Alarm bells ring­ing for sri lankan game

Tim Wig­more ar­gues ac­tion is now needed ur­gently to pre­vent the is­land’s game de­clin­ing like Zim­babwe’s

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

Some­times, the bare facts con­vey it bet­ter than any­thing else. So it is with Sri Lanka’s grue­some 3-0 home de­feat to In­dia in their Test se­ries.

Con­sider these num­bers. Sri Lanka took just 32 In­dian wick­ets across the three Tests, at a cost of 60.90 apiece. In­dia, mean­while, had lit­tle re­sis­tance en route to tak­ing all 60 pos­si­ble Sri Lanka wick­ets, which cost an av­er­age of 24.92 each. In­dia’s mar­gins of vic­to­ries were 304 runs, an in­nings and 53 runs and an in­nings and 171 runs. This was a Test se­ries, but it was em­phat­i­cally not a Test con­test.

In their 35-year his­tory as a Test na­tion, Sri Lanka have known beat­ings, and plenty of them but never – not even dur­ing some ig­no­min­ious trips Down Un­der – a se­ries of thump­ings so com­pre­hen­sive as this.

As ever there are some mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances – in­deed, how could they be given such a se­ries of thrash­ings? Most ob­vi­ously there is the un­de­ni­able ex­cel­lence of this In­dia side who patently have the tools to suc­ceed in Eng­land and Aus­tralia in the next 18 months – and, if they can do so, es­tab­lish them­selves as the finest Test team In­dia have ever pro­duced.

Then there are Sri Lanka’s gen­er­a­tional prob­lems: the de­par­tures of Ma­hela Jayawar­dene and Ku­mar San­gakkara in 2015 left a chasm so great that Sri Lanka even tried to coax San­gakkara back for one last dance dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy. Ran­gana Herath, who has been a spin­ner of ex­tra­or­di­nary guile and for­ti­tude, is now in his 40th year.

It is only a year since Sri Lanka mag­nif­i­cently evis­cer­ated Aus­tralia 3-0. And yet the sense is grow­ing that there is a deeper malaise in Sri Lankan cricket than the loss of a few play­ers, how­ever mag­nif­i­cent. With­out Herath – and some for­tu­nate um­pir­ing de­ci­sions – Sri Lanka would have lost their one­off Test at home to Zim­babwe last month, too; they ear­lier lost the five­match ODI se­ries. 2017 has also brought a meek Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy exit (not­with­stand­ing a mag­nif­i­cent run chase against In­dia at the Oval) and a first ever Test de­feat at home to Bangladesh.

What is to blame? In re­cent weeks cur­rent and for­mer play­ers have been united in tak­ing aim at Sri Lanka’s do­mes­tic sys­tem, which is an un­wieldy mess and ut­terly ill-suited to stream­lin­ing ta­lent and hard­en­ing play­ers for the in­ter­na­tional game.

First-class cricket is played over a mix­ture of three and four days, which is no way to pre­pare play­ers for five-day Tests. Even worse is the di­lu­tion of ta­lent: there are 23 dif­fer­ent first-class teams, so ta­lent is nowhere near con­cen­trated enough. The up­shot is, as even Sri Lanka Cricket cricket man­ager Asanka Gu­rus­inha has ad­mit­ted, that first-class cricket is much weaker than a gen­er­a­tion ago.

There are plans to cre­ate a new fiveteam, four-day first-class com­pe­ti­tion next year – but sim­i­lar plans have been aban­doned in the past two years, sug­gest­ing a lack of com­mit­ment to Test cricket.

In many ways the state of Sri Lanka’s first-class cricket re­flects the pol­i­tick­ing that has long un­der­mined the game there. Sri Lanka’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, fa­mously lam­basted by San­gakkara in his 2011 Cow­drey Lec­ture at Lord’s, re­mains a drag on the team, un­able to rise above petty squab­bling – and dark al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion – to pro­vide the lead­er­ship that the play­ers need.

Un­til that changes, the risk grows that world cricket could be on the brink of los­ing an­other com­pet­i­tive Test na­tion. This cen­tury, it has ef­fec­tively lost the West Indies and Zim­babwe as Test sides (though there are now some be­lated signs of op­ti­mism in both) while gain­ing only Bangladesh.

If Sri Lanka’s Test team was to col­lapse in a sim­i­lar way, Test cricket would be sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ened, at a time when the global sport­ing mar­ket is more cut-throat than ever. And if Sri Lanka’s Test side were to con­tinue fall­ing, it is easy to imag­ine what could hap­pen next: less fo­cus on Tests there, fewer fix­tures and more em­pha­sis on T20.

The risk is ex­ac­er­bated by the lack of an in­ter­ven­tion­ist In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil, who could take measures – like en­sur­ing a min­i­mum pay­ment for all Test crick­eters per Test, to pre­vent play­ers from smaller economies leav­ing the for­mat pre­ma­turely – to sup­port the have-nots of the Test game.

It has been a year of nadirs for Sri Lankan cricket. In July, An­gelo Mathews de­scribed the ODI se­ries loss to Zim­babwe as “one of the low­est points” of his own ca­reer, and then promptly re­signed. His suc­ces­sor, Di­nesh Chandi­mal, called the de­feat to In­dia “the tough­est se­ries in eight years play­ing in­ter­na­tional cricket, no doubt”.

The fear is that even worse is to come: later this year, Sri Lanka will meet In­dia in an­other Test se­ries, but this time in In­dia. The evis­cer­a­tion that Sri Lanka have just re­ceived might look com­pet­i­tive com­pared to what un­folds in In­dia.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

An­other re­verse: the de­jected Sri Lankan team af­ter their exit from the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy this sea­son

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