Where has it all gone wrong for Sri Lankan cricket?
It’s not unfair to say that off late Sri Lankan cricket has slipped into an abyss! The fact that Sri Lanka were unable to even put up a fight against India in the Test series at home is enough evidence to justify it.
The nation that has successfully produced many cricketing legends over the years are now struggling to find a winning combination and are in search of a player who could carry Sri Lankan cricket for the next decade or so.
In the last ODI in Pallekele, it was the experience of MS Dhoni and the tenacity of Bhuvneshwar Kumar that helped India find themselves on the victory stand for yet another time on this tour to Sri Lanka.
The hosts powered by the promising youngster Akila Dananjaya, who were in the driving seat for majority of the second innings tasted another bitter defeat at the hands of the Indians.
Sri Lanka were outplayed by India in all departments in the test series having lost two matches by an innings to spare and one match by a margin of 300 runs. Never in their history have they looked so comprehensively beaten.
The track record in ODIs and Tests in 2017 has been really poor for the Lankans. Their tour to South Africa was devastating as they suffered a 5-0 whitewash in the ODI series and a 3-0 whitewash in the Test series.
At home against Bangladesh, the ODI, Test and T20 series ended in a deadlock between the two sides.
In the ICC Champions Trophy, there weren’t many expectations from the Lankans. They were defeated by the South Africans by 96 runs in their first group stage match.
Everyone would have considered Sri Lanka down and out against India, but they pulled themselves up and put up a great performance, winning the game with seven wickets to spare.
Such a performance against a quality Indian side would have raised the expectations of fans for the remaining part of the tournament.
In the third game against Pakistan with a total of 236 to defend, Pakistan slipped to 162-7 and just when Sri Lanka could smell victory they messed up the situation again.
They dropped the skipper Sarfaraz twice in the innings and Pakistan went on to chase the target losing no further wickets.
Post Champions Trophy, the Lankans hosted a promising Zimbabwe team for a five-match ODI series and a one-off test match. What appeared as a shock to many, the visitors defeated the hosts 3-2 in the ODI series.
The series was followed by Angelo Mathews stepping down from captaincy, calling the series one of the lowest points of his career.
Defeating Sri Lanka in their own backyard is a challenging task and this series against Zimbabwe raised several questions for the Lankan side.
Just 12 months back last year, Sri Lanka were high in spirits after routing the mighty Australians 3-0 in the sub-continent. In contrast, one year later they have been handed a 3-0 demolition by the Indians at home.
Sri Lanka were far from being this bad at home. Even though they lost the test series to India 2-1 before two years, they were highly competitive and India had to fight hard to earn their victories.
The legends of Sri Lankan cricket Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Ranatunga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara have retired and the younger generation is struggling to keep up to the expectations.
It appears that something is wrong at the root level in Sri Lankan cricket. The quality of cricket in the domestic circuit is nowhere close to that played in India, England and Australia. Many players have urged for more domestic matches in the country.
The most a domestic player gets to play is six three-day matches and four four-day games.
“We have to play more first-class cricket and then we can find more players who can dominate the game. That’s the thing SLC have to work on for the players,” said Sri lankan batsman Dimuth Karunaratne.
Bowling coach Chaminda Vaas feels that the standard of the pitches should improve and there should be a mix of all wickets.
“If we’ve more turners than seaming wickets, we end up producing just the spinners and spinners who could get wickets on bad pitches. Thus our batsmen will become better players of pace bowling as well.”
Lack of experience is hurting Sri Lanka and someone needs to step-up and guide the youngsters. Rangana Herath has been a sensational bowler for Sri Lanka in the last few years but over-reliance on Herath is hurting them.
Senior players, Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga need to carry the team through this transition phase just like MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli had done after the retirement of the big-four of Indian cricket.
A stable captain-coach combination at this point of time could be just the right thing for the Lankans in their build-up to the World Cup in 2019.
In spite of all the disappointments, Sri Lanka are a better side than what they look now.
They have a lot of young talent in their side and the likes of Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella need to learn from their mistakes and deliver more consistently.