The exaggerated enthusiasm in the commentary of Tony Greig served as a beautiful background when Muttiah Muralitharan would be spinning out oppositions amidst frantic home support at SSC or R.Premadasa International Cricket Stadium at Colombo. In those days, the cacophony of trumpets would only add to the magnificent Cricketing ambience.
Such scenes remind us of the golden days of Sri Lanka. Even recently, players like Dilshan and Lasith Malinga would remind everyone that Sri Lanka is a Cricketing giant. So, why is Sri Lanka not able to produce world class Cricketers anymore?
The question itself is as painful as any lack of viable justifications.
There has always been a queer connection between island nations and Cricket. The DNA of West Indies Cricket is hued with extravagance, the remnants of that can still be found in T20 Cricket albeit sporadically. Sri Lankan Cricket fans fondly ruminate on the glorious heydays when a bunch of Sri Lankan Cricketers would make the game richer by their unorthodox skills. It’s mind numbing to imagine that such a small island nation has been blessed with an array of international stars who played the game on their terms.
In socio-political terms, the black shadows of the turbulent Civil war never touched Sri Lanka’s great Cricketing lineage. Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva, Chaminda Vaas and Muralitharan were at the forefront of their Cricketing growth. The jubilant scenes after their maiden World Cup victory in 1996 were a tribute to Sri Lanka’s plucky temperament that took the world by storm.
So, where did it all go wrong?
In order to understand the gravity of the situation, one needs to delve into statistics which presents a sorry tale of dismal failures for the Sri Lankan national side. In the four years between 2016 and the end of 2020, Sri Lanka lost 53 of their 78 completed ODIs.
Interestingly, the effects of the transition period have largely been felt in ODIs and T2Os and the road ahead seems to be even more difficult as the T20 World Cup in UAE will be a stern examination for the Sri Lankan team which is filled with inexperienced players. It’s ironical to even imagine that Sri Lanka will be competing in the T20 World Cup qualifiers when one thinks about the sight of Sanath Jayasuriya smashing top international bowlers in the first 15 overs that too in the 1996 Cricket World Cup.
The amazing 2-0 victory in the Test Series over South Africa in 2018-19 had given Sri Lankan fans moments to rejoice. But that phenomenal victory has been the only bright result over the last 4 years. Another big cause of concern for Sri Lanka is the fact that now they are not seen as a team that is difficult to beat at home. England’s latest 2-0 whitewash in the Test Series over them should really make the Cricket administrators in Sri Lanka worried.
Sri Lanka’s ODI woes have continued since the 2019 World Cup where they fared poorly. A consolation victory over the hosts England did little to salvage pride for the island nation. It is indeed shocking to note that they have failed to match up with the standards set by teams like England , Australia, and India in the 50 over format. The retirement of Thisara Perrera and the penchant to overlook Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Matthews have made things difficult for Micky Arthur, the head coach of Sri Lanka.
Before the start of the recently concluded ODI and T20 series against hosts England, Sri Lanka fared poorly against Bangladesh thereby losing the ODI series 2-1. And a severe drubbing at the hands of West Indies in both ODIs and T20s before that have made stalwarts like Arjuna Ranatunga scoff at the present Cricketing set up. Sri Lanka was lucky to escape a dual whitewash at the hand of England as the third ODI of the three-match ODI series got abandoned due to rain. It ended Sri Lanka’s dismal and winless tour of England.
The only saving grace was the performance of Kusal Perera and the emergence of bowlers like Chameera and Fernando. But, the vacuum left by the retirement of Sangakkara and Jayawardene has been repeatedly exposed due to the inconsistencies of the top order. It will be farcical to expect a repeat performance of 2014 in the upcoming T20 World Cup.
The biobubble breach by Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka and their subsequent ban for a year has further hampered any thoughts of resurgence. And with the Contract controversy doing the rounds ahead of the matches against India, Sri Lanka’s Cricket crisis is way deeper than what words could reflect.
So, what’s the way ahead?
They have the Cricketing brains in their country to mark a remarkable turnaround.