South Africa vs Sri Lanka: Lack of domestic pedigree has put Islanders in perpetual transition

The sun rises. The sun sets. The earth revolves around the sun. The moon revolves around the earth. Sri Lanka are in transition.

It has been that way for so long that it has become the natural order of things. Sri Lanka are rebuilding, we are told.

When Paul Farbrace was appointed as their coach in December 2013, the Daily Mail reported on his appointment by saying “(Frabrace) returns to Sri Lanka with their national side in transition.”

“They’re going through a transition phase,” Muttiah Muralitharan said in August 2015. When Marvan Atappattu resigned from his position as national coach ESPNCricinfo reported that there were concerns about his ability to guide the team through this transition period.

Sri Lanka players walk off the pitch after winning the match against Zimbabwe. AP

Sri Lanka players walk off the pitch after winning the match against Zimbabwe. AP

“Atapattu is reputed to be an excellent technical coach, but is understood to have been less impressive as a man-manager - which was seen by the board as a particularly worrying trait, in Sri Lanka's transition period.”

Come December 2016, national selector Sanath Jayasuriya was making the same point. “I think Sri Lanka is going through a transition period right now.”

There are philosophy graduates that have been quicker at transitioning out of their room in their parents house and into the real world than this Sri Lankan cricket team.

Transition seems to suggest that there is some sort of master plan that will eventually come good and Sri Lanka will be winning Tests overseas and getting to the latter stages of global limited overs tournaments once again. But “transition” is code for Sri Lanka having lost some of the greatest ever cricketers to the ravages of time over the last few years, and they have no idea how to replace them.

Any team would struggle if they had lost Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan inside two years. But the whole point of your domestic structure, talent identification systems and national coaching setup is so that you do not have massive gaps in your team that cannot be papered over.

If Sri Lanka are still attempting to emerge from a cricketing chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly then Sri Lankan Cricket are the ones that are fault. There is no suggestion that they will find a couple of players that will score in excess of 10,000 Test runs down the back of the sofa along with some loose change, but if they do not have a team that can consistently compete at the international level then their systems have failed.

Transition also implies that a side is learning from the errors that have led to them stumbling to defeat. In the two Tests in the current series in South Africa, the Sri Lankan batting order have stumbled to scores of 281, 205, 110 and 224 as they were obliterated by a South African team that is without Dale Steyn. If anything, over the course of the four innings in this series thus far Sri Lanka have got worse.

The disappointing thing about these results in South Africa was that in recent months, there seemed to have been some progress. Having lost to New Zealand in December 2015 and to England in June 2016, Sri Lanka had brushed aside a hapless Australian team and had a confidence boosting series win in Zimbabwe.

Runs for Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal and wickets for Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara over the last 12 months allowed you to think that things were finally leaving this interminable rebuilding phase.

Yet here we are again, Sri Lanka have lost their last two matches by margins of 206 runs and 282 runs. Transition was once an acceptable trope, now it is nothing short of excuse making.

In an interview with Gulf News, Jayawardene said the issue was not that the team was undergoing a facelift rather that the first-class structure is not preparing players for the international game, even if they have the talent to be a success.

“Our domestic cricket is something that is not up to the mark. It is not up with all the other countries. We are producing talented cricketers but they are not at the level where they could step in and play international cricket,” Jayawardene said. “I don’t want to point fingers but I think overall there should be people responsible.”

In the Cape Town Test that concluded on Thursday, the highest score made by a Sri Lankan in their two innings was the 49 that Angelo Mathews made in a futile cause in their second dig. In the series as a whole, the highest score a Sri Lankan batsman has made is the 59 that Mathews made in the first Test in Port Elizabeth. With batting that fragile the only result possible is an embarrassing defeat.

The batting has been so poor in this series that any positives from the bowlers have been overshadowed. And there has been some bright spots with the ball. A five wicket haul for Lakmal in the first Test was followed up with a four-for in the second innings in Cape town. Kumara’s bowling in the South African first innings in this Test was full of promise as he claimed the first haul of six wickets of more by a Sri Lankan seamer since Chaminda Vaas took 6-22 against the West Indies in July 2005.

South Africa deserve a lot of credit for the professional way in which Sri Lanka were dealt with. Hundreds from Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock in this Test to go with Stephen Cook’s ton in the first Test made it a decent series for the South African openers and their hugely exciting wicket-keeper batsman. Vernon Philander is as wily as ever, Kagiso Rabada has restated his case for title as the most exciting fast-bowling prospect in world cricket. But in truth there was very little fight from Sri Lanka’s batsman who only transitioned their way to defeat.

Updated Date: Jan 05, 2017 19:45 PM

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