A Master Plan to Win the ICCWC2011
Posted on February 14th, 2011

Dilrook Kannangara

Few interesting articles appeared in the news on Sri Lanka’s ICCWC2011 prospects and strategies. The World Cup is the premier sporting event that glues most Sri Lankans together. Although fanatics about cricket take a different shape in the island to that of the other parts of the subcontinent, winning or losing the tournament is very important to sporting enthusiasts.

The best team has been put together by Aravinda De Silva barring one or two exceptions. A scientific and numerically accurate selection process has boosted confidence in the team and among sport fans. Of course, it is not possible to agree on every player, but the process has been transparent and scientific.

The Absurdity of Certain Complaints

Certain complaints levelled by commentators against the administration of cricket in the island are baseless. One such allegation is the lack of national level players from the north and the east. It has been less than two years since war ended and it is not possible to produce national level cricketers within two years! Under LTTE control there was no sport and in other parts of the north and the east that were under government control, there was constant fear. Under these circumstances playing cricket was the last thing on the minds of school students. Most of them dreamt of leaving the island behind and worked towards it. Playing cricket was not an avenue to do so. Cricket is not as popular in the north and the east as it elsewhere. This means most talented sports personnel would not chose cricket. However, things are slowly changing as peace brings more certainty. It will take time to produce a national level cricketer and processes are in place.

Lack of regional level tournaments is another complaint. There are many stages of domestic tournaments today than before. However, this is not the only headhunting grounds for the national team. Almost all national and tournament players emerge at schools level. Outstation players and players from poor backgrounds don’t continue to play cricket as the domestic tournaments don’t offer enough. Outstation players don’t get jobs just because they play cricket unlike their urban brothers. Changing this takes a very long time and may not change at all. It is no wonder schools cricket has a larger patronage than domestic cricket! It is different to Australia, England or India. Sri Lanka’s talent pool must be identified primarily at a different level giving due regard to commercial realities. Current domestic structure is a viable and sustainable method to uplift cricket to the international level. It should be streamlined and regulated. Assisting rural players with finding jobs for sustenance does more good to cricket than revamping the domestic tournament.

Sri Lankan team is not the oldest team in the tournament and the average age is certainly not 35! It is just 29. Those who love cricket and Team Sri Lanka should not be spreading such absurdity.

Politics in Sport

Government has done very well to keep politics out of cricket. It has hurt some former cricketing giants. Regardless, the nation and its cricket must move forward. Unfortunately many have forgotten the most despicable political interference ever to land on cricket. It was in 2002 following the victory of Ranil Wickramasinghe. Sanath Jayasuriya who was the captain at that time was sacked and two jokers were appointed to captain the test and ODI teams. There was absolutely no need to do so as Sanath was doing very well. By then he was the most successful captain in the two forms of the game. Political thinking of the move became apparent soon when Hashan Tillakaratna “”…” the test captain “”…” ended up becoming a UNP organiser soon after leaving cricket! ODI captain Marvan Attapattu abruptly ended his captaincy role following a dismal record as captain. Had this disturbance not occurred, Sri Lanka would have beaten Australia in the all important game and gone on to win the World Cup in 2003. Replacing Arjuna with Aravinda in the early 1990s was another political move that was damning.

While cheering the good move to leave out Sanath Jayasuriya this time, the ability and plans of politicos from another quarter interfering in cricket should not be underestimated. Local Government elections taking place amidst the World Cup campaign is seen by a particular opposition political party as a disadvantage to them. An open eye should be kept on them wielding money to change fortunes of Team Sri Lanka as they know very well that it has political implications. In a country where politicos would do anything to change the political fortunes, it is a possibility.

The Current Format Needs Only Three Back to Back Wins

Getting into the second round is not difficult although it should not be taken for granted. Avoiding getting into the bottom in the group is important as that would most certainly lead to a second round match with India. Given the form, talent and ground conditions, team India is formidable. The greatest cricketer ever, Sachin Tendulkar, is determined to make his last World Cup appearance a memorable one. Apart from that, the three other teams to make to the second round in the other group are equal among them. Having qualified for the second round, only three (3) wins are needed including the final. Whatever inconsistencies displayed by Team Sri Lanka batsmen, if these three (3) consecutive matches can be won, that is sufficient. Mathematically it is a better format for a team with inconsistent batting than having to play multiple matches to get to the semi-final.

On the other hand this means there is no room for injuries. The best team must play the second round match, semi-final and the final. The team that retains their best team is at a certain advantage over the others. Special emphasis must be made for warm-ups, injuries at the nets (no matter how trivial, these happen), injuries while play that can be avoided, fielding the 12th man whenever available and quick recovery. Top end batsmen and top end bowlers need to be kept safe no matter how trivial it sounds. Highly skilled players like Chaminda Vaas managed to avoid injuries by proper warm-ups, following good techniques and not allowing complacency creep in. Other players should not take good health for granted. Matches being closer to home works well with players.

Technology and Personalised Strategies are a Must

There is no excuse for not using technology, statistics and a personalised strategy to each batsmen and bowler. This is especially so in the second round match, semi final and the final. Each opponent batman’s strengths must be blocked and weaknesses exploited. Same goes for each opposing bowler. Viewing recorded footage, analysing statistics and other means of data gathering (recorded documents on strengths and weaknesses in papers, cricket magazines, etc.) to have all available information handy to make decisions is a must. A personalised strategy to take on every batsmen and every bowler must be made before the match and implemented almost mechanically. Introduction of spinners early should not be delayed against batsmen weak in facing them.

Absence of Sanath Jayasuriya and repositioning Mahela Jayawardena

Absence of Sanath Jayasuirya is a big loss for the team. It is the right decision to leave out this legendary player who is undoubtedly the best Sri Lankan batsmen ever, but his absence means a lot to the team. He was the only Sri Lankan batsmen feared by all bowlers and there is not a single batsman in the team today who commands such honour. Secondly, there is no batsman capable of a high strike rate when it matters like Sanath. Thirdly, he was a handy spinner with his unique left arm leg spin. Strategists must be fully aware of this deficiency and devise plans accordingly.

Mahela Jayawardena has repositioned himself. Captaincy burdens took away his time, effort and ease but now the free stroke playing Mahela is back. Like all players he had his share of peaks and valleys; his valleys have been deeper and lasted longer. He is an aggressive batsman with good stroke play with the ability to rise to the occasion. It is not the same player who went into the WC2007 (though he did reasonably well) this time. His captaincy was neither innovative nor aggressive. Kumar Sangakkara in turn is more appropriate to lead but he should follow a logical pattern in choosing bowlers and setting the field.

Murali’s commitment to winning must be assessed early in the tournament, not at the final. Like the two other legendary players now in retirement from ODIs, Murali may well be in his waning stages too. Experimenting with him at the final or semi final if he fails to impress during early matches is not wise. Fortunes of the ICCWC1996 final was changed when Australia lost its way after a steady start. At one point they were 130 odd runs for one wicket! Holding on to catches and making difficult run-outs happen win matches. If any team can stop Australia, it is Sri Lanka. India and Pakistan collapsed badly at the finals in 1999 and 2003 respectively when faced with the mighty Australians. Its time to end their winning run.

4 Responses to “A Master Plan to Win the ICCWC2011”

  1. Wickrama Says:

    Brilliant, balanced and encouraging article compared to the defeatist article by the other author (Ravindra Wickramasinghe – more like Ranil W)

  2. cassandra Says:

    An interesting article but I would question some statements you have made.

    1. The assertion that “Replacing Arjuna with Aravinda in the early 1990s was another political move that was damning.” I believe that that decision had nothing to do with politics but with discipline.

    2. You say that Sanath “is undoubtedly the best Sri Lankan batsmen ever”. This is arguable. In my view, that distinction belongs to Aravinda de Silva. It is instructive to note that Aravinda de Silva is the only Sri Lankan player included in John Woodcock’s book, One Hundred Greatest Cricketers.

    3. Your statement that “there is no batsman capable of a high strike rate when it matters like Sanath” is also arguable. If you care to hark back to the World Cup of 1996 you’ll find Sanath failed miserably with the bat in both the Semi Final against India and in the Final against Australia – when it certainly mattered. In the Semi Final, Sanath had the grand score of 1, and SL was 2 down for 1 run when Aravinda de Silva came to the wicket and played a fighting innings of 66 to save Sri Lanka. In the Final, Sanath improved on his Semi Final showing. This time he scored 8 more – he was out for 9, and when Aravinda came in, the team had already lost 2 wickets for 23 runs. Again, he went on to play a defining innings with 107 not out.

    No doubt like other readers, I also wish the SL team good luck and hope it can repeat that historic victory of 1996.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Cassandra

    Thank you for your comments. Your questions are trivial in the wider context of the article (WC2011). But I think they need answers.

    1. It was a case of politics and not discipline. Arjuna repeatedly said so and he was reinstated as captain later and Aravinda played under him. The team did very well. Both players were professionals and the political mess up thankfully didn’t affect their cooperation. There was another instance of politicians trying to introduce their version of “fitness” in 1993 which left out Aravinda and Murali. Unthinkable! Ultimately Arjuna who had passed the “fitness” test opted not to play.

    2. John Woodcock’s criteria are not the only way to assess a player. What matters most is how each of them contributed in terms of runs, strike rates, averages, catches, wickets, bowling averages and econ rates to Team Sri Lanka. Numbers matter more than sentiments.

    If you look at their test career (which is not relevant in the context of the WC), both have similar averages but Sanath has 500 more runs than Aravinda. Aravinda has more centuries, Sanath has more half centuries. Sanath has taken way more catches than Aravinda. Aravinda has taken 29 test wickets against Santh’s 93. Bowling averages and economy rates vastly favour Sanath. Sanath was part of more wins than Aravinda.

    ODIs have expanded these gaps between them. They have similar averages (Aravinda leads marginally) but Aravinda’s strike rate was 81 against Sanath’s 91. They have similar number of half centuries but Sanath leads Aravinda in centuries 28 to just 11 (less than half). 123 catches to Sanath and 95 for Aravinda.

    Aravinda has taken 106 wickets at an average of 39.4 and an economy rate of 4.86. Sanath has taken 322 wickets at an average of 36.72 and an economy rate of 4.78. Once again Sanath has many team wins than Aravinda.

    Aravinda was a classy player and one of the best we had, but Sanath has beaten him comprehensively in all forms of the game, especially in ODIs. Sanath revolutionized ODI cricket not just for Sri Lanka but around the world. He was a trend setter and thrived in his own trend which was quickly copied by all teams.

    Just to add for the sake of completion, both were called to captain the team. It is the culmination of any sports person. Sanath has a brilliant record in both forms over Aravinda.

    Sanath started to feature in tests and ODIs regularly at a later stage than Aravinda. He was not placed where it suits the team best until the mid 1990s. This was not so with Aravinda. Had his talents been picked up and appreciated earlier, he would have done even better.

    However, this is the subject of much debate. The best way this debate can end is when a far better cricketer emerges.

    3. Yes, “there is no batsman capable of a high strike rate when it matters like Sanath”. Sanath did fail at important junctures and so did Aravinda. But there is no one with a strike rate of 91 in the team, not ever so far wtih sizable number if innings. It is not about past performance but about the proven ability measured in the recorded strike rate. Team Sri Lanka has recognized this and measures are in place to arrest it.

    Aravinda contributed more than his share at the 1996 WC Final becoming the Man of the Match but Sanath was the Man of the Series or the Most Valuable Player. All matches leading to the semi final and final matter and that is why the team has 11 players.

    Something I forgot to mention in the article is the influence T20s have on ODIs. Agressive batting and shrewed bowling tactics are here to stay in both short versions. IPL being the premier 20 over tournament, Indians have a definite advantage. Sri Lankans come next. Most Australian players in IPL don’t play for ODIs.

  4. cassandra Says:

    I don’t consider my questions are trivial but with respect to the ahcievements and class of Sanath v/s Aravinda, let’s agree to disagree.

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