What Next – Sri Lanka?
By Dilanka Mannakkara
Rebuilding, transition and young players have been the holy trio of words used most frequently by captain Mathews (now ex – captain) when questioned about the consistently poor performances of the team. Maybe repeating the same three words were too much even for Mathews after the home series defeat to Zimbabwe; thus he threw in the towel.
These three words have been used for more than two years now and with the humiliating home series defeat against Zimbabwe, Mathews seemed to be lost for words and deemed it as "one of the worst incidents in my career". Zimbabawe just outplayed, outwitted and for the first time even, out spoke Sri Lanka out of the contest. Kudos to their superb away series win against a Test nation after a whopping 15 years and their confidence in winning it in style should be applauded.
Let's look at some of grass root issues of the messy plate of SLC.
Poor fitness and over rates
A big ha hoo was created when only fit players were supposed to be selected for the team. Well, we champion in unfulfilled promises as physically the most unfit professional team is lazily moving up and about between overs, dropping catches which an Under 13 kid will be ridiculed to shame and also consistently maintaining an extremely poor over rate.
Ex fielding coach Nic Pothas should look into the fitness factor and the over rate, as the team has been a prime "Meme generator" and a laughing stock owing to abysmal fitness and poor over rates. In the Zimbabwe series Mathews was forced to bowl his spinners to finish off the innings not to be penalized with a hefty fine and a match ban.
When will SLC find an answer to this factor is the question which the cricketing circles have been looking for? Are we waiting till the incoming Captain gets banned for a few more games and yet sweep it under the carpet and being laid back about it? Are we waiting till the average body fat percentage rises up to 30% so that players will take 4 and a half hours to crawl through the overs? Hopefully Pothas and Gurusinghe will be strict on the fitness aspect and the diet plans of the players and walk the talk.
Unsporting wickets for pace bowlers
Can you roll your arm and bowl spin? Well there is heaven on earth for you spinners. Come to Sri Lanka and make merry.
It is no secret that the spinners open the bowling in domestic cricket as the pitches assist spin bowling from day 1. This has been one of the prime problems in domestic cricket over the years.
The spinners will take bucket loads of wickets and win you games, but this allows fresh problems to be countered with.
Spin friendly wickets have allowed any spinner, including part timers, to take easy wickets. There will be no process of setting up the batsman by using your flight, drift and variations to effect. The pace bowlers generally have not bowled more than 10 overs per day since 2014 as there is no assistance for them from the wicket. As the great Wasim Akram said, "Resting won't make you a great fast bowler; bowl more and more and you will finally unleash your skill." Will any Lankan pace bowler get encouraged to run in under the scorching hot sun and bowl continuously when there is low bounce and no seam movement? That is Big No, but kudos to all the pace bowlers who try their utmost to set up a batsman and take wickets.
The Lankan pacies have had many injuries over and over again due to not being used to bowl 15-18 overs per day in a Test match. The heavy work load is alien to them and their bodies break down and one may wonder if their bodies are fragile. The spearhead of the pace attack, Dhammika Prasad hasn't played a Test match for nearly two years. Young pace sensation Dushmantha Chameera was sidelined by injury for several months and now Nuwan Pradeep is yet again injured. One major way of overcoming these injuries are bowling consistently in domestic games so that your body is accustomed to a heavy work load and a sporting wicket is essential for this. SLC should appoint a committee to regulate pitches and penalize any club who provides unsporty pitches.
Managing your bowlers across formats
The national squads should be groomed and nurtured looking at the 2019 World Cup, 2020 T20 World Cup and important Test series in mind. Horses for courses approach should be the way to go by clearly earmarking which bowlers are suited for each format.
Lasith Malinga has been Sri Lanka's match winning bowler over the years, but has he been managed properly? That's a big NO. Malinga has lost pace, his fitness has been mediocre owing to his knee injury and there will be doubts of him playing the 2019 World Cup and bowling a full quota of overs. Malinga since making his comeback in 2017 has played in 8 games (5 of them against Zimbabwe) and taken 7 wickets at an average of 54.28. The selectors should have a proper discussion with Malinga and use him only for vital tournaments to get the full use of him just like how South Africa have managed Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn.
Was Malinga required to play the Zimbabwe series? No, this was the perfect opportunity to give five full games to the young quicks like LahiruKumara, Asitha Fernando and Dushmantha Chameera. Instead SLC pressed the panic button and included Nuwan Kulasekara in the team. Kulasekara, once a top swing bowler in world cricket, has lost his mojo and has lost yards of pace as well. It was heartening to see the Zimbabawe batsmen walking down the track and hoisting his 118 kmph deliveries to the stands. Kulasekara should also be used on tracks which suits his bowling and the lack of pace will be a major disadvantage for him.
Will SLC finally change anything given that our cricket has hit rock bottom? Your guess is as good as mine.
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