When players like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan retire from international cricket within a gap of a few months, one must give the team some time to recover from the huge loss. It is understandable when you watch Sri Lanka struggle across the formats. The three senior men held most of the weight-age of the team and now that they have bowed out of the international level, Sri Lanka has been having a tough time to restore a stable team. It’s been more than two years since they hung their boots but Sri Lanka seems to be still tangled in the void they had left.
If Sri Lanka were struggling against the biggies like India, England and South Africa, they at least had been dominant against lower-ranked sides. However, Sri Lanka hit rock bottom a couple of days back when they were defeated by Zimbabwe in the bilateral ODI series. Prior to this series, the Zimbabweans had never even won an ODI on the Sri Lankan soil and today they had a series win to their name after triumphing in three out of the five ODIs the two sides had played. To make the scenario look worse for the Lankans, they became the first Full Member to lose to Zimbabwe in 16 years. The Men in Red had beaten Bangladesh 3-0 in 2001.
Sri Lanka locked horns with South Africa in the quarter-final of the ICC Cricket world Cup 2015. While the Lankans collapsed to JP Duminy’s spin, there came the end of an era as it was the final appearance of the two sons of Sri Lanka in their dark blue jersey. It was sheer sadness to watch the legends walk away with nothing after having served their country for over a decade. While Jayawardene had closed his door from international cricket, Sangakkara still had some red ball cricket’s time left in his business. A few months later, when India toured Sri Lanka for a three-Test series, Sangakkara played his final Test.
The Lankans managed to triumph in the first Test but failed to do so in the legend’s last-ever game for Sri Lanka. There embarked Sri Lanka’s rough phase. (With no offence, the phase is still on!)
In the last two years, Sri Lanka has played 10 bilateral ODI series and out of which they have lost an embarrassing seven series, won two and drew one. The two wins are negligible as it came over teams such as Ireland and West Indies and the consolation draw was against Bangladesh. While they won the Tri-Nation series also involving West Indies and Zimbabwe, they failed to make it to the last four in the World Cup 2015.
At the end of the home series against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka has now slipped to No. 8 in the ICC ODI Team Rankings with teams like Bangladesh and Pakistan above them.
One good series in two years…
The only achievement they have unlocked recently is their white-wash over the Australians at home in Tests. Rangana Herath, taking advantage of Australia’s spin woes, clinched yet another 10-wicket haul and ended the final Test with figures of 13 for 145. While Sri Lanka had not fully recovered from Sanga and Mahela’s loss, Dilshan announced retirement from all formats. That series win pushed the Lankans to No 6 before they fell to No. 7.
That was a result of their other failures in the last two years, which proved to make more of a difference than their series win against Australia. Sri Lanka’s played two Test series without Jayawardene but had the last of Sangakkara with them. Unfortunately, on both the occasions, the Lankans ended on the losing side.
Since Sangakkara’s retirement in August 2015, Sri Lanka has played seven Test series, having won and lost three in each. The last Test series they were in part was against Bangladesh, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Apart from the Australian success, Sri Lanka did not replicate the same dominance against the nations such as England, New Zealand and South Africa.
They have faired equally bad in the shortest format too. Having been the defending champions in the World T20, they crashed out from the group stage in the World T20 2016. Earlier, they had failed to reach the finals of Asia Cup T20 2016 too. Ever since the Lankans carried Mahela and Sanga on their shoulders for a victory lap in Bangladesh in 2014, their graph has barely gone any up; rather it has consistently dropped down. Sanga and Mahela retired from the shortest format after Sri Lanka lifted the world T20 trophy in 2014. Since then, Sri Lanka has five out of the 10 bilateral T20I series they have played, won three and drew two.
The captaincy saga
When Michael Clarke retired, there was a groomed Steven Smith ready to take the baton. When MS Dhoni abruptly called it quits, he knew Virat Kohli was ready to carry the responsibility on his own shoulders. Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, when Sangakkara had stepped down from captaincy in 2011, Angelo Matthews was tipped to be the next skipper. However, following short stints from Jayawardene and Dilshan, Matthews was finally handed the full captaincy in 2013. A delay in giving him the responsibility only did good for him and the team as Matthews was prepared enough to take up the role without any troubles.
The next discovered gem in the Sri Lankan side was Dinesh Chandimal, who attracted eyeballs when he became the first Sri Lankan batsman to score two half-centuries in both the innings on Test debut. Chandimal went on to perform excellently with the bat in England, Australia and South Africa, and in order to nurture the talent, he should have been given time to make his mark before imposing him with a huge responsibility. However, Chandimal, who made his Test debut in 2011, in no time was given the T20I captaincy in 2013 and was made the deputy of the ODI team.
Like Matthews, Chandimal was never groomed for the role. The burden of captaincy began to affect Chandimal’s batting and soon after that he was axed from the role and side.
“He’s actually had a period where he’s been identified as the best young player (and was) appointed captain (of the T20 side) probably a bit too soon. Then he was dropped from the captaincy, dropped from the team, so he’s never had a consistent run in the position that he was identified for,” Sangakkara spoke about Chandimal.
Now whenever Chandimal is included in the playing XI, he hardly gets to be himself. There is always tremendous pressure visible on his face; as though he is always in a fear of losing his place if he fails in an innings. “I don’t think the environment he’s played in has been very good for his confidence. Every time he now takes the field, it’s almost as if (he’s) playing for his place, for survival, and that’s not a good place for a young player to be,” an angry Sangakkara added.
On the other hand, after the humiliating loss to Zimbabwe at home in the ODI series, Angelo Matthews has stepped down as Sri Lanka’s captain across formats. Sri Lankan board took a day to name the new captains, ahead of the one-off Test against Zimbabwe.
Regardless of whether the players are ready for the role or not, Chandimal, who was axed from the limited-overs side after a poor performance in the Champions Trophy last month, was named Sri Lanka’s new Test captain and Upal Tharanga will lead the limited-overs side.
The more the inspiring is the leader, the better does the team performs. Australia could move on fast after losing Michael Clarke because they had an aggressive and positive leader in Smith. India’s results only bettered, despite losing Dhoni as a captain, for the reason that Kohli was brave enough, be it with his decisions or his own batting. Chandimal and Tharanga have a huge task ahead – they have to lift up Sri Lanka from the ashes and help them retrieve their old touch.