South Africa v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group B, Centurion September 21, 2009

A method to Sri Lanka's uniqueness

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Kumar Sangakkara doesn't strike you as the kind of man who leaves much to chance. In most things he does, there is method. Even his batting, pretty as some of it is, is thoughtfully constructed, bit by bit, run by run. He is neither flashy nor a grinder, but instead an accumulator, working on solid percentages. He speaks publicly as he bats: articulate, well-planned, polished, safe, mostly platitudes, very occasionally spicy. If that's your kind of thing and cricket is a brand, then he is its spokesperson.

Sri Lanka don't have the madness of a Pakistan that needs method brought to it, but there has always been to their cricket, a spontaneity and uniqueness, an element of the unplanned or untrained. Sangakkara, a worldly character, less than a year into a role he seems like he has been doing all his life or at least preparing for, is trying something. The sense is that he is trying to bring different worlds into Sri Lanka's game; maybe the preparedness of teams such as Australia and South Africa, or their ruthlessness and focus.

If nothing else, he is bringing their new world jargon and thought. When asked about his side's ODI form going into the Champions Trophy opener against the hosts and the world's top side, Sangakkara spoke of processes and journeys. "Every game we play, every tournament we go into, we are building towards a goal and this is another step in that journey," Sangakkara said. "This is a very important tournament and we're trying to win it but for that you've got to get the processes right in training and the meeting room and we've gone a long way towards doing that." A double take revealed that neither Greg Chappell nor Rahul Dravid were at the mic.

Yet imagine how frightening a prospect Sri Lanka could be, if their talent absorbed the ethos of an Australian side? True it might come at the cost of something indigenous - all globalisation's collateral damage - but hopefully not so much to make it unrecognisable. Nobody, after all, wants to see the core of a Malinga or Mendis or Muralitharan diluted.

As it is their side is bursting with enough talent to loan out to England, West Indies and an associate or ten. After years of spin, they have a substantial pace attack, in which many bases are covered. They've got the form player in world cricket at the moment, in Tillakaratne Dilshan. Angelo Mathews may look ordinary but keeps doing things that are not so, and the old hands of Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene and the captain himself are around, steadying things up. Farveez Maharoof and Dilhara Fernando are so last season (and not here) and they always do without the world's smoothest wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene in their ODI side.

Throw in the world's best spinner, one of the world's most promising spinners, an ark-full of part-time bowling options and the subcontinent's best fielders and how surprised would you really be if they won, not just tomorrow, but the whole shebang?

Sangakkara downplayed the prospects, claiming Sri Lanka were the underdogs for the opener. "A game's a game and it doesn't matter who the opposition is. But it's nice, because we've come here as underdogs in this game and they (South Africa) have got a major tournament to start, to kick off in front of their fans and the pressure is really on them. We've just got to go and face the challenges, stay low on the radar, let everyone else and the fans concentrate on South Africa. We know they are a good side but we've beaten them in a World Cup before, in South Africa as well."

Clever, smart; of course he would downplay his side, for he is too knowing not to. In this light, mixed results in the warm-up games might also be part of some elaborate bit of kidology. Don't be fooled. Sangakkara knows what he is doing and where he is going. So too does his team.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sachit on September 23, 2009, 13:59 GMT

    @shiva_slogsout , i agree that batting has become easier in recent times , as you say "There are no more swinging conditions, neither there are green tops, nor a rank turner, and no steepy bounce..." i dare add there are hardly any batsmen left in world cricket that can cope with the conditions you mentioned above. But as it is the present norm i see no point in belittling Sri Lanka for excelling in the brand of cricket that's being played nowadays.

  • Shiva Kumar on September 23, 2009, 7:14 GMT

    If you see the pitches prepared for the Cricket matches over the last 5-6 years, (I would say, it started in 2003 WC, again for the ignominy of SA, where their bowlers were helpless), it's been absolutely Batsmen Friendly. There were lot of hypes before that Tournament, that Sub Continent batsmen are going to struggle blah blah. But finally it turned out to be a nightmare for the bowlers of the Home Team. We don't get pitches that test the batsmen any more even in New Zealand. Notice the difference btn India's 2002 and 2009 Series? So, in such pitches, you don't need an expert or technically sound batsmen, but rather just an accumulator of runs and some handy spinners. And that's what precisely Sri Lanka has got. Even the WC in 2007 was the same. Am talking about real class (Technique, Temperament) of Batsmen. There are no more swinging conditions, neither there are green tops, nor a rank turner, and no steepy bounce. Cricket is all about money, and it is going no where these days! :(

  • sachit on September 23, 2009, 0:33 GMT

    Despite what some wannabe pundits may try to suggest here, Sri Lanka have had a decent track record esp. in Large Scale tournaments of late : 2002 Champ's trophy joint winners, 2003 WC semifinalists, 2007 Finalists, 2009 T20 finalists, 2004,2008 Asia cup champs etc.. and one should note that all 2003 WC,2007WC and 2009 T20 WC were played outside the sub-continent. The fact that they do well in multi-nation tournaments is due to their unorthodoxy of style. To figure out un-orthodox bowlers you need to face them for a few games. In a WC-style tournament sides get limited oppurtunity to pick out the Sri Lankan bowlers and that really has been a key factor of their successes. However a person like sangakkara is well suited to this role as his no-nonsense approach would inject a certain amount of order in to the side.

  • Dakshitha DasH on September 22, 2009, 20:11 GMT

    I'm pretty surprised at the "over-rated" comments to be honest. Being from Sri Lanka though I will try my level best not to be biased or anything, but the fact is I believe we tend to go under the radar in major tournaments to a certain extent. The claims that we aren't as strong overseas as we are at home, are quite unjustifiable in terms of team performances, and I emphasize on the word "team". I agree that certain players are better performers on home soil, but the achievements of this team in the last few years is quite phenomenal in my opinion. Semi-finalists and losing to the eventual winners in the 2003 WC in SA, joint winners of the champions trophy in 2004 (I think) in SL, finalists in the 2007 WC in the WI, finalists in the T20 WC in England, Winners of at least the last 2 Asia Cups. A pretty impressive list I'd say. Only Australia would qualify to have better stats in big competitions, so I don't think how you might consider us as being over-rated.

  • A on September 22, 2009, 17:05 GMT

    I partially agree with this author. I still find it hard to believe that SriLanka is on second position on ICC table when they don't have the team to win a test overseas and also don't have the players apart from Sangakara & Murli who can win them matches outside sub-continent. Jayawarde,Jayasurya,samaraweera & dilshan are all flat track bullies...for example Jayawarde, if you check his records he has hit all his centuries in the sub-continent & 25 of them in SrLanka alone ...NONE in Australia,S.AF or NZ...How can you compare Jayawarde or Smaraweera to world class players like Lara, Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting, Kallis, Smith, Sehwag or Waugh brothers. Though I believe Sri Lanka are favorites if they get batting paradise during this CT.

  • vajira on September 22, 2009, 12:43 GMT

    You are quite correct when you say that globalization of a certain way of playing actually blunts the diversity of style. SL's unique players may be the result of coaches by design or defalut not meddling too much with original skills. No coach would have asked to Jayasooriya , Dilshan or Arvinda to go after the bowling from the first ball. Preserving the instincts is important. However it can be quite costly in situations that brain neurons need firing than the bat.

  • Shiva Kumar on September 22, 2009, 12:31 GMT

    I just don't see why Sri Lanka is always such a highly overrated team. Just see their records outside the Sub Continent or even outside their home, it is no where close enough to World Class. Sri Lanka, I agree, are a very good team at home and Just at home, that's it. They may have the talent but Performance is what that counts! I believe Sangakkara is only one technically correct batsman in their team. Put the likes of Sanath, Mahela, Samaraweera and the rest on a Lively morning down in Auckland or Brisbane on a green top wicket with Bond or Bree Lee bowling? I don't see them coming on top often, at least that's what their record says! They simply don't have the Dravids, Kalliss, Tendulkars there! And their Spinners are not good enough outside barring Murali. They just to keep improving their Fast Bowling and their batting to compete anywhere close to what they are hyped about!

  • Hatem on September 22, 2009, 10:56 GMT

    Well Sangakkara has shown good leadership and had shown potential right through out under mahela jayawardena. his a good reader of the game and he knows what to do in given situations. i have been dissapointed though lately with his handling of youngster angelo mathews. Mathews almost single handedly won them the game against the west indies in the T20 semi final and has always shown a lot of potential. sangakkara took him off when he took 6 for 20 and wicket every over. with india 9 down it was bizarre to see that. similar thing was done by mahela jayawardena when mendis took 6 in the asia cup final in 2008. but why ? wont this destroy their confidence. Angelo Mathews has the potential to become one of the leading all rounders in the game and every bit of encouragement and opportunity should be given to him. his always underbowled even with his good performances and this does not do him good. these are players who might make sri lanka unique team after all.

  • abhishek on September 22, 2009, 9:20 GMT

    even i dont understand why are the media so obsessed by the "talent" of sri lanka...agreed they have some world class talent in 3-4 players...but so does every team in the champions trophy...thay certainly are not overflowing with talent as suggested by mr.Osman Samiuddin...and sangakkara is certainly a highly over rated odi player...he is very good in tests but there many like him in odis...

  • Satish on September 22, 2009, 9:09 GMT

    I agree with the author that Sangakkara is an astute leader who always prescribes process and methodology to the team. The fact that he does so is necessary because Sri lanka have often had mesmerizing talent but they often haven't had the results to show for it. Perhaps the fact that they won the 1996 World Cup even before they had ever won an Asia Cup, an Australasia Cup or a Triangular at home, something that fast-tracked them into the league of World beaters only to see them fail overseas. It was only after Kumara Sangakkara formed a Golden Quadrilateral with the effervescent Marvan Atapattu, the consistent Mahela Jayawardene and the belligerent Sanath Jayasuriya that Sri Lanka started winning Test Matches at home by big margins and managing a few draws abroad. Their bowling has often been blessed with stars. Of course Sangakkara has struggled in ODIs and hence his team hasn't won games, but all that will change soon if he imbibes those processes in place.

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