The reason for Sri Lanka's 43 all out goes beyond cricket

Sri Lanka collapsed to their lowest ODI total of 43 when they lost by 258 runs to South Africa in the first one-day international at Boland Park © Getty Images


By Sidhanta Patnaik


Of late, insanity has been frequenting cricket matches quite often. On Wednesday night at Paarl, Sri Lanka was the latest team to embrace it when they were bundled out for 43 – their lowest ever ODI (One-Day International) score – against South Africa in the first match of the series. Cricket is surely a game of uncertainties, but the undercurrent is that when uncertainty strikes it brings pandemonium to the forefront. That a team which was the runners-up of the World Cup not long ago can be capable of producing figures synonymous of a telephone directory – 0, 0, 4, 4, 2, 0, 19, 6, 1, 3, 0 (and the four extras) and last for just 121 balls defies the theory of logical reasoning. In modern day and time it is natural for a few difficult questions to gather steam as a follow up of an aftermath such as this.


South Africa’s bowling unit has always been splendid in their own conditions. Therefore it demands to have a closer look at their records at home between November 2009 (after Champions Trophy) and prior to the start of the current series. In 16 ODIs they have bowled out the opposition eight times, out of which six have come in the second innings. Only twice have they bowled out a team under a score of 150; Zimbabwe being the victim on both occasions. Hence the number 43 fails to draw any rational.


Although Pedology gets more than required emphasis in the game’s current generation, yet the pitch begs for an examination. Paarl does record the second-lowest ever ODI score of 36 when Canada was routed out, ironically by Sri Lanka, in 2003 World Cup but it cannot be drawn as a parallel. Only a few hours earlier the first user of the day’s surface had managed to register the second score above 300 and any assumption that the character of it became devilish and shifted the impetus in favour of the bowlers would be a tad dramatic. Take out Canada match out of the equation and the venue had hosted seven ODIs before last night. In it 10 innings had a score above 200, India’s 351 for three against Kenya in October 2001 being the highest. The lowest total was posted by Netherlands in the 2003 world cup when they lost all their wickets for 136 runs trying to chase down India’s 204. Take out that tied encounter of 1997 when India’s Venkatesh Prasad turned blind to run off a wide ball against Zimbabwe  and in seven matches the team batting first had won four times. So the toss too was not drastically skewed in favour of South Africa.


Yes Sri Lanka’s ODI record at the venue against Test playing nations had not been something to cherish about. In April 1998 chasing 250 against Pakistan they capitulated for 139 and in January 2001 they had failed to defend 247 against South Africa. Yes Sri Lanka was dismissed for 115 once during their tour to Australia in 2010 and for 174 and 121 in England in 2011. But still 43 as a team total is unjustifiable. 


Over exerting influence of Twenty20 cricket and the inability of young batsmen to spend more time at the crease and apply themselves can be pointed out as the technical reasons for failure but that is too vague an argument at the international level. Dig a bit deep and the alarm bells are bound to ring because a cricketer is an architect of his environment.


Sri Lanka’s cricket board is itself directionless and tentative. Every move is suspected either as an agenda of down plotting or lobbying. For long, scepticism has been the dominating element of its operation and none of the members are sure of their place in the pyramid. It was a matter of time before the curtains were lifted from this untidy background. Getting all out for 43 was incidental.


The domestic set up lacks the mettle to produce talents in double digits who can stand the test of longevity in the unfamiliar conditions of international cricket, ‘A’ tours are far and few and to these factors if the country’s recent civil war history is added as a force then it becomes difficult for consistency and quality to remain as the primary vision of country’s cricket. The young cricketers who should be mentally conditioned to be not influenced by the problems of the civic society are left on their own.


The lack of freedom to lead an independent life and clarity of thought process due to insufficient exposure is a common fear among the Sri Lankan youth and for it to spill on to the cricket field does not take much time. The players are trapped between transition and reality of the society.


Thilina Kandamby was among the highest scorers for Sri Lanka ‘A’ in the tour to South Africa in 2007. Today it is a challenge for him to get back into the national reckoning. Such examples tremendously increase the pressure to remain afloat and not slip back into the black hole in a surrounding where trial and error method is still the only way to gain stability. Majority of the youngsters are still not equipped with the space and liberty to visualise and attune their mind for a specific occasion or purpose. Rusticity is still a dominant feature in the mindset. Getting overawed on big match days at world class venues is a by product of this mentality. Exposure can only cure this trauma.


The Paarl episode will always remain shameful in Sri Lanka’s cricket history and is intolerable but the structure within which the nation’s cricket operates there is no guarantee that such shambolic episodes won’t reappear. If the current trend persists then the cricket world might have seen the last of this island’s best on the grass field. A committed resurrection plan with single minded devotion can only revive Sri Lankan cricket and it has to start from the board itself. For starters they should consciously make an effort to stay away from being the front page headline of national newspapers. Or else the pendulum will continue to swing between more days of depression and rare days of ecstasy.


Not long ago the Durban Test victory was acclaimed as the new landmark in Sri Lankan cricket but like in life, in sport too the margin between a romantic and a doomsday prophet is minimal.


(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sport marketing professional, public speaker and writes for Cricketcountry. His twitter id is @sidhpat)