Change of Guard
Posted on August 17th, 2009

Ganeesha David

The cricket captaincy of Sri Lanka changed hands with consummate ease. As reckoned Kumar Sangakkara proved captain “ƒ”¹…”le magnifique’. Opening his occupancy with theT20 world cup final, a format in which Sri Lanka was not even remotely expected to figure in, the new guard to slithered into business.

Taking on the same opponents in a home series, Sri Lanka scooped the tests and ODIs series in one long staggering breath, leaving the country agog in anticipation of the skippers antics. It seemed like Sangakkara had acquired the “ƒ”¹…”Midas touch’. Every ploy of his worked and success followed him like Mary’s little lamb.

Dreamlike it was; but closer scrutiny unearths cracks along the way. The Sri Lankan batting in both the long and short of the game was below par and other than the Kumar Sangakkara static in the final test to save the game and Mahela Jayawardena’s silken in the third ODI, the rest was on the back of the common collapses of Pakistan.

Regardless of each player’s aptitude, there were many a slip between the cup and the lip and the potential never lived up to. The burden on the main stays of Sangakkara and Jaywardena was far too much. New comer Tharanga Paranavitana looked solid; with immaculate movement of the feet and adequate awareness of his off stump; he was the discovery of the test series. Rangana Herath holding on to Murali’s skirt for so long, blossomed under his leader’s bearing. Sangakkara infused confidence in his bowler and he delivered like never before. So much that Muttiah Muralidaran announced his retirement”¦”¦”¦

Jokes apart it was a somber moment, when without too much pomp and pageantry his greatness Mr Muralidaran announced the beginning of the end of his career. Sri Lankan fans no doubt went into a mourning of sorts but have already activated a programme to urge the spin professor to run for the 1000 test wickets. They will not give him up without a fight!

The ODIs brought a very mixed bag, with a toss and Colombo night sky proving the undoing of Sri Lanka’s silver streak. Claim as all might, the R Premadasa “ƒ”¹…”batting second hoodoo’ continues to plague the home side. India won all its tosses and all its matches some bits ago and Pakistan called correct in the two final ODIs and decimated Sri Lanka out of contention. Just like the Indian drubbing made Jayawardena throw the towel in on the captaincy in despair, the Pakistan defeats had Sangakkara tearing his hair out. A flat track with the ball coming on nicely was gifted to Pakistan via toss in both matches while Sri Lanka were left struggling under the lights with the ball moving around initially and spinning and bouncing at the latter. Of course Sri Lanka’s batting proved woefully inadequate, but when teams are at similar strength, even a slight advantage gives buoyancy to the other side. An impetus both India and Pakistan rode well.

Batting which was one time the apple of Sri Lanka’s eye, showed itself up again to be uninspiring and pedestrian. Sri Lanka who had mounted opposition time and again faltered in absence of Jayasuriya’s form and the indomitable T M Dilshan. As a result the established Jayawardena and Sangakkara were unable to go after the bowling knowing that the cupboard is threadbare after them.

Succumbing again to Pakistan in the T20 was no surprise as the “ƒ”¹…”packed with all-rounders and big-hitters’ Pakistan had the edge over the home boys by far. Sri Lanka fuddled and befuddled and were made to look foolish as Afridi’s men exuberated superlative power and dynamism in their cricket.

While one had to ooze the praises of Sangakkara as chief, his zeal and velocity on the field turned detrimental to him and many an impassioned nativity enacted from behind the stumps. A sudden macho culture into this otherwise genial side saw even the always tranquil Jayawardena joining the banter. Such heedlessness from the very top is inadmissible and possibly stems from needless pressure heaped on themselves. With the older men wilting and the younger not quite blossomed, it seems the two pals are biting more than they can chew.

Like a bolt from the blue Kumar Sangakkara has catapulted back to his former confrontational days. The skip was clearly agitated about this, that and the other and it gave you the feeling he trying too hard to be the earth-shaking general his country wanted him to be. Leaving God to the necromancy the mere- mortal Mr Sangakkara, must simply set out to play as best as his men can. There was a sense of over-eagerness to almost play out of their skins, which whilst being a good thing can over-boil like it did. At the point the ODI run chases became overwhelming, the thinking should have been to relax and take it as close as possible and then confiscate the next stride instead of causing amateurish panic and perishing.

Sri Lanka Cricket on the other hand has to take a deep look into the fact that from almost the point of the toss the game becomes one sided, otherwise in future games they may face a humiliating exodus of spectators, the minute a toss is lost by the home team (tongue in cheek)

The entire community of Sri Lankan cricket loves to see “ƒ”¹…”old’ Sanath Jayasuriya take the field. Its iconic and chest heaving to see him scurry after a ball, or gleefully clap his hands with childlike excitement. While Jayasuriya will be matchless in history, its wondered if he is a slight liability with the batting”¦

Upul Tharanga being able to perform only on flat tracks is a worry, however with the advent of Dilshan, this issue would sort itself out.

Lasith Malinga is posting too many problems to Sri Lanka. Rumours are rife that he lacks discipline and it was evident in the 4th ODI where he gave away 26 extras. Malinga together with Dilshan have formed the double cannon for Sri Lanka in the shortened forms and their non performance together with the hole Jayasuriya left proved too much for the rest of the band.

Nuwan Kulasekera has leapt into form even surprising skeptics likes yours truly who never pitted him to fit into the lofty boots of Chaminda Vaas. While he will take a bit more time to develop the Vaas guile, one can breathe a sigh of relief that help is at hand.

It would not be right not try to do justice to the transcendent Mahela Jayawardena innings in the 3rd ODI, which was passage of complete wonderment that transported you into the surreal; floating and flowing but always with the awareness that you were encountering something paranormal; something just a few had the privilege of stumbling upon; something beyond compare. Jayawardena the apostle of allure, craft and the most gracious kind of massacre! It warms the cockles that there may possibly be more to come”¦”¦..

Back to earth; despite the Sangakkara captaincy now showing a few gaps, he is not a man to sit on his laurels and will polish his end up without much ado. The worrying factor is his batting form and his unaccustomed raggedy wicket keeping, showing it all may be too much in the end. That said someone will have to wrestle him to the ground to prise-off the gloves from him. Dilshan cannot be an option to keep as he should open the ODI batting and that leaves Jayawardena to come at 3 relegating Sangakkara to bat in the middle. With Sangakkara playing anchor all these years Jayawardena has to quickly start shouldering more responsibility in the batting department, leaving his buddy to command effectively.

Just like it was with the series where India won the toss and beat Sri Lanka silly, the players should not heap too much on the lost ODIs vs Pakistan. However the greater need is to lift their individual performances and sharpen skills “”…” nose to the grind-stone lads!

Renewed enthusiasm is clearly buzzing around the team and in spite of set backs the “ƒ”¹…”messiah passion’ surrounding Kumar Sangakkara cannot blow-cold easily.

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