The Sunday Leader

Mauled Lions play for Pride

  • Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 5th ODI – Hambantota

Pakistan’s tour of Sri Lanka has been a real wake up call for Sri Lanka’s cricket. After losing the test series 2-1, the five-match one-day series has been another rude shock and Sri Lanka is faced with the ignominy of having already lost the series and effectively rendering today’s fifth ODI at Hambantota only of academic interest.

Of course, Pakistan have everything to play for still as a 4-1 win will boost their ODI rankings and Champions Trophy chances appreciably whilst the hosts are left to salvage some pride by winning the final game emphatically.

Both Coach Marvan Atapattu and skipper Angelo Mathews have been quite forthright about Sri Lanka’s performances but the duo must also know that the buck clearly stops with them – and they have a lot to answer.

Atapattu said Lasith Malinga’s lack of penetration, and the bowlers’ failure to execute plans has paved their path to decline, though the plans themselves remain robust.

“We haven’t got the wickets quite regularly as you would expect from Lasith,” said Atapattu in perhaps the understatement of the year. The fact that Sri Lanka’s bowlers have struggled to get wickets is abundantly clear by the stats – Pakistan has 35 wickets (including two run outs) whilst the hosts have a mere 19 (including four run outs – meaning that the bowlers accounted for only 15!).

Mathews seems a shadow of the confident captain that he was just a year ago when Sri Lanka was winning everything before them.

As a captain he is a very reluctant bowler and switches into a defensive mindset at the slightest hint of the opponents looking to gain the ascendency.

His bowling changes and the strange reluctance to use the variety of the bowling at his disposal is mystifying. The think tank in the dressing room should also take some of the responsibility in the decision making – or lack of it – on the field.

The selections have also been a factor with the hosts always looking a trifle unbalanced with too many ‘bits and pieces’ players as the hosts continued with the same strategy that brought them success previously but was now outdated given the new changes in the ODI game.

The Selectors have brought in five new players for the T20 games which place later this week in a sign that they are finally about to rethink their strategy. However, even here they seem to have erred with some of the selections.

Young leg spinner Jeffrey Vandersay should have been included in the test series and he might have made a big difference to the final outcome much like the Pakistani leggie Yasir Shah who was the star of the tournament. Vandersay is a jewel and much be nurtured well by SLC as he could be the match winning bowler that Sri Lanka is looking for – unfortunately he is now about to be tested in a T20 series – which is the least suitable for his art and could end up destroying his natural ability to flight the ball.

A true leader emerges when he can turn a losing situation into a winning one with some smart bowling changes or field placings. When vice captain Lahiru Thirimanne led the side for a few games in New Zealand prior to the World Cup we saw ‘Thirimanne the bowler’ emerge in those games but when Mathews returned he never gave Thirimanne the opportunity to turn his arm over.

It is all well and good to stick to a basic strategy if the team is doing well but in the third ODI when Pakistan were rattling up 316 we were persisting with Malinga who was clearly out of form (and shape?).

The use of Pathirana and Milinda Siriwardena as bowlers was also puzzling to say the least. Pathirana bowled 38 overs for a return of 3 for 274 whilst Siriwardena who was by far the more economical bowler got just 12.5 overs and had 2 for 60.

Today’s encounter in Hambantota represents the last chance for the hosts to salvage some pride and a 3-2 result would be so much better than a 4-1 defeat.

Kusal Perera came good in only one innings and although that was electric stuff he needs to be more consistent – a quickfire 40 in every other innings might serve Lanka better than an explosive 80 every 10 innings which is what he averages now.

The experienced Upul Tharanga should never have been omitted from the last ODI and he should be reinstated as he can bat lower down the order if necessary.

Mathews himself is badly short of runs and has been getting himself out with some rash actions. The skipper needs to lead by example once again.

Malinga needs to dig deep within himself and produce a convincing performance which will help team morale ahead of the T20 games later in the week.


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