Sri Lanka have now lost 12 consecutive ODIs © Getty Images
Sri Lanka have now lost 12 consecutive ODIs © Getty Images

Sri Lanka’s embarrassing loss against Pakistan at Sharjah marked their 12 consecutive ODI defeat. Sri Lanka also suffered their third 0-5 whitewash in 2017. In their three-and-a-half decade journey of bilateral series, from 1982 to 2017, chronicles they had earlier suffered such a humiliation only once.

Sri Lanka first played a bilateral series in February 1982, against Keith Fletcher’s England in a 2-ODI series at SSC, Colombo. They squared it 1-1. Sri Lanka lost close to 80 per cent of their ODIs in 1980s and were used to long losing streaks, but that was when they were finding their feet in international cricket. The 1990s were different. The rise of Sri Lanka is cited exemplary. In 1996, they beat the odds to lift the World Cup.

If Arjuna Ranatunga built a robust side, the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chaminda Vaas, and Lasith Malinga built on from the legacy. Sri Lanka have been one of the most competitive sides in ICC events, ending runners-up in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups and the 2009 and 2012 World T20s. They also beat hot favourites India to lift the 2014 World T20.

Usman Khan takes apart Sri Lanka with 5-for; Pakistan win series 5-0
Usman Khan takes apart Sri Lanka with 5-for; Pakistan win series 5-0

The consecutive exits of Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan left a massive void — but hasn’t that happened with many sides in the past? West Indies had lost Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall and Jeff Dujon together; Australia had lost Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh in one go; and later, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn. Back-to-back retirements can certainly not be cited as a reason.

A baffling timeline

Sri Lanka were hammered 0-5 in South Africa earlier this year. The current slump is inexplicable considering the fact they have been brilliant in patches. They managed to win the T20I series in South Africa. Last year, they whitewashed the then No. 1 Test side Australia 3-0. Not so long back they beat India in a league game in Champions Trophy. They almost beat eventual champions Pakistan in a must-win tie in that tournament but for the dropped catches…

Zimbabwe shocked them in the first game of their tour, but the talented young Sri Lankan side came back to take a 2-1 lead. Zimbabwe proved the first win wasn’t an upset. They went on to win the last two games to down Sri Lanka 3-2. The streak seems to have no end since.

Sri Lanka, who had lost a Test to Bangladesh earlier this year, limped to a Test win against Zimbabwe. India came and walloped them 3-0, inflicted a 5-0 win in ODIs and added more salt to the wound by cruising to another win in the only T20I.

When it seemed Sri Lankan cricket had entered a black hole, they had a tough tour against Pakistan in UAE. England, Australia and South Africa have all struggled in the desert against Pakistan. What did Sri Lanka do? They hammered Pakistan 2-0, one of the finest series wins in their history. But there was Rangana Herath.

But before the nation could bask themselves in fresh glory and hope for a bright future, they collapsed 0-5 in the ODIs.

From Hasan Ali to Shadab Khan to rookie Usman Khan, Sri Lankan batters wandered around in confusion against one bowler after another. Is the skill not there? No, that is certainly not the case. We have seen the Tharangas and Chandimals and Thirimannes and Mendises script magic in the past. Consistency can be an issue. But match after match?

Is it a panic that is being triggered by one failure and leads to the epidemic?

It is difficult to analyse a side that wins T20Is in South Africa immediately after a whitewash and beats a side like India comfortably in a high-pressure world event before losing 12 back-to-back ODIs.

The 0-5

From 1982 to 2014, Sri Lanka had never been whitewashed in a 5-ODI series. The only times Sri Lanka had suffered 5 defeats in a ODI series were 1-6 in South Africa in 2000-01 and 1-5 in India in 2005-06.

Their first 0-5 whitewash was handed to them by India, in 2014. The series which is best remembered for Rohit Sharma’s 264 in the final game at Eden Gardens. And this is what 2017 in ODIs looks like for them:

Tour M W L NR Scoreline
In South Africa 5 0 5 0 0-5
vs Bangladesh (Home) 3 1 1 1 1-1
Champions Trophy 3 1 2 0 Group Stage Exit
vs Zimbabwe (Home) 5 2 3 0 2-3
vs India (Home) 5 0 5 0 0-5
vs Pakistan (in UAE) 5 0 5 0 0-5
  26 4 21 1 4-21

To add further to their woes, Sri Lanka are now slated to tour India for a full series. Following the pattern, they may well spring up a surprise or we may be up for another woeful uncompetitive series.

Did Sanga, Mahela and Dilshan leave too soon? Did they quit when the next batch was far from ready? Do greats have a responsibility to nurture replacements before hanging up boots? Are the prospective greats in Sri Lankan cricket perennial late bloomers? Is Sri Lanka falling the West Indies way?

Questions are many. Cricket fraternity will hope it’s just the numbness before the storm.