First the blog, now the Pod. Listen to Andrew choke as he tries to talk about Sri Lanka.

Are the rumours that the podcast was banned really true? Andrew Fernando and Damith Samarakoon return from the cold to tell you the truth. Our prodigal podcasters then catch up with the latest Sri Lankan cricket news, including changes to the selection committee, Kusal ‘Sharapova’ Perera’s potential disbarment, the Sri Lanka Women’s team, and all while trying desperately to not talk about the Men

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http://www.islandcricket.lk/podcasts/arm-chair-critics/kusal-has-major-fight-on-his-hands
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It’s a World Cup. Your first match is against the third ranked team in the game. A country that was a previous winner and one that has been in a number of finals, in various formats. You are expected to lose. And you do, badly.

You pick yourself up and train harder for the next game.  On the eve of the match your captain tears a hamstring and is sent home. This isn’t just a captain. It’s your talisman and the most capped player for your country. As losses go for a team, it is a Grand Canyon sized one.

That was the position the Sri Lankan Women’s team found themselves in before their match against Ireland in the World T20. The team had no hesitation in appointing Chamari Athapaththu as the stand in captain. She’d done it before, just a few months ago. That time, Shashikala Siriwardene broke her finger.

There are a couple of things you notice immediately about Athapaththu. Not least the spelling of her last name on the back of her kit. It’s strangely refreshing to see her name spelled like it is actually pronounced in Sinhalese, compared to the bastardized version Marvan used to prance about in to help make it easier for the Caucasian commentators.

Then, there is that commanding presence she has on the field. She cuts a figure of authority and certitude in her sun hat as she tweaks the field or speaks to a bowler. Let’s just also take a minute to appreciate that sun hat. Not many players wear the hat anymore the way she does. It’s like some beautiful homage to Arjuna in his heyday.

More impressive is her attitude. While Angelo Mathews talked about how he wasn’t mentally prepared to take over the job when Lasith Malinga’s resignation left him high and dry, Athapaththu took it in her stride.

She said she understood the responsibility, felt no pressure in taking over the job and was focusing on beating Ireland. While not taking away anything from the women’s team, Mathews was inheriting a misfiring old station wagon which had previously won an F1 race that everyone was keeping a close eye on. So he did have some credit to play with. But it was refreshingly comforting to see a Sri Lankan captain take control of a bad situation with an aura of calmness that would have helped settle the team.

Sri Lanka went on to beat Ireland under Athapathhu, lost to Australia, the defending champions, and capped off their campaign with a win over a strong South African side.

At the same time as the men were getting thrown about, the women were giving Sri Lanka a good name. But sadly not many people knew any of this was happening in India.  Even fewer Sri Lankans know about the women’s team at all.  Before the World T20, I was one of those caught in the middle. While being aware of the Sri Lanka Women’s XI and their adventures it wasn’t something that was front of mind. This wasn’t for lack of trying.  Women’s cricket isn’t exactly a broadcast rights goldmine. While this may change with the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia, Sri Lanka’s board hardly ever markets its team. The women live in this void like a perpetually ignored middle child.

When I tuned in this time, what I saw was impressive and surprising. Not surprising in a, oh wow, these women can actually play cricket. What was impressive was how much the Sri Lankan team was competing against the top teams. Sri Lanka are a decent side. They generally do well without winning much. But Compared to Australia, New Zealand, England and now West Indies, however, they were always a tier or two below.

Yet one look at the determined attitude of Athapaththu or Dilani Manodara or Sugandika Kumari was all you needed to see that this team hadn’t showed up in India just to make up the numbers. While watching the men’s team these days is like a really terrible case of sand in your eye, the women were instilling a healthy spoonful of hope into the state of Sri Lankan cricket.

Athapaththu had a World Cup that Lahiru Thirimanne would have given up his first born for. Consistent runs at the top of the order, taking on bowlers and hitting over the top. It was captivating and unrelenting. She’s the only batsman outside of a Big 4 team to rank in the top ten for the most runs scored in the tournament, with a combined average and strike rate of 148. Which should impress Scott Styris and Mike Hussey.

Athapaththu’s partnerships with Manodara was what propelled Sri Lanka’s batting. Manodara was also the chirpiest wicket keeper in both the men and women’s tournament. While Athapaththu surveyed her troops from under her sun hat, like a General plotting tactical moves, Manodara was the mascot who seemed to want to charge at the opposition with nothing but a bayonet in her hand. Sugandika Kumari’s bowling was like witnessing a weird twilight zone experience of a slimmer Rangana Herath imparting black magic on some unsuspecting batman.

More Athapaththu heroics was also what triggered a collapse of South Africa from 50 for none to 104 all out. Athapatthu’s one handed pick up and throw to the keeper, in her follow through, to allow Prasadani Weerakkodi to uproot all the stumps she could get her hands on, was poetry.

Disappointingly, these two were the only batsmen that showed any substance for Sri Lanka. Every time they set up a platform, the rest of the batting showed up to carpet bomb it to dust. Against NZ they were 82-1 in the 12th over and ended up with just 108 in the 20th. Up against Australia they slapped around an attack that included Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt and Kristen Beams to be 75-1 in the 10th over but finished with only 123.

These two games highlighted the gulf in skill levels and professionalism that exist in the women’s game when you put the Big 4 teams up against the rest. While teams like Sri Lanka can compete for periods in the game, everything tends to fall away when the better drilled and professionally superior teams decided they were done mucking about.

When Sri Lanka completed their win against South Africa in their final game, Athapaththu calmly walked into the huddle, clapping, knowing their campaign hadn’t yielded what they set out to achieve, but satisfied with what they had accomplished. Cramped in a group with the world champions and the third ranked team in the world, their chances of getting to a Semi Final were nonexistent. But apart from the one bad game against New Zealand, they competed in each of the other matches and had Australia on the ropes for a large portion of the game when they were batting. Athapaththu and Siriwardene would have given an arm and a leg for the won-2 lost-2 tally they ended up with before the tournament. In Siriwardene’s case she only needed to sacrifice her hamstring. For a side that lost their last eight games before the WT20 in this format, this was huge. Bigger than huge. It was real.

These are hugely encouraging signs for the women’s game in Sri Lanka. But it must be deeply depressing to play to empty stands and barely get a Facebook meme go semi-viral for what they achieved in this World cup.

If seeing the women’s team do well was surprising, then the way Sri Lanka Cricket looks after the women’s game, hardly is. Cricket Australia pumped so much marketing into the women’s BBL last year that it was impossible to ignore. Australia tour other countries regularly, play test cricket, and more importantly, are paid well, although still not as much as the men.

The Sri Lankan women’s team can only dream of such opportunities and riches. The SLC pays the national women’s team the rate equivalence of a lower tier first class cricketer in the men’s game. These are players representing their country in ICC events, spending large chunks of their life away from their families, struggling to accumulate opportunities to play and experience competitive cricket on a regular basis. They’ve played a grand total of one test match. Which they won. There was a sexual misconduct case against the team’s management and there is virtually no domestic cricket structure for the players to improve their skills in. Sri Lanka Cricket does not really know how to run the men’s game, so there is really no hope for the women.

Perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel is in the Southern Hemisphere, when the WBBL Season 2 kicks off later this year. There were no Sri Lankan’s in the first edition last year. Hopefully players like Athapaththu or Manodara did enough to get noticed for Season 2.

Women’s cricket in Sri Lanka is not a thing, at least not in the sense that a thing is something that exists. Its existence is more like a mirage.  And that is a tragedy not only for Sri Lankan women but to Sri Lankan cricket.

You need performances like this to help people remember that women in Sri Lanka also do cricket. Sadly even then, it barely seems to register a ripple in the fabric of Sri Lankan cricket. Performances like this should be causing giant fifty-foot super waves that terrify and excite us and wipe out the collective ignorance. But only if they get noticed. So notice them. These women exist. They play cricket. And they play it well.

 

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A few days ago I tweeted that Sri Lanka have not only stared into the abyss but brought a backpack full of essentials to camp out and explore their new surroundings for the foreseeable future.

That wasn’t entirely true.

In reality, Sri Lanka have been hanging out next to a few piles of their own excrement and wondering why a bunch of flies have been following them around for a while.

Sri Lankan cricket has been on the ropes for some time now. But with high roller names like Sangakkara, Dilshan, Jayawardene, Malinga and Herath, they remained a relevant team in the eyes of the world and fans. And the cricket board.

About three or four years ago Sri Lanka came to the realization that these same players were going to retire. They didn’t panic. They didn’t knee-jerk react. They didn’t do much of anything. It was an out of sight out of mind problem for them. One that was easier to ignore than to address.

If you observed the national team in that time, on the surface, it was easy to come to the conclusion that nothing was wrong. At least nothing that would cause great alarm. And certainly nothing that would suggest everything was on a time bomb to an implosion.

This. This attitude of barely looking up until things are in complete disarray, this head in the sand approach, has been the overarching theme that’s become the rotting root of Sri Lanka’s problem.

So when did it begin to go wrong? When were the problems starting to get ignored? To accurately paint a picture of that we can’t turn the clock back just a few years. Or ten.

We need to go all the way back to 1996.

That glorious year. When Sri Lanka fell their Goliath in true David fashion in Lahore. You can not be too old or too young to not know what happened on that night in March.

But, what did happen on that day? Here was a side, that would be the equivalent of the current Afghanistan team, rising to the top of the pile of the select few. It would be romantic to suggest it was all planned and inevitable. In reality, Sri Lanka was a lower tier team struggling to survive in International cricket. They won the WC through clever tactical gameplay and stringing together enough greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts stuff, peppered with some individual brilliance.

That team was a product of what Sri Lanka was as cricketing nation back them. Semi-professional club cricketers with day jobs who were finding their feet at the highest level. They didn’t make a lot of money. And they mostly played off the sweat on their brow and for pride. A fact that Arjuna Ranatunga likes to point out in pretty much every conversation he has in the public eye. Of course, all this changed in an instant in Lahore. Money poured into the sport. Cricketers quit their day jobs and become professionals. The board got serious.

It also brewed up false positives that Sri Lanka have been paying for since.

Before 96, there was this point of reference that Ranatunga was the boy ‘who walked into the national team from his School team’. Speak to anyone in the cricketing landscape and you are more than likely to here “Sri Lanka’s school cricket is the best in the world” uttered with pride. Big match culture is a thing. School cricket matters and it is unSri Lankan to think otherwise. Sri Lanka to this day assesses how good a player is going to be by the barometer that is their high School first XI teams. Think about that for a minute.

If you are reading this and rigorously shaking your head in disagreement because you feel that’s an unfair assessment of what School cricket is then you are missing the point. School cricket is by far the best asset the country has. It is brilliant at unearthing raw talent at a young age. It is the superficial importance placed on it that’s disingenuous. Believing that these players will be ready for international cricket when their school life ends is like expecting Danny Morrison to score a 10 ODI runs in a single match.

After 96, the cricket board became a prestigious organisation within the political landscape of Sri Lanka. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie. There was money to be made. It became a honey pot for the good and the bad. Cricket became a political pawn. And people got to feel important in high positions. The team matured from a cricketing perspective too. They started winning more, they did well overseas, they competed,  and cricket became a national obsession.

But no one thought about how to sustain this rise. Sri Lanka were getting big. And getting big fast. The board was happy to keep letting the elite clubs in Colombo be the supply chain to the team. It was working. After all, the goose seemed to keep laying golden eggs. No one thought about quality over quantity in the long run. No one thought about the next phase of the sport. But they announced that Sri Lanka were going to be the number 1 test team by the year 2000. An audacious claim even for the Sri Lankan board.

It didn’t happen. It couldn’t have happened.

The 1996 team was one of those rare occurrences in a sporting team. It was a generation of players who had played with each other at School and club level. And they all thrived around the same time. When some of them retired Sri Lanka got lucky with a few others filtering through the school system in Mahela, Sanga, Murali and Mathews. These were world class players that would have risen to the top despite the domestic set up they played in. The rest ended up in club cricket and struggled whenever they got an opportunity in the national team. Sri Lanka were doing a West Indies. And doing it well. While the team had individuals and enjoyed success, no one bothered with the next 10 – 20 years. The status quo was the currency of the day.

In the meantime, Cricket evolved. 2020 cricket changed the entire equation. Cricket entered the true professional era and began to compete with other sports for popularity and riches. Teams like India, England and Australia became outrageously professional to match these demands . They reorganized their domestic systems and processes to produce quality in this new world of cricket. Their support teams were bigger than the playing squad. They had their own chefs. They were getting their setups reviewed internally and externally.

Sri Lanka lulled into their false positive, continued to believe they could compete with these teams relying on the Club and School system that hadn’t changed since pre-1996. To be fair, though, Sri Lanka did try to remodel themselves at certain stages. But these were superficial and had no tangible impact. The same clubs were split up into 2 tiers with promotion and relegation. Provincial cricket was introduced, then scrapped, later introduced as Zones, and scrapped again, the SLPL appeared, and died and was brushed under the carpet. You can always polish a turd to appear you are being progressive. Things changed but nothing changed.

The question is whether this domestic system can produce the quality of player needed to compete at the international level anymore. If you play the numbers game, it is not impossible that some star talent could emerge from the ranks, just like they did in the past, but it is impossible for the team and the standard of the domestic system to improve as long as the current system exists. It’s telling that players like Malinga, Pradeep, Akila Dhananjaya and a number of others weren’t even the result of the system but rather these random discoveries. Sri Lanka discovers a lot of players like this. And the reality is that they will then form their team around them, depending on this talent and accepting that fate. As soon as these players are unavailable, it’s back to picking from the scraps the system throws out. As they are doing right now.

Recently all the talk has been about the overhaul of the domestic structure.

“Provincial cricket”.

Wettamuny tried to do it a few months ago, Tissera and Wettamuny tried to do it years ago, and now Sumathipala is having a go. It’s the buzz word at SLC headquarters. The renewed interest was driven by Wettamuny and Mahela. Now neither are really in the picture following Sumathipala’s appointment. This kind of structural overhaul to a system requires stability in leadership and absolute commitment by everyone involved. In all likely hood, this move towards provincial cricket, or the talk towards the move towards provincial cricket, is the classic smoke and mirrors routine by the SLC. When the Nishantha Ranatunga run board was being taken apart by the media and the ICC, they appointed Haroon Lorgat to review the board. His report was DOA. When things got testy again, they appointed Mahela and Sanga to some positions for PR. Now that the team is reaching new lows they are talking about restructuring.

The boards great lie to themselves in thinking their system was foolproof has not gone unnoticed by the Clubs themselves either. With them rising in prominence, came a power shift that is the undercurrent as to what is allowed to change and what isn’t in Sri Lankan cricket. They now control who enters the SLC and dictate who gets to stay. While Thilanga will publicly talk about structural overhauls, he will first work towards ensuring his constituents are happy. And what keeps them happy is keeping the current club system in operation and staying in control. So much of cricket is different, yet so much is also the same.

There is a reason why these restructures and overhauls haven’t worked in the past. And those reasons haven’t changed since 1996.

Sri Lanka have lied to themselves for so long that they believed it all to be true. And they’ve attached superficial importance to everything without any tangible evidence to back it up. They think their School system is brilliant, yet Sri Lanka has never gotten a sniff at an U 19 world cup. They believe their club system is sufficient, yet it never produces quality players who are the finished product capable of handling the demands of international cricket.

The national teams become a safety net for players when getting into it and stay in it should be the biggest challenges in their professional careers. It seems that once you’ve cracked the fringes of the national team, you are safe amongst the numbers. Players don’t seem to be held accountable. The selectors are too lazy to look beyond you. Failure is rewarded with a mild tap on the wrist, if at all, and a pat on the back to say try harder next time. Different formats of the game seem to be misunderstood at a fundamental level. Explain Thirimanne, Chandimal and Sangakkara in the same T20 side? There appears to be an acute lack of deliberation about what the best combinations are for each format.

There are a lot of people that suggest we just need to have more faith and patience. But faith in what exactly though ? Faith in a system that continually fails to deliver on what it is there for ? Faith in Administration that lacks vision and commitment to take Sri Lanka to the next level? Faith in players who have failed over and over but are regurgitated without being held accountable? Faith in the media that is obsessed with the gossip vine without nailing the board for their shortcomings?

The entire organism of Sri Lankan cricket is currently falling apart at the seams. It’s like watching someone being stabbed, multiple times, in slow motion. Every puncture spills out more rot. And at the moment, no one seems to have any idea about how to stop this tailspin. The fact of the matter is that these are not trivial topics. Restructuring domestic cricket is a huge undertaking. It probably falls into the too hard basket for anyone who looks at it. Which is why it’s easier to talk about than actually do something about. The quality in the team is not good enough.  Leadership in the team has given into the routine and by the numbers approach. These are ugly truths to face up to.

If all Sri Lanka wants to be is a middle tier team, then they have everything in place right now to achieve that. They have the resources to put together a team that can make up the numbers without ever really competing. And a cricket board that can keep moving the status quo along. But if the goal really is to try to win the test championship, to win tests overseas, to win a world cup outside of Asia, then the first step for Sri Lanka is, as a cricketing nation, to wake up and look at themselves critically and face up to reality.

Change is not impossible. But it requires effort and the right people with the right attitude, vision and bloody-mindedness to see it through. People like Wettamuny and Mahela have the right ideas. But they need to be backed up by strong leaders within the SLC,  who are not afraid to change the system that has them beholden to it. Otherwise, we all need to pack our bags and get ready to sit around the campfire, sniffing our own farts while preparing to grapple with the monsters that lay ahead of us. It is entirely up to Sri Lanka as a whole, to dig themselves out of this hole. But they need to wake up and decide.

 

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As Sri Lankan cricket struggles with the demands of the international game, a true legend and pioneering innovator said his farewells and hung his Black Cap. His leadership and brand of cricket fascinated and rallied the world behind New Zealand and there’s a lot Sri Lankan cricket can learn from it.

Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.

Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.

They say after defeat comes redemption, riches and glory. This has not always been true, the loss of everything doesn’t make the recovery any easier. But sometimes even the gravest of defeats has a way of delivering a savoir, a champion, a king.“Men? Men are weak. The Blood of Numenor is all but spent, its pride and dignity forgotten. I was there three thousand years ago. I was there the day the strength of Men failed”

In December 2012 after a short period of utter turmoil a hastily organized press-conference announced Brendon McCullum as the new Black Caps captain. The hard hitting Otagan inherited a legacy of what ifs, a band of misfits showing glimpses of brilliance but falling short nonetheless. Their bullying big brother almost laughed at the selection, where be his tactical acumen to lead? they laughed. There was no strength left in the world of Black Caps. They were scattered, divided and almost leaderless.

The journey was almost impossible. The route to the top was marred by treacherous wickets, general’s marshalling far greater armies full of seasoned warriors, bludgeoning champions and wily magicians. Each path was full of many an obstacles they had to overcome. The funny thing is sometimes it’s not how strong your army is, how skilled your warriors are or how familiar you are with the territory that matters. Sometimes what makes a difference is how much you believe. How much you believe that you are capable of defying feats, that no obstacle is beyond your conquering and if you fight, true to your heart, even the greatest of enemies can be felled. This is what Brendon McCullum has brought to the Black Caps.

Firstly he united a failing group. There is a saying in the Caribbean “10 guys is not a team, it’s a gang’. BMac was the 11th that managed to turn this gang into a cohesive unit. And not only his teammates but also the coaching & support staff bought into his vision with new found enthusiasm. Maybe it was his relaxed yet authoritative nature, maybe it was his tough but understanding features, but there was no doubt everyone wanted to follow him. He challenged the common down under view of, to be aggressive you need to be inhuman. That, only through a mongrel like abusive approach can you unsettle the opponent. The approach that you need to do whatever to get in the opponent’s head. Ian Chappell has often said a well played forward defensive stroke shows great intent to the bowler as much as a caressed drive through the covers. And that is exactly what BMac brought to the Black caps cricket.

Make no mistake, their bowling was aggressive. It was precise and it was fast. Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Mitchell McClenaghan, Matt Henry and Adam Milne all hit the right lengths and made the batsman jump. But with every little bit of chin music, toe crushers or dance move balls they let rip, they bonded with the opposition on a different level. The batsman never really hated them. It was more of a duel of will, a tussle of skill and a dance of expression than a barrage of abuse. They would have staring contests but unlike the Aussie version of ‘F*** you’ yelled by Waugh to Ambrose this was a more “I’ll get you next time ol’ fruity” or “aha well played ol’ chap well played”. After the tragic death of Phil Hughes to a bouncer, the Black Caps under BMac’s guidance as a sign of respect bowled an entire innings at Pakistan without a single bouncer, even if it meant they lost the upper hand. Contrastingly in the first match after the death, Mitchell Johnson bowled one that hit Virat Kohli on the head, Mitch then preceded to have a cry for a bit. Such is the differing nature he brought to the Black caps.

They showed great aggression in the way they fielded. BMac’s mantra of never stop chasing the ball left fans at awe. BMac while being the oldest member of the team led with great example, often sprinting after the ball, diving left right and center and even taking the helmet at short leg a couple of times. The fans loved this and wanted to see more. During their successful but failed world cup campaign they manage to win the hearts of cricketing fans around the world, albeit a few kangaroos from across the Tasman. Bmac single handedly managed to turn the black Caps in to a well oiled professional machine  playing with pride and showing a lot of heart while winning a lot of them around the world.

In his very first test as captain, the Black caps were blown away for 45 by a marching South Africa and in the 2nd they were bowled out for 121. Even with a rear guard action they lost both tests by an innings. But in the ODI series that followed they had the upper hand by 2-1. The next home series against England they fared a bit better as but in the return leg back in England they were once again humbled by an on song Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann. 2 drawn test series against Bangladesh and West Indies and a test series win against India were followed by Bmac being crowned the first Kiwi to hit a test triple hundred. What followed suit was the golden era of Kiwi cricket. They had their best year in test cricket, and in early 2015 they had their best showing in an ICC world cup making the final before going down to their cross Tasman rivals. During this period young Kane Williamson also emerged as a force world in cricket and was dubbed to be the greatest batsman Black caps would ever produce.

All of his efforts in bringing this new brand of cricket culminated into one special moment when he won the ICC’s Spirit of the Cricket for the year 2015. And true BMac style he shared the victory with everyone saying “This award is much the team and staff’s as much as it is mine, for I wouldn’t have won it if they didn’t buy into this new culture”.

It’s no secret that since the retirements of Mahela & Sanga Sri Lankan cricket hasn’t been it’s swashbuckling best. There are a lot of glimpses of genius, rare raw talent but for most part, as a close friend put in, some don’t look like they ever belong there. Nevertheless BMac’s career, drive, leadership and character can teach a lot not just to our emerging talent, but also to the core senior group. At the age of 34 he stepped down and retired from the game at a time when the urge to play one more T20 world cup would have been extremely high. He always led from the front & and by example, he never expected his team mates to do something that he wouldn’t. There were instances in tests where he would take the helmet under short leg, a position normally reserved the team newbie. He was tougher than tough, put his body in line even when a Mitch Johnson thunderbolt nearly burst through his arm. He trained the hardest, set the standard for everyone to follow but never put anyone down for falling. He was always calm, gentle but authoritative and decisive. But above all he was an entertainer for the ages, who risked dying by the sword if it meant his team would come on top

As  international cricket farewells this juggernaut of a batsman and a Leonidas of a leader. Thankfully T20 cricket will let us, fans enjoy his presence for a bit longer.

Vikus Vandersmurf is a Connoisseur of Cricket

blog new zealand Uncategorized World T20

Well it’s not like he wouldn’t fit in at all – He is Royalty after all.

I know who Gossip girl is but I cant tell you
I know who Gossip girl is but I cant tell you

sangakkara