11th November 2001, Volume 8, Issue 17

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sportspic1.jpg (18351 bytes) Sharjah no tonic for West Indies series

By T.M.K. Samath

IT WOULD'VE been nice to approach the West Indies series in the afterglow of a third triumph in the Sharjah tri-nation. That success was a realistic proposition, especially after a rollicking three-win start. But in the end, it all went awry. The failure to get among Sharjah cricket's history books as the only nation, outside Pakistan, to achieve a hat-trick of triumphs, isn't the only disappointment.

There's also the question of the costly physical toll of this desert campaign, especially the injury to Dilhara Fernando, the quickest of our bowlers. It is suspected that the source of his hurting back could be a stress fracture in the base of his spine, an injury requiring months rather than days to mend. So, his availability for the current series has to be in serious doubt. His loss is of no mean significance, as it was in Sharjah. Fernando snapped five wickets, three against Pakistan, in the two opening games before being forced out of the competition. If Sri Lanka had been spared this misfortune, it is no exaggerated supposition that the final might have run a different course.

Muralitheran's sore shoulder didn't keep him out of the final, as it did in the Pakistan match of two days before. The official explanation is that the off spinner was rested, partially at his behest. This is rather out of Muralitherans' character, a workaholic who loathes to idle behind the boundary while others play. Obviously, the soreness has been more than a minor irritant. One hopes his troubled shoulder wouldn't flare up into something more serious in the long and demanding days ahead.

The consequence of the six-week sidelining of Kaluvitharne (by a fracture to his index finger) may prove less harmful than Fernando's or Muralitheran's likely absence in the series against the West Indies. But it was always a comforting reassurance to have him around. When things haven't quite worked out well for his replacement, "get Kalu" became a familiar cry. He is yet some distance ahead of Sangakkara in the gloves-job, though the same quite can't be said of his batting. But then his rival's too didn't deliver to his full potential in Sharjah.

There will, however, be no shortage of replacements for Fernando and Kaluvitharne. What ever be the end result of the series, the absence of Fernando and Kaluvitharne won't be the influential reason for it. There are replacements of proven ability at the top level with the likes of the Pereras, Ruchiara and Suresh, Pushpakumara, to fill in for Fernando. The battle between Kaluvitharne and Sangakkara for the keeper's job is still a running one. Though not quite the most charitable way of saying it, the truth is that the former's injury would only make it easier for the selectors.

The crucial question, however, is just how much of a psychological toll has the Sharjah failure taken on Jayasuriya's men. It's the first failure after two successes _ over India and, as expected, over Bangladesh. Then the comprehensive wins over Pakistan and twice over Zimbabwe in the three opening matches in Sharjah gave the impression that team's notoriety for inconsistency had become a thing past. But the second Sharjah meeting was conceded to Pakistan in the last over. Death was swifter in the final, in the 44th over. The conclusion is obvious: lessons on how to battle out of adversity remain unlearnt.

Clearly, the sudden capitulation in Sharjah was mental. How else could one explain the staggering transformation of an efficient and composed team into a bunch of desperate, dithering men. Of course, there are theories that offer consolation. Like, 1) had not a sore shoulder kept Muralitheran out our total of 272 would've been defendable, the second Pakistan match won and a huge psychological advantage taken into the final;

2) had Arnold not been a victim of a dubious lbw decision and Jayasuriya not recklessly swung his bat at one that had all the descriptions of a wide, a total of 230-240, rather than 173, would've been almost a certainty. Even with a target of 174, Pakistan was pressured to win, suggesting 230 or thereabouts would've been a winning total.

Be that as it may, one thing is certain: the post-Sharjah mood isn't quite the right prescription for the approaching series. Whether they can come out of the depression, only the future will say. But given that the exceptionally talented Sri Lankans work on their moods, Sharjah, in the end, hasn't quite left them in a state of buoyancy.

Not all, however, is depressing. A life in the world of sublime batsmanship looks all but assured for Mahela Jayewardene. Consistency, the key to such a world, was proved in Sharjah, following on his centuries against India and Bangladesh. Clive Lloyd's choice of Jayewardene as man of the series is a tribute to the beauty of his batting as much as his consistency. Happily, Russel Arnold was the team's next best performer. Obviously, this will inspire him to get among the Test runs, the lack of which was what put his permanency in doubt, pre-Sharjah. But Jayasuriya, Atapattu and Sangakkara didn't discover their true form and will have points to prove in the current series.

Sharjah proved again that Sri Lanka's bowling depend solely on the redoubtable Chaminda Vaas and the magical Muralitheran. Nuwan Zoysa's return is comforting. Sharjah debutante, Prabath Nissanaka, took quite some punishment at the hands of Afridi, Imzamam up-Huq and newcomer Naweed Latif, but it would be unwise to rush to conclusions on the 21-year-old's future. He's talents are obvious, and with maturity will become one of our leading strike bowlers. Chraith Buddhika too is a prospect for the future. Commonsense says they ought to be exposed in the current series.

The empty airport Jayasuriya's men flew into on Monday is testimony of the country's impatience for success on the cricket field. Disappointed by the failures in Sharjah, the fans here will no doubt demand successes against the West Indies. Jayasuriya's men will have to show the sort of grit that moves mountains to deliver those expectations before the scrutinizing eyes of the home audience.


Standard Chartered Bank sponsors Hong Kong Cricket Sixes

Standard Chartered Bank has announced that they will co-sponsor the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes with Cathay Pacific Airways. Staged at the Kowloon Cricket Club in Cox's Road on November 10 and 11, the Cathay Pacific and Standard Chartered Hong Kong Cricket Sixes will be played for the record prize money of HK$2 million with eight top playing nations chasing the first prize of HK$ 623,000.

The Hong Kong Cricket Association (HKCA) who are the organisers, in conjunction with WSG-Asia, have invited representative teams from: Sri Lanka, Australia, England, South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, West Indies, Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates. The team from Sri Lanka will consist of Chandika Hathurusinghe (Captain/Manager), Upul Chandana, Eric Upashantha, Indika de Saram, Jeevantha Kulathunga, Pasan Wanasinghe, Malintha Warnapura and Dulip Liyanage. As part of the sponsorship Standared Chartered Bank, Sri Lanka, will be presenting them with clothing for their travel to Hong Kong.

The eight teams will be drawn into two pools of four for the tournament with the top two sides in each pool entering the cup semi-finals and the others contesting the Plate semis.

"We are delighted that Cathay Pacific and Standard Chartered have agreed to sponsor the Cricket Sixes and put up such attractive prize money. This event will be a welcome addition to the Hong Kong sports scene," said Mike Walsh, the HKCA Chairman. "The upturn in the economy over recent years has resulted in the re-appearance of a terrific tournament concept and that is great news for SAR sport.

 

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