By Karthik Parimal
"The international cricket management hit a new low when the Sri Lankan players were forced to play on an empty stomach for almost eight months while being on national duty" - Rameez Raja
While it's a regrettable fact that the Sri Lankan players weren't paid for their services for more than a year, it's heartwarming to know that they've performed fairly well despite all such hindrances. The recent One-Day International (ODI) series triumph against a formidable Pakistani side exemplifies the side’s focus and spirit of national prides. Not many sides would have gone on to perform like the way Sri Lanka did without grumbling about the injustice that's been meted out to them. The fact that they've delivered as a team throughout this series is all the more pleasing to know.
While Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan scored on a consistent basis in this series, it was young blood like Thisara Perera and Angelo Mathews who delivered during crunch situations of a game. Perera’s hat-trick during the fourth ODI to derail a steady Pakistan while defending a modest total of 243, and Mathews’ unbeaten 80 to steer Sri Lanka home during the final ODI despite his fellow teammates failing to contribute much speaks volumes of this side’s desire to perform.
Youngsters like Mathews and Perera could be motivated by the fact that they get to don the national colours at a young age and by the desire to stay at the top for a long period of time. But, it’s amazing how senior players like Sangakkara, Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene, who’ve been playing for a considerable amount of time now, haven’t let their performance levels dip despite the problems surrounding Sri Lankan cricket. They’ve set a fine example for the youngsters to follow, and they should be proud of that. If presented by a similar conundrum in the future, there is a high possibility that the youngsters in the Sri Lankan side will circumvent such issues and deliver for their country.
However, a few from the cricket fraternity aren’t impressed by Sri Lanka’s current performance on the field. "Naturally, their performance and morale took a beating! Just look at the results of the team during the period they were not paid: Sri Lanka lost to Australia at home, were beaten by Pakistan in Tests, ODIs and T20 and taken down by South Africa,” said Rameez Raja after Sri Lanka lost the first ODI against Pakistan. Agreed, Sri Lanka haven’t won many series post the 2011 World Cup, but one must remember that they came close to doing that on multiple occasions.
Sri Lanka did lose to Australia at home, but that was because their payment issues had just begun back then. Nevertheless, they later did well to trouble Australia and almost clinch the Commonwealth Bank (CB) Series before knocking World Champions India out of that tournament. They had a bad series against Pakistan prior to that, but they did well to recuperate on time. They lost the Test and the ODI series against South Africa in the latter’s backyard, but they did manage to beat the hosts in the second Test by a massive margin of 208 runs – a feat very few teams can boast of even at their peak. They lost the ODI series 2-3, but not many remember the fact that the third ODI was lost by a narrow margin of just four runs, thanks to the Duckworth-Lewis method. That series could have gone either way.
It’s true that nobody remember the runners-up, but the point here is that Sri Lanka have performed in a decent manner despite the issues surrounding them, and that deserves applause.
They must take this confidence they’ve gained from the ODIs into the Test series. Moreover, Misbah-ul-Haq’s absence from the first Test will be a huge bonus to the home side. They have the ammunition to topple Pakistan, and they’ve proved the fact that they are a mentally strong unit. Since the last one year, the Sri Lankans have played 11 Tests, out of which they’ve won two, lost five and drawn four. They’ll certainly want to better the record. Their last series against World No.1 England ended in a draw under Jayawardene’s captaincy. There is every chance that they can win this series and they’ll leave no stone unturned to do that.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)