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March 11, 2000
Sri Lanka, the emerald island may be small in size but its achievements in international cricket are phenomenal belying its size. Currently they are in Pakistan having already won both the one-dayers and the Test series. In order to see why the Sri Lankans are successful, one has to analyse and find out what is it that makes them click. It is remarkable the way they have bounced back after the setbacks they have had in recent times.
Sri Lanka cannot boast of a well-structured domestic first class tournament like India, Australia or South Africa. They have always relied on inter-school tournaments for unearthing talent and that is the reason so many youngsters figure in the National side. It was not until the World Cup triumph in 1996 that Sri Lanka was taken seriously in the world of cricket. A lot of credit must be given to Dav Whatmore who has been involved with Sri Lankan cricket as the coach. Not many would have fancied Sri Lanka playing in the semi-finals, leave alone winning the World Cup. The revolutionary tactics adopted by them of making the first 15 overs count a lot left the entire world flabbergasted. That strategy was not used in the 1999 World Cup as it would not have been effective in England against the wobbling new ball.
Then, of course, Whatmore was not the coach of the Sri Lankan team in 1999 and one can only imagine what innovative tactic he would have come up with for English conditions. It is a perfect chemistry between Whatmore and Sri Lankan cricket, as success embraces this combination on most occasions. Whatmore left immediately after the World Cup triumph in 1996 to take up an assignment with one of the English counties. He was replaced by the former Australian off-spinner Bruce Yardley and suffice to say that he did not strike the right chord to achieve as much success as Whatmore did.
Yardley did not enjoy the same advantage as Whatmore when it came to understanding the Sri Lankan culture. Despite trying very hard, real success eluded Yardley and the Sri Lankan team for a fair bit of time, barring that remarkable win at the Oval, in England. The performance of the Sri Lankans in the 1999 World Cup in England was hardly anything to write home about. Ranatunga, the captain, had to carry the can, which normally is the case in the countries of the sub-continent. The net result was the axing of Ranatunga both as a captain and a player in the shorter version of the game. Aravinda De Silva, the vice-captain had to suffer the same fate as Ranatunga. The mantle of captaincy was given to the swashbuckling opener, Sanath Jayasuriya. He was given a young team and it was left to him to take Sri Lankan cricket back to its glory days.
The new captain immediately achieved success, when the Sri Lankans won the triangular tournament. The axed senior cricketers, De Silva and Ranatunga, were made to realise that their future was restricted to only Test cricket. The reactions of the duo were typical of high quality performers all round the World. They were bent on proving a point or two, like they did recently in Pakistan. The home series against Australia was a major test for the Sri Lankans as also De Silva and Ranatunga. In the meanwhile, Whatmore was back in the fold once again as the coach. Australia, the World champions, were made to work very hard and in the end the Sri Lankans won the series on tracks which helped spinners.
This was followed by the successful tour to Zimbabwe without De Silva, who opted out for personal reasons. Marvin Attapattu distinguished himself with a double hundred coupled with other useful scores. Zoysa, the lanky medium pacer, performed a hat trick and Muralitharan, as usual picked up his quota of wickets. On their return, the selectors made it very clear to De Silva that he had to play the local tournaments to be eligible for selection. It was also hinted that the youngsters performing well in the Youth World Cup would be preferred. The Sri Lankans may be emotional, but that does not make them lose sight of their objectives. The BCCSL is shrewd enough not to rest on the laurels of the senior team and ignore the game at the grassroot level.
Whatmore has ensured that the team remains committed and he has proved to be the ideal buffer between the officials and the players. It was evident in Pakistan when the Sri Lankans, due to sheer collective effort beat the hosts. Ranatunga and De Silva played a major role and were great examples for the youngsters to emulate. In the ultimate analysis, the planning, enforcement of strict discipline, the support provided by the BCCSL to its players has made Sri Lanka a major force in international cricket. It will not be a bad idea for the neighbouring countries to take a leaf out of this island's hierarchy.
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