“While the Lankan team, in the past year, suffered from a spate of injuries to the key players, it was the unwanted headlines around the head coach Chandika Hathurusingha which also played their part in increasing this ‘instability’
Let us take you, the perpetual cricket hungry nerd, five years back from now; to the sixth of April 2014. You will see happiness writ large over the Sri Lankan cricketers and fans alike. Happy they were, and deservedly so because they had just won the 2014 edition of ICC World T20 beating the powerful neighbours, India for the title. All seems well in that image of the golden past. Seeing, or more correctly reflecting back to those moments of glory, no one in the right frame of mind would dare use the word ‘Sorry’ to describe the state of affairs in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket whether on the field or off it.
Now, fast forward the clock to February 2019. Sri Lanka are touring the Tasman Sea brothers i.e. Australia and New Zealand and have already had a sound beating in New Zealand while Australia just hammered them into submission in the pink-ball test at the Gabba. It will not be impertinent to say that the Australian cricket team had a really low year prior to this ongoing Warne-Muralitharan Trophy and if there is one team in the world which matches their sorry on-field state of affairs, Sri Lankan team will be the rightful claimant of that place. In fact, the Sri Lankan Cricket went a step further as their shabbiness transcended the boundaries of the cricketing field to venture into their management quarters.
First, let’s take a look at how the Sri Lankan team has fared over the last 12 months in the international cricketing arena. In the Test circuit, they played a total of 13 Tests; winning just 4 and losing 6 while 3 matches ended in a draw. This amounts to a win/loss ratio of 0.666 which is only better than Australia’s 0.500 (only 3 wins from 11 games) and matches Pakistan’s 0.666 (4 wins from 11 games) in the same period. The main reason for their losses can be gauged by the inability of their batsmen to step up in crucial moments. While their bowlers recorded a combined average of 27.04, which is even better than England’s 27.82, it was their batsmen who spoiled the party with a batting average of just 27.28, bettering only Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, West Indies, and Australia in the said period.
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The picture looks even more gloomy in the One Day Internationals (ODIs) where they have recorded just three wins out of the 14 ODIs played in last 12 months. Only Australia, with a win/loss ratio of 0.222, has performed poorer than the Lankan Tigers whose win/loss ratio stands at 0.272. Even Afghanistan has fared better in terms of batting average with each wicket yielding almost 32 runs as compared to the Lankan average of just over 28 runs per wicket.
Now, let’s ponder over the reasons which are inherent in this meek display of cricketing skills by a team that has, in the last decade or so, appeared in two Cricket World Cup finals besides winning the 2014 T20 World Cup. If these reasons, whether related to the team or management, are to be summed up into a single word, then ‘instability’ fits the suit perfectly well.
The Captaincy Musical Chair
Sri Lanka in the past one year had two Test Captains, Three ODI Captains, and Four T20I captains. This musical chair of captains prevents the formation of a coherent attitude and game plan amongst the team members, in the absence of which, they behave like soldiers whose leader has left them to the gallows of death in the battlefield where one or two flashes of brilliance can only raise the hopes to delay the inevitable.
Too much focus on the Head Coach’s remuneration
While the Lankan team, in the past year, suffered from a spate of injuries to the key players, it was the unwanted headlines around the head coach Chandika Hathurusingha which also played their part in increasing this ‘instability’. Hathurusingha, a Sri Lankan veteran of 26 Tests and 35 ODIs, had a fairly successful stint with the Bangladeshi Cricket Team. Eyebrows were raised (which have gained voice more so now) over his remuneration (which is estimated to be whopping US $41,666/month) ever since he took over the coaching duties twelve months ago.
It is true that the team has not performed up to the level of desired expectations during the past year with England comfortably squandering them 3-0 in their own backyard while the 1-0 loss to New Zealand is also not too far into the past. The team again capitulated against the reeling pressure of a red-hot Pat Cummins in the series opener against Australia but targeting the head coach for his remuneration package is also not right. During his tenure, the Lankans emerged victorious against Bangladesh in an away series while beating a visiting South Africa 2-0 at home and in between registering their first-ever Test victory in West Indies.
The coach-management tussle has, now, reached a new panacea as Hathurusingha has been removed from the team’s on-tour selection panel by the Sri Lanka Cricket Board. “Team selection while the team is on tour shall be made by a committee comprising of team manager and captain in consultation with the national selection committee,’’ said the statement. These are ominous signs for Hathurusingha, who may, unfortunately, see an early culmination of his 36-month contract with the Sri Lankan team.
Corruption all pervasive in the management
Another point worth mentioning is the level of corruption in the management of the sport in the island nation. The charges of match-fixing made by Pramodya Wickramasinghe, ex-player and selector, which got further support by the petition signed by 40 cricketers, including Dinesh Chandimal, to Sri Lanka Cricket to investigate the aforementioned charges led to the deployment of ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) in the cricketing affairs of the island nation.
The probe got even murkier with the suspension of Sanath Jayasuriya, ex-cricketer and selector, in October last year when he refused to co-operate with the ACU authorities. Further incidents of Dilhara Lokuhettige violating the anti-corruption code in UAE and provisional suspension of Nuwan Zoysa, ex-bowler and bowling coach, over match-fixing charges have further exposed the corrupt state of affairs in the cricketing galore of the 1996 World Cup winning nation.
In a recent ICC meeting in Dubai, the cricketing top-body has ranked Sri Lankan cricket administration as “corrupt from top to bottom”. There is also an on-going 15-day amnesty from ICC for the players to report incidents relating to corruption, which ends on 31st January. Failure on part of a player to report any corrupt activity can attract a ban of up to five years.
With so much ill-deeds going around them, it becomes really hard for players and their support staff to remain immune from such vices and just focus on the task in hand. Supporting this view, ex-cricketer Russel Arnold stated “They are all human. Even we [outside the team] are feeling a little nervy about what we are hearing“. These are tough times for the Sri Lankan cricket both in and out of the cricketing field but they (the fans, administrators, and players) have to remain firm in their resolve. Fans need to back their team, administrators need to act by prudence and players, along with their support staff, need the support of the first two to take Sri Lankan cricket to those golden memories of past.