Sri Lanka A's debacle prompts introspection
Anura Tennekoon, former Sri Lanka captain and currently manager of the Sri Lanka A team, called on the Sri Lankan cricket authorities to seriously consider preparing pitches with pace, bounce and grass at home if the country is to arrest the decline in quality batsmen.
Tennekoon's disturbing remarks came in the face of Sri Lanka A being knocked out of the on-going three-nation one-day competition. Sri Lanka A won only one of their four qualifying matches and failed to book a berth for Saturday's final at the SSC grounds where South Africa A and New Zealand A will clash.
After being shot out for 45 by South Africa A in their opening match of the competition, Sri Lanka A's batting has hardly been convincing. Apart from the 251 for 6 against New Zealand A, which they won, the Sri Lankan side has failed to come up with a match-winning total in any of the other games.
Even their over-200 totals have been largely due to the contributions made by the lower order batsmen. The highest individual score made in this series by a top order batsman was 59 by Jehan Mubarak in their win over New Zealand A.
Sri Lanka, which boasted several world-class batsmen in the recent past, suddenly find a dearth of such talent in their reserve ranks. Tennekoon (59) led Sri Lanka in the first two World Cup tournaments in 1975 and 1979, and was an accomplished right-hand batsman with a technique and temperament which the present top order sorely lacks.
"What has troubled our top order is the pace and swing generated by the South African and New Zealand bowlers especially in the first ten overs. Our batsmen have found it difficult to cope with it and it has led to our downfall," said Tennekoon.
If these batsmen are finding it difficult to tackle pace and swing in home conditions and pitches it is doubtful if they will survive when they go overseas. The Sri Lanka A side comprises batsmen whom the national selectors have identified as those with potential to make it to the national side whenever the situation arises. But going by the manner in which they have performed in this competition, and in those before it, a rather gloomy future awaits Sri Lanka cricket unless radical action is taken to stem the decline.
Tennekoon cited the importance of preparing the right kind of pitches not only for domestic club cricket but also school cricket. "During our time we always left grass on the pitch so that you hone your skills to cope with bounce and swing while you are still at school. It tightens your technique at a younger age," he said. "Cricket at school-level should be played with the intention of producing national players, and not purely for winning championships."
Another aspect which Tennekoon noted was how most Sri Lankan batsmen lacked mental toughness to bat under pressure. "They should be made to be mentally strong from a tender age. Leave aside the one-day game, our batsmen are unable to build on an innings and make a big hundred even in the four-day games. The only big innings that came from the `A' matches played this year was from Russel Arnold, and he is already an established player in the senior team."
There is also the over coaching in schools which destroys the flair of a batsman. There is a lot of textbook cricket played by youngsters. While they are playing this orthodox cricket they are losing out on their flair side, innovation is being lost. That's an area one we shouldn't lose out because Sri Lankans have an ability to be naturally innovative players," he said.