Sri Lankan cricket team could stage a comeback — but only if they play with self-belief, pride

Sri Lankan cricket is down in the dumps and what it badly needs, is a huge dose of self-belief.

Austin Coutinho August 26, 2017 12:58:58 IST
Sri Lankan cricket team could stage a comeback — but only if they play with self-belief, pride

Sri Lankan cricket is down in the dumps. At the present moment, what it badly needs is a huge dose of self-belief.

Cricket fans in Sri Lanka too are very, very disappointed at their cricketers’ lackadaisical attitude.

Nic Pothas, the interim Lankan coach has suggested that his wards could perhaps interact with the Indian skipper, and team management, to find out how the hosts could overcome their ‘transition period’ glitches.

If at all Pothas needs to show his boys what it takes to be a winner, he would do well to play the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-Bhuvneshwar Kumar partnership video (2nd ODI at Kandy) in the dressing room, again and again.

And if the defeat at Kandy is any indicator of the Sri Lankans’ state of mind, their collective pride and confidence could perhaps be weighed against that of one man in the Indian side: Dhoni.

The battle-scarred former India skipper — surprisingly ‘on notice’ from the chief of selectors, to perform or perish — walked in when defeat stared India in the face. Akila Dananjaya had just run through India’s talented, top and middle-order. The assured manner in which ‘normalcy’ was restored by the legendary ‘keeper-batsman, with great support from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, was an object lesson in ‘mental toughness’ for the opposition as well as his younger teammates.

He showed the world, again, why he was known as ‘Captain Cool’.

Sri Lankan cricket team could stage a comeback  but only if they play with selfbelief pride

The Sri Lankan cricket team needs to play for pride. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Sri Lankan legend, Mahela Jayawardene has gone on record to say that his countrymen’s performances are manifest of the ‘fear of failure’. With due apologies to the great batsman, post the match at Kandy, one would wonder if the Lankans have begun ‘fearing success’ too!

Another lesson, perhaps, that Pothas’ boys could learn from the Indians is that professionals do not blame circumstances for their failures.

Right now, post the Lodha Committee recommendations and the intervention of the Supreme Court, cricket administration in India is in shambles. Nobody knows what shape the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will take in the time to come. Yet, the team management — now led by Ravi Shastri and of course, Virat Kohli — and the players have gone about performing with utmost efficiency.

Pundits in Sri Lanka have blamed everybody connected with cricket for the state it is in right now. The government, the SLC president and administration, the system and what have you. It is time somebody in the Sri Lankan cricket team puts his hand on his heart and says, “C’mon guys. Let’s go out there and perform!”

One move in the right direction that the Sri Lankan board has made in recent times is the hiring of Asanka Gurusinha as manager-cum-selector. A World Cup winner of 1996, he has migrated to Australia but has accepted this challenge on the request of another legend, Aravinda de Silva.

Gurusinha had differences with former coach, Graham Ford with regard to his style of functioning. Ford resigned in June 2017. Known as the SLC president’s man, the former now has a task on hand, especially after Angelo Mathews too stepped down as skipper after the recent Zimbabwe debacle.

“I’m working on creating a team culture and making players accountable for what they do,” said Gurusinha to reporters last month. “The void left by legends like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene can’t be easily filled. But let me assure you that there are a few players in the present squad who will be superstars very soon.”

Sri Lanka has some great latent talent. Niroshan Dickwella (24), Kusal Mendis (22), Akila Dananjaya (23) and the pacy, Dushmantha Chameera (24) will be the players to watch by the time the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 comes around. Lahiru Thirimanne and Thisara Perera, along with Angelo Mathews, Nuwan Pradeep, Dinesh Chandimal, Asela Gunaratne, Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratane, could form the backbone of a strong Lankan team in a couple of years.

In one-day limited overs cricket, Sri Lanka has done little of note in the last one year or so. Besides a series win in Zimbabwe, a drawn series against Bangladesh and a solitary, inconsequential win against India in the Champions Trophy of 2017, the Lankans have literally struggled in what was their stronghold, not too long ago.

Of course, the win in a tri-series involving cellar teams Zimbabwe and the West Indies, in November 2016, may not have given them much satisfaction. They then had to face the ignominy of being drubbed by the Proteas and losing, of all teams, to minnows Zimbabwe 3-2 at home.

One can only hope, and pray, that Tharanga’s men, spurred on by their performance in the Kandy match, look to make a spirited comeback in the five-match series against India that is now on.

The Lankans haven’t fared much better in Tests too. Losing lop-sided series to South Africa and India, they won a couple of series against Zimbabwe and have managed to draw a series against Bangladesh.

A former Sri Lankan star believes that some of the very talented youngsters in the squad need to work with a sports psychologist. This advice, if heeded, could probably help the island’s cricketers become world-beaters sooner rather than later.

Dr Rudi Webster worked with a certain Sir Vivian Richards many decades ago. The youngster from the Caribbean Isles, despite having loads of talent would display signs of nervousness and throw away his wicket, playing awkward shots. Dr Webster helped him ‘calm down’ and thus become one of the finest batsmen ever seen on a cricket ground.

The Lankans will surely need to work very, very hard on the technical, physical and mental aspects of their game. They will also have to believe that they can beat the best in the world. That was one factor that helped the team led by Arjuna Ranatunga, in 1996, become world champions.

In that famous win that catapulted the Lankans to the top of the world, Australia was beaten by seven wickets in the final. Yet, it was this very team that had mocked and ridiculed them when Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) had made its first international appearance at the 1975 World Cup.

In its second match of WC’75, replying to Australia’s 328 for 5 in 60 overs, Sri Lanka had reached 150 for 2 in 32 overs. It was then that Dennis Lillee and ‘Thommo’ resorted to intimidation. Duleep Mendis and Sunil Wettimuny were repeatedly struck on the body. After Mendis was hit on the head and felled, he is said to have mumbled, “Oh my God, I’m going.” He was taken to hospital.

A few minutes later Wettimuny was hit on the instep. As the batsman winced in pain, Thommo said, “Look, it’s not broken. But if you are there next over it surely will (sic).”

First ball next over, Wettimuny was hit again in the same spot and as he hobbled around, Thommo ran him out. When Wettimuny was taken to the same hospital that Mendis was in, a policeman is said to have approached the beleaguered batsman and asked, “Who did that?” When Wettimuny said, “Thomson,” the policeman asked, without knowing it had happened in a cricket match, “Would you like to press charges?”

The Lankans had better be careful. If they do not play for pride — theirs and that of their nation — then very soon their egos will be so bruised that someone somewhere may ask, “Do you want to press charges?”

The author is a sportswriter and caricaturist. A former fast bowler, he is also a sport administrator and a mental toughness trainer.

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