Sri Lanka in India 2009-10 December 27, 2009

Sri Lanka need not panic

Sangakkara's men cannot afford to go into survival mode. They need their core to step up drive the team forward with an eye on the World Cup

Sri Lanka's one-day squad travel back home disappointed, and no doubt exhausted, after what has been a long, tough tour. They'll only have a few days to recover before travelling to Bangladesh for another tri-series, but they'll be looking forward to a few days off with their families, some time to reflect on what went wrong and to recharge in time for the next assignment.

There will be some equally disappointed Sri Lanka fans around the world wondering what this means for Sri Lankan cricket. Most importantly, where does this leave the team with regard to the fast-approaching 2011 World Cup? My strong belief is that there is no need to hit the panic button right now. There are some issues to resolve, and areas of concern, but the team is moving forward and developing.

Some perspective is needed. You need to remember that even when they had the Ranatungas, Aravinda de Silvas, Muralis and Vaases in their prime, Sri Lanka have struggled to tame India in India. In fact, this is the same for all visiting teams, with India losing only a handful of home bilateral series in their history. The truth is that playing India at home remains one of the toughest propositions in world cricket.

The captain, players and management team have learnt a great deal over the past few weeks. Like Ian Chappell correctly points out, you actually learn more when you lose, and I have no doubt that the team as a whole will be able to bounce back strongly from this experience. They did the same back in early 2007, after a drubbing in late 2005 in India - Tom Moody's first tour in charge. Going forward, I think Sri Lanka are well placed for the next 12 to 18 months.

The biggest positive of the tour will undoubtedly be that some of the younger brigade - the likes of Chanaka Welegedera, Suraj Randiv and Suranga Lakmal - showed plenty of promise. The other side of the coin was that the experienced core players - the likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis and Sanath Jayasuriya - did not perform up to expectations. Sri Lanka need these core players to be confident and in the right frame of mind, as their experience and qualities will help the youngsters mature much faster. The players must not go into survival mode and must keep challenging themselves to keep improving and pushing out of their comfort zones. Sportsmen do go through phases in their careers. At certain times, you do tend to sit back and live in the past. Sri Lanka cannot afford to lose their core players, but neither can their core remain stagnant; they must be the ones driving the team forward.

It's not an excuse, but any post-tour analysis cannot ignore the reality that the team were hit severely by injuries, especially to their bowlers. By the end of the tour, the list of players who had returned home included Thilan Thushara, Dammika Prasad, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dilhara Fernando and Angelo Mathews. Add to that Malinga's unavailability for the first two games, Welegedera's groin injury before the fourth ODI, and the fact that Farveez Maharoof was not available as a replacement due to niggling injuries.

While Kumar Sangakkara will get flak in the media for losing, I actually thought he got better and better through the series as captain. He came to India still partly in his captaincy honeymoon and was immediately put under huge pressure. The key thing was that he learnt fast and showed strength of character

Sri Lanka were forced to dig deep into their back-up resources, and their bowling attack throughout most of the series was extremely inexperienced. The injuries undermined continuity in the team and made on-field strategy extremely difficult. The fact that they still competed so well at times is actually quite remarkable. When the injuries ease up and the selectors are able to select from a fully-fit squad, there will be a good group of players to choose from.

They will, however, need to have a fresh look at the fitness of the players, and at their attitude to injuries. There is a feeling that some of the players are too soft, pulling up sore regularly and not putting their bodies on the line as demanded in international sport. In that regard, the likes of Maharoof and Prasad need to get back to peak physical fitness and play successive games and series.

While Kumar Sangakkara will get flak in the media for losing, I actually thought he got better and better as captain through the series. He came to India still partly in his captaincy honeymoon and was immediately put under huge pressure. He had a bit of a reality check and learnt quickly that sometimes you are just forced to adapt and change even the best-laid plans. The key thing was that he learnt fast and showed strength of character. He looked increasingly calm and in control.

The one suggestion would be to stick to his plans a little longer. Sometimes his thought processes were excellent, but then he chose to change tack a little too hastily. In his defence, though, the bowlers also did not help by consistently executing the plans. If they cannot put the ball in the right areas and bowl to the carefully set fields then the captain's efforts will also be undermined. There was some criticism about him not being attacking enough, but unless the bowlers are delivering the goods there is sometimes not much you can do.

The biggest concern is the fielding. There is no escaping the fact that it is a weakness that must be urgently addressed. The problem, though, is that the squad is not jam-packed with natural fielders. The team management need to work out a plan for urgently lifting standards. I strongly believe that the top fielding teams will have a distinct advantage during the 2011 World Cup, especially in the batting-friendly Indian stadiums.

The flat pitches we've seen this season in India give the bowlers no room to breathe. Par totals have increased in the past few years from 250 to 275, and now to over 300, with the increasing of fielding restrictions from 15 to 20 overs and the improved quality of limited-overs batting. When up against a team with the batting strength of India, you are under huge pressure to produce enormous totals.

So how do you counter the threat of power-packed batting line-ups? Sri Lanka got one part of the puzzle right by attacking the Indian bowlers with equal intent. They did that consistently well (although the batsmen were also guilty of squandering two winning opportunities). But the second part of the puzzle is hitting back with early wickets. You need to go for wickets and grab all the half-chances. That's why the fielding becomes so important. It's essential you convert most of your wicket-taking opportunities.

This is the main challenge for the coming months. Sri Lanka need to build up a bowling unit capable of creating pressure on flat tracks and lift their fielding up to the point where half-chances are routinely snaffled. Sri Lanka have the bowlers who can perform on more bowler-friendly tracks, but they also need strategies in place for India's truer pitches.

I think there is greater clarity now as to what is needed for Sri Lanka to win the World Cup, an achievable objective for what remains an exciting squad.

Russel Arnold played 44 Tests and 180 ODIs for Sri Lanka between 1997 and 2007

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • rajsrawat05 on January 12, 2010, 8:24 GMT

    Good article Russel. I am an Indian. I see your perspective is right. In fact, sri lanka did well despite so many injuries to their key players shows they are going in the right direction. Also, that the younger players have performed well in the current triseries in bangladesh shows u are right. SL Core players didnt perform as well in india as they should have. @tallgrass, i dont understand how u didnt find this article coherent? But the views expressed herein are clear and right. and where is chamara silva? He is a very good middle order batsman.

  • cricfan27721134 on January 6, 2010, 0:50 GMT

    Without some best batsmen in the team, still Sri Lanka was able to win the 2nd ODI of the IDEA cup against India! So, really no need to panic for Sri Lanka, since there are bunch of talented youngsters are coming through. The debutant Lahiru Thirimanne (the replacement for Dilshan) was done really well at the start of the inning...Thilan Samaraweera played superbly with a strike rate of almost 100.Sanga showed that how consistent he is...Finally what an inning from young Thissara Perera! When he was hitting 4s & 6s to Zaheer, he was frowning as usual...That means Zaheer is not able to reply for those shots with the ball. That's why he was frowning at Thissara. He should learn that how to respond to bat with the ball, without getting angry with the batsman...All the other Indian players showed lot of sportsmenship.Hats off to them...

  • 9ST9 on January 2, 2010, 16:32 GMT

    Even though I do not approve blaming the Sri Lankan skipper for the India tour, Sangakkara's captaincy tends to be too rigid. It is as if he decides beforehand and sticks to his plan. Example - the 2nd T20 - where he expected mohali to assist pace and didn't bowl Jayasuriya. Similarly he tends to stick to a bowler even when he gets thrashed - it kind of reminded me of the CPU opposition or the AI in a cricket game such as EA Cricket 2007, where the Computer opponent makes bowling changes periodically rather than based on how he was performing.

  • KingOwl on January 2, 2010, 1:57 GMT

    Two points: 1. There are so many articles praising Russel on this board. I don't understand the rationale. I agree with tallgrass; Sri Lankans can rarely put anything coherent in an articulate manner (not just ordinary people, but journalists too). So, Russel, nothing personal, but please don't assume that you are writing fantastic critiques of SL cricket. You are not. Not only that. The commentating by the Sri Lankans was pathetic during the tour. Whereas the Indians were unashamedly defending their country, our commentators were acting like complete vassals, thanking the Indians 'for the opportunity given to be commentators'. I have never heard of such inferiority. It seems that the commentators are more interested in preserving their jobs than representing SL. 2. Sanga's pitch reading was pathetic, as I said before. His strategy of employing the powerplays was worse. Why do we wait till #10 and #11 are at the wicket to employ the final PP? It is beyond comprehension.

  • 9ST9 on January 1, 2010, 3:29 GMT

    Funny to notice that Malinga, Murali and Mendis - were signed by Tasmania, Victoria and South-Australia for the Big-bash, but denied by Sri Lanka Cricket due to the Bangladesh tour, and subsequently dropped. They could have gathered some experience before the T20 WC.

  • cricfan27721134 on December 31, 2009, 9:55 GMT

    Considering the problem in the bowling unit, I think Welagedera, Dilhara, Lakmal & Thushara should be given more chances in the future.These guys get the bounce(height), which is very important to attack good batsmen.It is not just enough for having good line & length anymore.That's why Kulasekara was hammered... It's true that Kapugedera did n't perform well recently.But he has the talent for not only placing the ball well, but also for clearing the infield easily.These skills are very important for a top order batsman.It's true that he has given many chances.But the position was at 6 or 7. When he was promoted to no.4 in the 1st T20, he batted really well..I think it is worth to test him at no.3, atleast for one more series...Thissara Perera should be given more chances. His brief inning of 14 balls showed that he is well fit for the no.7 spot.Mathews & him can play the role of 'finishers'.

  • T20funda on December 31, 2009, 8:17 GMT

    I think the team selected for tri series in Bangladesh is a good one ,Thusara ,Welegedera & Kulasekara form agood pace attack .Inlcuding Bandara is also good decision ,he along with Randiv will be handy in spin friendly wickets at dhaka .All the best Sri lanka

  • gg87 on December 31, 2009, 7:33 GMT

    hey russ, your absolutely spot on. i'm also feeling now we are on the right track. And no point to give more chances to Jayasuriya & Kapugedara. How many times they have let down their skipper. And srilanka really need to find out a steady middle order batsman. I think chamara silva should get a another chance. Since he has performed dramatically in the last season.

  • KingOwl on December 31, 2009, 6:45 GMT

    I agree that poor fielding was a problem. But given the flat tracks in India, it is hard to expect any fielding side to keep their standards and morale up. I think given the conditons, any team would have missed opportunities in the field. So, pointing out fielding as the main culprit is rather simple minded. I also agree that we need not panic - after all, to say that our bowling attack was inexperienced is a huge understatement. We had our 5 top bowlers out of action. In that context, Indian achievements were rather ordinary. But, somebody needs to make sure that our bowlers are in peak fitness. The fact they are not is astonishing, given the amounts spent on bck up staff. I see another problem: Captaincy was flawed. It was not just on field problems, his pitch reading was astonishing - even I, who have only captained my university team - could have done better with that. Kumar needs to grow up quickly in that role. Otherwise his supreme batting skills will come to nothing.

  • kumar_iitkgp on December 30, 2009, 17:00 GMT

    Nice article Russel good stuff ..keep it up

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