Kumar Sangakkara (left) and Mahela Jayawardene are the only two batsmen to score more than a thousand runs for Sri Lanka in ODIs with averages of 51 and 47 respectively © Getty Images

 

By Karthik Parimal

 

The manner in which a tiny island like Sri Lanka has managed to breed excellent cricketers over the past 15 years is praiseworthy. Despite the few ups and downs, they have managed to produce good results consistently on the field of play. Since their maiden World Cup victory in 1996, Sri Lanka as a team has been a force to reckon with. There were always a few players ready to take over the mantle from the likes of Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva and Roshan Mahanama in the batting department. They were a decent – if not a strong – bowling unit. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the current Sri Lankan team, as very few seem capable of filling the void that will be created with the exit of players like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

 

Sangakkara and Jayawardene have often been a thorn in the flesh of the opposition. Their contribution to Sri Lankan cricket is inestimable. Sri Lanka managed to reach the final of the 2007 World Cup under the leadership of Jayawardene and the Sangakkara-led team repeated a similar feat in the 2011 World Cup when they fought valiantly before going down to India in the final. The understanding these two cricketers have between each other is exemplary. The transition after Jayawardene stepped down as the captain was handled extremely well by Sangakkara, who developed the team into an even stronger unit thereafter.

 

Sadly, the team’s progress appears to be on a downward slope ever since Tillakaratne Dilshan was appointed the captain a few months ago. This is not to say that Dilshan was a bad choice for captaincy, but perhaps somewhere down the line Sri Lanka hasn’t been finding a right combination or balance.

 

Sri Lanka have played three major series under Dilshan – first against England, then against Australia at home, and finally the recently-concluded series against Pakistan played at the United Arab Emirates (UAE). None of these series ended in Sri Lanka’s favor. Unfortunately, they failed to win a single One-Day International (ODI) series post World Cup 2011, and this is appalling considering the fact that Sri Lanka is constantly ranked among the top five teams in all three formats of the game and finalists of the previous two World Cups.

 

They lost the Test series 0-1 to England in England, 0-1 to Australia at home and lost by the same margin to Pakistan at UAE. They were also beaten 2-3 by England in the NatWest ODI Series and lost to Australia by the same margin playing at home before conceding a 1-4 defeat to Pakistan recently.

 

Although it is understandable that every team goes through a lean patch, the real worry for Sri Lanka arises from knowing the fact that its leading two run-scorers over the last one year have been Sangakkara and Jayawardene. In the last one year, Sangakkara and Jayawardene are the only two batsmen to score more than a thousand runs for Sri Lanka in ODIs with averages of 51 and 47 respectively. Upul Tharanga isn’t far behind, scoring over 800 runs in 22 matches at a healthy average of just under 46. Apart from these three, none of the other batsmen have averaged over 34. Hence, the future paints a grim picture for Sri Lanka sans Sangakkara and Jayawardene in the limited-overs format.

 

In the bowling department, the fiery Lasith Malinga has been the highest wicket-taker for Sri Lanka in the last one year with 48 scalps from 24 matches at an excellent average of 19.25. Next to Malinga is Ajantha Mendis – in and out of the side – with 17 wickets from 14 matches.

 

In Tests too, Sangakkara has been the highest run-getter since last November, amassing over 1,800 runs in 30 innings at a splendid average of 65.28, including seven centuries and six half-centuries. Next to him is Tharanga Paranavitana who scored 1121 runs in 32 innings at an average of just over 40, which can be considered decent. Thilan Samaraweera, too, is a class player but hit a lean patch with a string of low scores in the series against England and Australia. These statistics explain the importance of Sangakkara’s presence in the side regardless of the format, and that Sri Lanka would have struggled to post healthy totals on the board, at least in the Tests, if not for this stylish southpaw.

 

Sri Lanka will continue to challenge the opposition till Sangakkara and Jayawardene keep contributing in a similar fashion. But can they find players who can fill the shoes of these two legends once they decide to call it quits? Also, will any bowler step up to support Malinga from the other end in the limited-overs format? Ajantha Mendis has been doing a fine job till date, but the big question is – Can he be equally effective outside the subcontinent? Unless these issues are addressed, turbulent times are probably ahead for Sri Lanka in both ODI and Test formats.

 

(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)