advocate their pre-science. There is a Cricket Board that circulates  secret documents, condemning a team that disembarks victoriously and then, there is a James-Bond-Style journalist in the mold of W.G. Karunasena who has access to those ‘secret’ documents. There is a Secretary who is rapacious to take disciplinary action against two men, one who was the Man of the Match in a World Cup final, and another whose tactical ingenuity helped the team claim glory. Twitter banter between two Cricketers become news, while an attempted genocide against a Minority group go unnoticed. Racists are hailed as heroes while heroes are called mercenaries.

Climate in the isle allows Cricket through out the year, yet the sport attracts enough rain clouds to halt the game. We have nine provinces but only three have hosted International matches. Grounds have flood lights but are not turned on. Players bring income to the board, but they are not entitled to receive most of them. There is a match winner, whom franchises all over the world are after, but has no place in the National side. There is a bowler who has hurled the team back from the brink of defeat many a times with a sore knee, yet he is called a greedy. There is a leader who requested the board to build a stadium in his home town and made it his namesake, yet spent nothing from his pocket.

On the other end of the world are men, who have braved a tsunami, many ethnic riots, a terrorist attack, hunger, poverty and bankruptcy. There are two great pillars who take the team forward on their own shoulders.They find the talents, nurture them and prepare them for the future. Cricket board doesn’t administrate the sport, but these two pillars do. The former selectors couldn’t spot talents, but these two did. Managers didn’t build a team but they laboriously did. One of those pillars, speaks for the team and country. When it orated about the pride of its home and censured the power mongrels, the Home of Cricket rose to applaud, but his own home requested a translation.

This is the best abstract I can give you about a sport that is ardently followed by inmates of my home. In short Sri Lanka is not conducive for any utilitarian ventures. However, Casinos, Prostitution, Human Trafficking, Sex Trade  and Corruption are exclusions.

Tea and Cricket are the only two products that allow us to swank about our Nation.  Cricket is the only stage in which we can trounce countries like Australia, England and India. Kumar Sangakkara, Muttiah Muralitharan and Santha Jayasuriya are better recognized and better received by people all  over the world than our politicians.  We don’t have leaders who can inspire youths, but a team that can epitomize unyielding persistence by picking up a wicket in the penultimate ball of a Test match to make history.

As aforementioned Sri Lanka easily has the worst Cricket system among the World Cup Winners in Cricket. That doesn’t mean the system is any better than than the ones in South Africa and New Zealand. But still Sri Lanka keeps on churning radiant youngsters into International circuit, who have the potential to challenge the privileged youths from other countries , but unfortunately do not live up to their potential.

There is a famous truism in the Social Media about Sri Lanka’s constant skepticism about youngsters. “As Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias were approaching the twilight of their careers, critics feared for the health of Sri Lankan cricket the day the duo quit. But the likes of Arvinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga shouldered the burden admirably. The sentiments however, were echoed again as Arvinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga were reaching mid 30s. But the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu took the team to a new level. The sentiments were repeated again a few years ago but Sangakkara, Jayawardane and Dilshan have managed the burden pretty well.” 

There has been a constant worry about Sri Lanka’s future. The fact that the team has always been built around two or three individuals meant that, when they reached their finish line, Sri Lanka always had to find someone to relay the baton. The receivers were often pressurised to fill in the shoes of their predecessors. The major reason for this very same problem recurring is that Sri Lanka has always failed to find players who can adhere their place in the team along with these baton bearers.

Even in the current set-up there were players who could have made the transition smooth. Kapugedera, Maharoof, Jehan Mubarak could have all been the bridge that carried Sri Lanka forward from one era to another. But all of them failed. Now at the twilight of the careers of the two executive henchmen of Sri Lanka Cricket, Sri Lanka identified Thirimanne and Chandimal as the baton bearers, but the recent results have been unbecoming.

The media and the fans have been pushed to the brim of their patience that there has emerged a new faction that wants to search for future ahead of Chandimal and Thirimanne. Names of Priyanjan, Vithanage and Shehan Jayasuriya have been thrown forward as replacements for the inept duo.

What the selectors should be careful about is that they should not take hasty decisions, going after prompt results. Chandimal and Thirimanne have to contend a lot more than just swinging balls and menacing pace men.

First and foremost there is too much expectation on the team. We expect victories in tests when we would have settled in for a draw five years back. Fight backs are no more appreciated since ruthlessness is expected. We have shedded our inferiority complex and expect wins against all oppositions. This has made the fans and critics look for meticulousness in the young bloods. We expect our youngsters to blast out oppositions like Virat Kholi and Maxwell. We don’t want them to slowly settle into a role in the team but shine promptly. So, even when they do a decent job, that would not be enough to vouch for their ability.

Then there is the modern media trend of branding youngsters as the next somebody. Hither to, we have the next Sanath, the next Sanga and the next Mahela. What it does is, it exerts immense pressure on the youngsters cringing them with expectations and coercion to be thorough and impeccable.

The selectors too played a major role in the decline of Chandimal and Thirimanne. First Chandimal was thrusted with vice-captaincy and captaincy in T20Is. Once he degenerated, it was Thirimanne’s chance to be doomed with vice-captaincy.

There was a time during which Sri Lankan Cricketers lived a life of normalcy. Media had a lot to talk about and write about. There was LTTE and a war. News channels covered war and war related politics. TV debates were exclusively about war and LTTE. Whenever there was a Breaking News, you could safely assume there had been a bomb blast. But war ended 5 years ago. LTTE doesn’t exist any more. Writing about politicians would end up in being hammered by a government sponsored goon. The result, the media has found the softest targets to attack. Now we have TV shows where Cricket is discussed by Armchair critics. They question the morale, honesty and the dedication of the seniors. Youngsters are not given a reprieve either. So there is always an unseen force exerted on youngsters. There is pressure to succeed.

The Domestic Structure in Sri Lanka doesn’t help either. The youngsters have spoken about the difficulty in bridging First Class standard and International Standard, lengthwise and breadth wise. A player having played only 3 day matches, have to play 5 days. Having been brought up in slow dust bowls in domestic cricket, players have to brave pitches with bounce and carry. Even home pitches are alien to most youngsters, making their debut. Youngsters have to learn quickly and acclimatize, let alone scoring runs.

Another important factor is the lack of support from the bowling department. There is no Murali in the team. Hence there is always pressure on the batting line up to score heavily, giving bowlers space to breath. Even seniors have succumbed to the pressure at times. Youngsters are no exclusions.

Then there is a coach, who knew all about the youngsters and on whom the youngsters have confided their weaknesses on seeking assistance, swapping camps. Against England, Thirimanne’s and Chandimal’s weaknesses were well exploited, thanks to Paul Fabrace who sneaked about the juveniles to the English bowlers.

The youngsters often become passive listeners during the contract dispute between seniors and the board. Youngsters are poorly paid. Yet the board expects them to be self- effacing and patriotic by regarding county over money manufacturing franchises. Certain players are denied NOCs to play in league tournaments, while having to sit out of the National side.

On the other hand, we must also understand the fact  that, our youngsters have played most of their games in testing conditions early in their careers unlike their precursors. Chandimal has batted in Australia, South Africa and England. Thirimanne made his debut in England. So fans should be discreet in criticizing the younger guns.

Mahela and Sangakkara too failed early in their careers. Atapattu was a hoarder of ducks at the beginning of his career. Mahela averaged 46.55 in his first 14 test matches, with two centuries and 5 50s. 9 of those matches were played in Sri Lanka. He had the luxury of facing India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Zimbabwe in conditions that were batsman friendly. Sangkkara averaged 43.95 in his first 14 games, scoring 2 centuries and 5 50s. 11 of those matches were in Sri Lanka.

Chandimal, on the other hand, has played just 5 of his 14 games in Sri Lanka. In his short career, he has played in Australia, South Africa and England. 7 of Thirimanne’s 13 test matches have been played outside Sri Lanka. Unlike Chandimal he didn’t have the luxury of playing Bangladesh much. In their young career they have undergone a lot of tough times. Some hefty scores against teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh could have given us a lot of hope. But their experience in the minefields away from home will definitely yield results in the future. Mathews too was no angel, when he made his debut. But the patience selectors showed on him, has resulted in Sri Lanka unearthing a remarkable all-rounder.

It seems selectors have too many resources as far as the batting is concerned. There is Angelo Perera, Ahasn Priyanjan and Kithuruwan Vithanage. But the selectors shouldn’t be enticed by picking and dropping and choosing and chopping policy, which will become a grave mistake. Perhaps they can take a leaf off how the fast bowlers are being managed.  Sri Lanka has a dearth of fast bowlers, hence has adopted an effective mechanism to exploit the limited resources. Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep were very raw when they made their debut. They were cheesy, below par and pathetic. But the selectors didn’t have any option beyond them. Hence they kept faith on them. The bowling coaches worked tirelessly with the youngsters. The hard work has now started yielding results. In the same way, selectors should persist with Thirimanne and Chandimal, work with them, find their weak areas and improve them.

We are no India nor Australia to find prompt reinforcements. Thirimanne and Chandimal are our precious gems, too valuable to be cast into the dustbin. All what they need is a spark; one innings to herald confidence and hope. They are embers, who need to be kindled to become a flame that would keep Cricket in Sri Lanka burning through dark periods.

 

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