Sri Lanka became the first side to beat Pakistan in a Test series in UAE © Getty Images
Sri Lanka became the first side to beat Pakistan in a Test series in UAE © Getty Images

“When you get consistency within a team, you will see improvements in performance. When we’re getting new players every game, it gets very difficult from a confidence point of view. From the players’ point of view it’s very difficult. It’s difficult for us the coaching staff to create a strategy”, stated Sri Lanka’s interim coach Nic Pothas after humiliating defeats versus India.

Pothas further added, “For me, if we were left alone and you could work with this group of players, you could get some stability and consistency over a period of six months. You’d see massive improvements. These are seriously gifted players. They are very, very gifted players.” Pothas asserted that he can turn things around if given a free hand and six months.

We all are familiar with 1996 World Cup champions’ poor run since 2016. They were eliminated in the group stage of World T20 last year. The then defending champions were a pale shadow from their heroics in 2014.

Angelo Mathews was out of the side due to persistent injuries. Upul Tharanga, making an ODI comeback after almost 11 months, took over in his absence. In Tests, Rangana Herath took up Mathews’ job for a brief period. With changes aplenty, Sri Lanka’s plight continued. They were demolished in South Africa, were given a run for their money at home versus Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, fared poorly in Champions Trophy, and lost all 9 matches to India across formats at home.

The Sanath Jayasuriya-led selection committee resigned unanimously as an aftermath of the India series. They were criticised for far too frequent changes in the squad, thereby highlighting Pothas’ point. No team can function properly with regular changes and different personalities being in charge at regular intervals.

Mahi’s ‘process’

“You won’t always get the result if you are not looking into the process”, MS Dhoni had opined in 2015. Dhoni has used the word on countless occasions in press conferences. What does process mean?

First, a ‘team’ generally consists of individuals. Needless to say, there will be different personalities with varied set of ideas and thinking. The unit forms a strategy based on the best extracted from all individuals. But what if they are shuffled around frequently?

Secondly, adequate atmosphere and understanding has to be developed to churn out optimal performances. Constant rotation triggers insecurity and dents players’ confidence. It makes the team management’s job difficult as well. This is where the ‘process’ of formulating team goals, with individual clarity, becomes a challenge: without which no team can withstand pressure.

Uncertainty has no space in a dressing room. If it still manages to creep in, performances go out of the window.

All these factors formed a weak ‘process’, thereby resulting in Sri Lanka’s downfall since a year. They ended up repeated the same mistakes as witnessed in ODIs versus India. They appeared on the field to make up the numbers rather than to compete.

Hitting rock-bottom regarded as perfect wake-up call?

Sri Lanka’s woes haunted them for long. Nonetheless, things can only take an upward spiral once you hit rock bottom. Sri Lankan cricket urged for a change at all levels. Aravinda de Silva was elected SLC Vice-President. The selection committee was revamped. Dinesh Chandimal was named Test skipper. Tharanga continued as leader in shorter formats.

Pothas got an extension as interim coach, signifying team management’s belief in him. Pothas, in return, backed his troops and stayed honest in his communications. The results were visible in the just-concluded two-Test series against Pakistan. There was an evident ‘process’; i.e. to play the situation, give freedom to players and hang in during tough tides. 

Chandimal called the shots and showed a sense of urgency in bringing out results against Pakistan. ”The way Chandimal absorbed the pressure in the first Test putting his ego aside was a delight to watch. People called him too slow, but isn’t that how you play Test cricket?

He took Sri Lanka into a dominant position and it gave the team time to bowl them out. His captaincy was imaginative. The way he manoeuvred the field was superb when Pakistan were chasing. The responsibility he took to bat long and deep was great to watch,” Kumar Sangakkara told Cricbuzz.

Chandimal also signified the importance of defeats, and how it bound the team: “India beat us in all games and that toughened the team. We had lot of things to learn from that series. After that series our attitude changed. We started practices on the 18th last month and everyone put their heart and soul during practices. The management and the selectors have backed us and it helped to build our confidence moving forward.”

Sri Lanka’s growth adds more flair to Tests

The average age of the current Sri Lankan Test side is 28.4 years. Mind you, Chandimal is on the verge of turning 28. The team can boast of a great future. The likes of Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Dilruwan Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Gamage and Nuwan Pradeep have the opportunity to be groomed and take the mantle ahead.

The success of Sri Lanka is paramount to world cricket. Bangladesh have miles to cover before being termed as an identifiable force outside the subcontinent. India, despite the No. 1 rank, are untested on foreign soil since 2014-15. New Zealand continue to make appearances in the top five (but only just), while Pakistan are finding their feet post-MisYou era. England, Australia and South Africa continue to remain tough opponents. Sri Lanka can swiftly make a niche for themselves if they continue to tick the ‘process’ and show perseverance and character required in Tests.