September 19 2018
It was always going to get tough. The retirement of so many quality players over the years, with their successors not as experienced or talented, was always going to make things difficult. But no one thought it was going to get this bad.
The opening match against Bangladesh was always going to be tricky, but Sri Lanka were expected to win that tie. But even after losing that one – by a mammoth 137 runs, no less – they were still favourites going into the match against ‘minnows’ Afghanistan. Another humbling defeat – this time by an incredible 91 runs – and the five-time Asia Cup champions have been unceremoniously kicked out of the 2018 edition. Just to put things into perspective, Hong Kong are still alive in the tournament.
And it wasn’t a solitary Afghan player having a field day to rock the Lankans. Four bowlers picked up 2 wickets apiece as their opponents surrendered their wickets cheaply by playing sloppy shots. There were also two runs outs and the less said about the Lankan fielding, the better. They gave away cheap runs and in both matches dropped several catches including those of the opponents who would go on to finish as top scorers (Rahmat Shah 72 (AFG), Mushfiqur Rahim 144 (BAN)).
To make any sense of things, we have to go back to the nostalgic nineties. The Islanders were the underdogs of world cricket but they took the world by storm. The legendary duo of Arjuna Ranatunga and Arvinda De Silva were the architects with able support from Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. With the ball, the pace of Chaminda Vaas and the guile of Muttiah Muralitharan helped clean up the opposition.
Unknowns back then, they went on to become household names when they guided their country to the 1996 World Cup trophy. They took Sri Lankan cricket to greater heights but one by one, they all hung up their boots and the magical pairing of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene carried forward the baton. They received support from Tillakaratne Dilshan and, after Murali called time on his career, Rangana Herath stepped up.
But that time has passed too. Now with off-field politics and dressing-room chaos, the team has fallen into disrepair. Mismanagement in the selection committee and a shambolic domestic setup for years has eventually given in and is now showing their effects on the senior team as well.
No matter how strong the main team is, if the grassroots level falls into disrepair, eventually it will reflect in the senior team as well. And that is exactly what has happened with Sri Lankan cricket.
The Lankan cricket setup now needs to look inwards and issue a complete overhaul. Everything needs to change. Rotating captaincy and sacking the coach will not cut it. The politics needs to be weeded out and the chaos needs to stop if they are to rediscover their glory days again.
It might sound harsh but they’re back to being underdogs again. But they’ve been here before. And if they’ve done it once, there is no reason why they cannot do it again.
And, for what it’s worth, having been knocked out of a tournament in barely three days, Lanka can take solace in the fact that it really cannot get any worse than this. After all, when you hit rock bottom, the only way you can go from there is up.