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Sri Lankan cricket

July 13, 2013

Sri Lanka's final hoodoo

Chathura Pinnawala

The frustration builds for Angelo Mathews, India v Sri Lanka, West Indies tri-series final, Port-of-Spain, July 11, 2013
Oh dear, what can the matter with finals be? © AFP
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Series/Tournaments: West Indies Tri-Nation Series
Teams: Sri Lanka

Since the 1996 World Cup, West Indies have been in terminal decline. A Champions Trophy in 2004 wiped the dust from their trophy cupboard, but it wasn't a long-term answer, rather a throwback to a bygone era.

When Darren Sammy's unheralded power-hitters motored into the World T20 final last year, even the most optimistic supporter in Trinidad or Arnos Vale wouldn't have put them down as favourites. They were confronting Sri Lanka, the hosts and three-time finalists of four ICC tournaments in the previous five years.

It's all hunky-dory to possess a record like that, but it ends the moment you come to know about the losing sequence. That's a record that looks even uglier considering West Indies, with their ills and frills, have managed to win two world titles after 1996, ironically the year Sri Lanka won the World Cup.

Another page to this haunting story was added few days ago when Sri Lanka crumbled to its familiar nemesis, a youthful and vibrant India, in the tri-series final in the West Indies. And that was after showing enough promise to raise hopes.

So what is that makes Sri Lanka crumble in finals like a statue made of sand? Finding reasons are harder than you think. Storming through the initial rounds but falling at the last hurdle sounds 'African', in cricket terms. Sri Lanka just seem mentally fragile when it comes to finals. Almost like they are afraid of the pressure. They radically forget what got them into finals in the first place and seem to enter a zone that isn't theirs.

Having suffocated several times now, expecting the formalities to change when they qualify for a another final is a bad bet. Psychologists have been of lasting help in cricket. The field hasn't been explored the way it ought to be yet, but India, South Africa and even Australia - the hard-nosed, naughty men of cricket - have benefited from the mental advice of a specialist. John Buchanan who piloted Australia to two World Cup titles in comprehensive fashion was a renowned philosopher.

Buchanan handled the mental aspect of his all-conquering side. His side was so multi-skilled that the only missing link was keeping their minds in safety. Which he did to good effect, apart from few tweaks in strategies. The result was that nobody could come close to the domination of Australia.

In fact, it was Australia who set the ungodly ball rolling for Sri Lanka in 2007, by thumping them in a rain-curtailed World Cup final in the Caribbean. Pakistan preyed on them at Lords in 2009, and the triangle of doom was completed by India in 2011.

It's not about talent. If the talent was in question, qualifying for the final would be out of the realm of possibilities. It's the mental toughness and the belief that is apparently lacking. Some investigative and corrective measures should be in order.

In sports, ultimately, "winning isn't everything. It's the only thing". At least, the contrast in emotions in the Indian and Sri Lankan camps during the tri-series' final presentation said so.

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Posted by CricketLlama on (July 15, 2013, 14:20 GMT)

Nice analysis. But I think the truth is bit harsher. Pattern is like SL generally has been sneaking into the finals based upon either eliminating weaker opponents like Kenya\NZ\Eng( earlier versions of tournaments) or simply pulling a game or two by mediocre performance or because of tie matches etc. Unfortunately they meet in finals the most strong team ( many times India) and as it is on the writing on the wall , they falter there, because opponents were deserving winners. So seems like, it is nothing unusual though.

Posted by tickcric on (July 15, 2013, 11:30 GMT)

I agree with the author but I also think Johnny_129 makes a good point. In last 6 years SL has been finalist in 4 ICC events, coming second each time. But in how many of those tournaments SL went as a hot favourite to play in the finals? Sri Lanka in all these tournaments have actually out performed better teams to play the final. Having done that, SL are failing to clinch the silverware... Perhaps it is a combination of both psychological and skill/talent aspect. I think in a world event, teams with more equitable sharing of responsibility has a better chance to succeed, especially as the tournament moves to the final stages, as the pressure intensifies. A team like SL relies too heavily on likes of Sanga, Mahela or Malinga. World Cup finals are pressure cookers anyways. But this becomes more telling in a team like SL, were few players have to take disproportionately higher degrees of responsibilities.

Posted by Harpreet on (July 15, 2013, 9:21 GMT)

Sri Lanka has become like Ganguly's team. Even India had this problem under Ganguly ..... reaching the finals and then losing .... sometimes losing comprehensively.

Posted by dummy4fb on (July 15, 2013, 7:02 GMT)

"Winning doesn't always mean being First. Winning means you'er going better than you've ever done before"

Quote from Bonnie Blair (1964-) Olympic Speed skater US history's most decorated winter athlete,

Posted by Naresh28 on (July 15, 2013, 6:18 GMT)

I dont think luck has anything to do with India winning or I dont think SL need luck to win in a final. For the two teams to get to where they were they played well. SL may have got excited at the prospect of the game is in the bag when they had India on the mat. India turned it around. So simply I would say that SL need to concentrate more until the job is done. Indian fan.

Posted by Sinhabahu on (July 15, 2013, 4:07 GMT)

I don't believe in this "luck" thing. The fact is that we fail in finals because we lack the mental fortitude.

Posted by dummy4fb on (July 14, 2013, 15:01 GMT)

jonny - Not really..SL were unbeaten an every one expected to win 2009 T20 WC..SL were unbeaten ti final and defeated pak easilly in group stages..In 2010 T20 final no one expected WI to beat SL..It was WIs 1st win against SL in 6 T20s..we were favourites to win CB series and topped the table but choked in final..It was only in 2007 WC we lost to a better team which is Australia..2011 was 50-50.A team of SL`s caliber should have won lot more trophies in last 10 years..

Posted by RanjithShettyJordan on (July 14, 2013, 6:30 GMT)

what is meant by character in cricket? Can anybody give the explanation? I saw Angelo and some times even Dhoni talks about character?

Posted by Guruprasad.S on (July 14, 2013, 5:55 GMT)

(1) Apart from Mahela, Sanga, Malinga and Angelo to an extent, the other SL players seem to lack confidence to be match winners. (2) Batsmen like Tharanga, Chandimal, and Thirimanne need to step out of the shadows of Mahela, Sanga and Dilshan. (3) During the tri-series final, it appeared that Mahela was running the show on the field. Angelo Mathews should assert himself as the captain. Also, Mahela should let Angelo run the team. (4) Sri Lanka should play attacking, aggressive cricket. Under Sanga and to an extent under Mahela, Sri Lanka have a template to win: Bat first, put a defendable score on board, curtail opposition runs and wait for opposition to make mistakes. Against India, this worked upto 2007. Then Dhoni came in and led India to ODI series wins against SL in 2008 and 2009. Now India has a mental edge over SL, and Dhoni has a clear edge over the combined intelligence of Mahela-Sanga-Angelo. (5) SL should get a few genuinely quick bowlers.

Posted by Dr.Lakson on (July 14, 2013, 5:39 GMT)

As mentioned by the auther it is physicalogical aspect that is missing. Need to fix that with some expertise before they can win any major final. Mathews was cool customer as a player but now he seems to have lost it. Maybe due to his slump in form. But I am sure he can get back with some help and also time on the job without havong to worry about loosing his job. SL need to identify and stick with players as they did 1996. We do not have an abundance of players like India and Australia.

Posted by Johnny_129 on (July 14, 2013, 3:56 GMT)

Commiserations to SL. Unlike SA who go into tournaments as favourites only to choke, SL really punches above their weight. Generally, SL gets undone by a in form heavyweight in the final stages of a tournament. This is understandable in many ways. However, SL's preparation, organization and desire can not be faulted. People of SL should be proud of their team's performances - they do not fizzle like SA and they are not a roller-coaster that is Pak.

Posted by krishna_IND on (July 14, 2013, 1:52 GMT)

Very sad for srilanka, every time when they reach sf or f in a major tornaments by playing some good cricket, there is some other team who performs better than them sometimes INDIA, sometimes AUS some othertimes PAK ..... OR one can say they are not lucky when it comes to finals, atleast once or twice they might have done it if luck might have favored them, they need a better plan or better impact player who can do this for them. As we find our lovable captain Dhoni , Ican still remember this was our situation before dhoni's debut! all the very best for their future games.

Posted by dummy4fb on (July 13, 2013, 22:20 GMT)

Great performance.It could have gone either way and the script would have written praising young SL team if that was the case. Matthews showed lot of character and it was the last over everything got messed up. The ball should have been given to someone else after the Bopara assault and these are learning points for the young captain.They will break the ice one day and it is just a matter of time.Good luck for the future.

Posted by KingOwl on (July 13, 2013, 20:34 GMT)

We need a cool captain. It's as simple as that. The last cool captain we had was Arjuna. That's when we won the WC. No coincidence. Aravinda was hugely talented. But when it comes to being cool under pressure, Arjuna was in a different league. We have had many captains since then. None has had that kind of mental strength. We need some street fighting type leading SL. Looking for well behaved boys from Colombo schools will not help (and I say that, being one of them myself, formerly). Arjuna came from a political family (though he was from a leading Colombo school too). Leadership was in his blood. That's what we need. I like Angelo. I think he is a great guy and a good captain. But, that's not enough to be the best in the world. For that, one needs to win the key moments under pressure. Only the cool guys can do that.

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