April 19, 2008

Light at the end of the transit tunnel

Sri Lanka's ODI side is going through a phase of rebuilding, and while the results might not look encouraging, the signs definitely are

That forgotten feeling: the Sri Lankans mob Sanath Jayasuriya after beating Australia in Melbourne this year, one of only eight wins in their last 22 matches © Getty Images

There is no doubt that Sri Lanka's recent one-day form is a source of concern. We have grown accustomed during the past decade to being a competitive international team, but since the World Cup last year the winning habit has proved frustratingly elusive with 12 defeats in 20 results. However, any concern must be tinged with a clear understanding that we are a team in transition.

Sri Lanka's ODI team is going through an important rebuilding phase, and there are bound to be ups and downs. That we are in transition should not be an excuse, nor a reason for complacency, but we all have to be realistic in understanding that it will be difficult to replace some of the stars who have excelled over the years for us.

During the recent series defeat to West Indies we were missing no less than seven senior players from our World Cup campaign. This highlights the extent of the team's redevelopment. The good news, though, is that we are moving in the right direction now. We have a clearer idea about the ideal team structure, and the new players are developing fast. It won't be long before things start clicking again.

Analysing our form over the past few months, the most obvious issue of concern has been the inconsistency of our performances in the first ten to 15 overs, with both bat and ball. The top order has been unable to build long partnerships on a consistent basis. Likewise, with the ball we've been either great or average.

We need the top order to gain greater solidity. I think the middle order, a weakness a while ago, is actually doing a great job at the moment, with Tillakaratne Dilshan in great form and showing clear signs of maturing, Chamara Silva striking the ball well again, and Chamara Kapugedera showing some encouraging signs. They have pulled us out of trouble quite a few times in the recent past.

So we need to keep looking at how we can get the top four to be more productive and reliable. There are a few options on the table in terms of batting order, but we also have to be patient with the likes of Upul Tharanga and Mahela Udawatte. They are both quality young batsmen, both ideally suited to the limited-overs game. Their talent and confidence needs to be carefully nurtured.

Udawatte had an unfortunate start, a duck on debut, but he finished the tour with an impressive innings. I thought it was a gritty knock, and he adjusted his game well to the situation. There is plenty more for him to learn - things like being more adept, rotating the strike, and also developing a better understanding of how he can use his power-hitting to his advantage.

That we are in transition should not be an excuse, nor a reason for complacency, but we all have to be realistic in understanding that it will be difficult to replace some of the stars who have excelled over the years for us

My form was also disappointing during the ODIs in the West Indies. I was keen to make some big runs, so it was very frustrating to not be able to contribute any innings of real substance. Hopefully, this will be just a little blip. I will start working even harder on my game during the next six weeks, thorugh the IPL, and I'm sure I'll be ready for the Asia Cup in June.

In the bowling department, it was always going to be difficult to replace a trio of regulars - Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando and Farveez Maharoof - who have served you so well. Considering this, and the resting of Muttiah Muralitharan, the performance of the bowlers was creditable. It is not easy to bowl these days with 20 overs of Powerplays, but the guys did okay. They dragged us right back in charge in the first ODI, made early incisions despite the low Duckworth-Lewis target in the second, and had us in with a shout in the third.

Out of the bowlers Nuwan Kulasekera was outstanding. Throughout the tour, he worked hard and was right on the money with his accuracy. He sent a strong statement to the team's senior bowlers, and it's great to have him coming through the ranks. Thilan Thushara bowled well in the final ODI, so we clearly have some depth in the fast bowling now.

Ajantha Mendis has settled into international cricket like a natural. To bowl so coolly in Trinidad on debut, and in a tight situation, was a testament to a guy with a strong head. He added something different to the mix, really troubling the West Indies batsmen with his assortment of tricks. He looks a great find, and his arrival was one of the major pluses of the tour.

'Mendis' arrival was one of the major pluses of the tour' © AFP

So despite the fact we lost the series, there were some significant positives. Results are important, especially from a confidence-building perspective, but you also need to look below the surface to see the full picture. As we all know, the margin between success and failure is narrow - were it not for Shivnarine Chanderpaul's last-over brilliance in Trinidad, the series result could have been different.

The key for me, apart from some of the youngsters putting their hands up, is that we are now much clearer about the best combinations as we rebuild with new players. We've tinkered around and tried different things, and in that process we've learned a great deal about what is right for us. This stands us in good stead for the coming year.

One such development has been the growing awareness that our best combination now involves six frontline batsmen, a bowling allrounder, and four bowlers. We need to have five reliable bowling options, plus a part-timer or two as back-up. Filling in the fifth-bowler slot with a batting allrounder is a high-risk strategy these days unless conditions are very bowler-friendly.

In this regard, it was encouraging to see Kaushalya Weeraratne bat sensibly and effectively in the final match. He has worked hard on his game and is a very powerful batsman. He is also mentally tough and very determined, the kind of guy who will run through a brick wall for you. He could be really useful for us in terms of balancing the team, especially once Maharoof, who is also capable of coming in and batting at No. 8, is back.

What we now need to do is win a couple of matches and start building some momentum. The young players coming through have got what is needed, and there is much more clarity in how we can blend everything together. The Asia Cup in June will be a great test and I'm confident we'll be very competitive there.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sachit on April 20, 2008, 9:12 GMT

    I agree wit Kumar. Though the CB series in Downunder was a failure, the Windies tour began so promisingly for SriLanka. A thumping win in the first test did not indicate what was to come. Maybe the Lankans were a tad unlucky in the ODI's. Game 1 was in the bag until the last two balls. Had it been won the series would have been 1-1 and we all know who were in the box seat in game 3. But considering the current strength of the Windies, it is a bit disappointing to see the WC runners up fold up like that. The morale is considerably down going in to the Asia cup. And recently Sri Lanka have struggled against both their sub-continent neighbors.It'll be tough ask to defend the title. SriLanka will probably have Malinga,Fernando,Mahroof and Murali back in time. But the big problem is the opening batting. Tharanga continues to dissappoint. Sri Lanka have a solid opening pair in the tests now. What about the ODI's? Udawatta is promising..but who will partner him? Surely not Jayasuriya....?

  • Chinthaka on April 20, 2008, 1:29 GMT

    I doubt Sri Lanka will be back to the way they were before. They will never replace players like Jayasuriya, Murali or Sangakkara(when he retires). At least not this decade anyway. Hopefully the youger players will develop over the years. Sorry Sanga but I predict the downfall of Sri Lankan cricket will continue.

  • Sathi on April 20, 2008, 1:06 GMT

    Kumar, your coverage is excellent, it was refreshing to get some insights to the real state of affairs.

    I have never seen the Srilankan team go through such a radical transition in the past history. Apart from losing the series, the team is managing the weight very well. It is very much promising to see the new faces and a variey of mixed talent.

    Hopefully by the time the next worldcup get closer your team will be in a good position to lift it.

    It seems to me that some of the players you had mentioned needs some mental coaching. Since you are closer to them, you might be in a position to confirm the need.

    Good luck and best wishes with the bat and glove....

  • Yohan on April 19, 2008, 19:05 GMT

    It is understandable about the downside of the current performance. And it is also good thing to leave out Jayasuriya and Murali to give a chance for the new talent. However Malinga Bandara seems to be getting an unfair treatment as he is been travelling with the team and not getting a chance. He has been a proven performer during Murali's absence. If the team to move forward it should be politics free. To remind you Australia doesn't seems to face problems when they give young blood a chance. So we should carefully think what we do wrong that they do right to be successful with young talent.

  • Sojhan on April 19, 2008, 16:21 GMT

    Sanga has hit the nail right on the head in the article. As a Sri Lankan I have to say as dissapointed as I was with the results, it was exciting to see some new youngsters in the team. mendis, udawatte and kulasekera look like they have a couple of good years ahead of them with sl... and I do think that the 2-0 defeat flatters west indies although they played very well. I dont think sl should stop with these guys. There are a few others such as sachith pathirana who have great potential and should be seriously considered.

    I would say the bottom line is that many sri lankan supporters wouldnt be too dis-heartned with the series defeat because we have found some great talent and it should not stop there.

  • Dushan on April 19, 2008, 13:44 GMT

    Absolutely correct. Our ultimate objective should be to get the new kids to play more matches, form a fine winning combination to 2011 WC. I think even Mahela should think about his job as the captain. I think it Sangakkara, should take over his job as the captain of the ODI. What I feel is that sometimes Mahela is getting carried away with his attacking field settings. Ajantha Medis should be trained properly. Murali had the opportunity of getting trained under Bruce Yardly & Tom Moody. But the present coach is a question mark. There should be a proper person to take the job forward, which was developed by Tom Moody.

  • Dionysius on April 19, 2008, 12:48 GMT

    I am sure half of Sri Lanka is up-in-arms over the team's recent performance (and not to mention selection) but I think this was a really fantastic tour and one of the more important ones in recent times. I only wish we attended the VB series with this kind of team composition. The re-inclusion of Kaushalya and Kapugedara is definitely the way to go. However I am a bit skeptical if Tharanga fits at the top. He seems to lack the technical prowess to be consistent and the problem certainly is not limited to confidence. It's a shame though 'cos when he first came on the scene he looked very promising. Sangha is dead right on 5 full time bowlers. We really lack that 5th bowler esp when defending low totals on bowler-friendly pitches. I would go with Malinga, Kule, Maharoof, Ajantha and Mirando with Kaushi and Chanaka Welegedara as back up. As for the batting Udawatte and Sangha open the innings followed by Mahela, Chamara, Dilshan and Kapu. Hope selectors stand-by their decisions!

  • PRIYANTHA on April 19, 2008, 12:29 GMT

    With all due respect to Sangakkara's cricket knowledge, I think it is high time he let his bat do the talking instead of various articles and comments over radio and TV. In recent times both Sangakkara and Chaminda Vaas have been extensively involved in cricket writing. Both these players are match winners, and it is much better if they concentrate on their cricket leaving writing part to critics. I do not buy the argument that we are in a team building process and therefore bound to loose matches until we settle down to permanent squad. In this competitive time we should always try to win, team building is not an excuse, every team has to go through team building as they move along, but that should not affect winning. Take for example the teams fielded by India in Australia in the recent series, there were many young inexperienced players, but they ended up victorious. So please concentrate on cricket. The main reason for our defeats are lack of contribution by Mahela and Sangakkara.

  • Michael on April 19, 2008, 10:43 GMT

    Kumar, I watched all three games in Trinidad and came away feeling that SL could have won all three. Transition and positives notwithstanding, there are issues to be identified and dealt with.Amerasinghe was well below international class. The fielding can be greatly improved to rank SL in the top three sides in the world. Mendis and Kapugedera were big performers. It is time Kapugedera had a place in both teams for an extended period. Mendis had all the WI batsmen in trouble. He needs to be well managed and encouraged. Silva and Dilshan must develop consistency. Why is Warnapura out of the ODI squad, and Mubarak in? Why is Welegedera taken on tour but rarely given a game? SL will not make significant progress without a solid opening pair of batsmen. Udawatte deserves an extended run while Tharanga must deliver, or else! Some of the tactics were baffling.Mendis was taken off in the first ODI when bowling well. Weeraratne had no chance in the second ODI to up the rate. Lots to do.

  • Rajinder on April 19, 2008, 10:02 GMT

    Hey Sanga, I agree that there were some great signs for the future, even though we lost the oneday series in West Indies. Especially considering that the next worldcup is in the subcontinent, it will be great to see Murali and Ajantha Mendis bowl together!Wow!that will be awesome!Also we have a handful of fast bowlers to choose from, and two very good allrounders(Kaushalya Weeraratne and Farveez Maharoof)to choose from. But my only concern is the batting. I really think we need to develop another really good batsmen!Our best bet is going to be Kaushal Silva!Looking at him bat, I think he has great potential to become a world class batsmen!I think we need to get him into the team even only as a batsmen and give him experience. Anyway I wish Sri Lanka Good Luck in the future!

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