Sri Lankan cricket July 13, 2013

Sri Lanka's final hoodoo

Chathura Pinnawala
If you make it to tournaments' finals repeatedly, your skills cannot be questioned. Are Sri Lanka's problems a mental issue then?

Since the 1996 World Cup, West Indies have been in terminal decline. A Champions Trophy in 2004 wiped the dust from their trophy cupboard, but it wasn't a long-term answer, rather a throwback to a bygone era.

When Darren Sammy's unheralded power-hitters motored into the World T20 final last year, even the most optimistic supporter in Trinidad or Arnos Vale wouldn't have put them down as favourites. They were confronting Sri Lanka, the hosts and three-time finalists of four ICC tournaments in the previous five years.

It's all hunky-dory to possess a record like that, but it ends the moment you come to know about the losing sequence. That's a record that looks even uglier considering West Indies, with their ills and frills, have managed to win two world titles after 1996, ironically the year Sri Lanka won the World Cup.

Another page to this haunting story was added few days ago when Sri Lanka crumbled to its familiar nemesis, a youthful and vibrant India, in the tri-series final in the West Indies. And that was after showing enough promise to raise hopes.

So what is that makes Sri Lanka crumble in finals like a statue made of sand? Finding reasons are harder than you think. Storming through the initial rounds but falling at the last hurdle sounds 'African', in cricket terms. Sri Lanka just seem mentally fragile when it comes to finals. Almost like they are afraid of the pressure. They radically forget what got them into finals in the first place and seem to enter a zone that isn't theirs.

Having suffocated several times now, expecting the formalities to change when they qualify for a another final is a bad bet. Psychologists have been of lasting help in cricket. The field hasn't been explored the way it ought to be yet, but India, South Africa and even Australia - the hard-nosed, naughty men of cricket - have benefited from the mental advice of a specialist. John Buchanan who piloted Australia to two World Cup titles in comprehensive fashion was a renowned philosopher.

Buchanan handled the mental aspect of his all-conquering side. His side was so multi-skilled that the only missing link was keeping their minds in safety. Which he did to good effect, apart from few tweaks in strategies. The result was that nobody could come close to the domination of Australia.

In fact, it was Australia who set the ungodly ball rolling for Sri Lanka in 2007, by thumping them in a rain-curtailed World Cup final in the Caribbean. Pakistan preyed on them at Lords in 2009, and the triangle of doom was completed by India in 2011.

It's not about talent. If the talent was in question, qualifying for the final would be out of the realm of possibilities. It's the mental toughness and the belief that is apparently lacking. Some investigative and corrective measures should be in order.

In sports, ultimately, "winning isn't everything. It's the only thing". At least, the contrast in emotions in the Indian and Sri Lankan camps during the tri-series' final presentation said so.

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