Pitch far too loaded
for inept Lankans
By T.M.K. Samat
THE third day's tea interval is normally about the time a
Test match begins to reveal its end. During the third tea break at the
Gabba last Saturday, for instance, the Australians' win became fairly
discernible as they began the job of enlarging on their first innings
lead of 167. Sure enough they won, though few thought that the end
would come before the sandwiches and tea of the fourth day. But half a
world away, day three's tea had become dispensable. The South Africans
rather chose to sip champagne while the Sri Lankans wept into their
When a Test ends so swiftly, a post-mortem is rendered
redundant. Any way you look at it, the premature demise of Sri Lanka
was made inevitable by the overwhelming superiority of the South
Some might argue that had Jayasuriya opted to bowl first
things might have been different. Bundled out for 192, batting first,
the initiative had been promptly handed to South Africa, who then went
on to convert that initial advantage to triumph. Whether in opting to
bowl first, our bowlers could've done the same deeds of the South
African's is conjectural. Presuming they did,
then our batsmen would have had to prosper the way the South
Africans did. To assume that would've happened is being more than a
tad too optimistic, given how powerless our batsmen were to counter
the vagaries of a spiteful pitch. At best, the inevitable might have
been prolonged for awhile had Jayasuriya's decision been different.
The reality is that, whether we batted first or not, the difficulties
in the pitch weren't going to disappear with time. If anything it only
became increasingly menacing, as the rush of falling wickets on the
third day proved. So, Jayasuriya's decision might just have prevented
an even quicker demise.
It is no secret that the South Africans were bent on
taking all the advantages available to a home team. In fact, they made
public of their intention to prepare uncomfortably bouncy tracts for
their guests, just as the Sri Lankans had given them pitches that spun
wickedly. Consumed by the memories of losing inside four days at Galle
in the 2000 series and the frustration of being denied a win over
India last September in the Champions' Trophy semifinal by
Khettarama's slowness, the South Africans were not going to hold back
on anything. There's nothing wrong with intent to exact revenge; after
all, without some bloody-mindedness, sport would be a less exciting
Suitability of pitch
But it is pertinent to ask if the South Africans had been
a touch too revengeful in their preparation of the Johannesburg pitch.
The pitch was handed with cracks on it. That isn't uncommon, but when
the ball both squats and lifts as early as the first morning then it
isn't difficult to suspect that the host's intention was to create
something of a shooting gallery. The frequency of ducking and swaying
increased as cracks widened to chasms. Fourteen batsmen perished in
less than two sessions on the third day. This was carnage. And a
signpost at either end of the pitch warning of danger wouldn't have
When matches end as early as this, there's a case for
questioning the suitability of the pitch for a Test match. It is easy
to suggest that the tour-management ought to lodge some sort of formal
protest, but then it's unlikely we'll have the courage of our
convictions to do that, guilt-ridden as we are of doctoring pitches
compatible to our strengths. But there is a difference. The
Johannesburg pitch contained potential risks to limbs. The only health
risk our pitches posed was perhaps momentary blurred vision caused by
squint-eyed following of the mystifying paths of Muralitheran's spin.
The influence of the accepted practice of doctoring
pitches can go beyond the taking of home advantage. That is least of
the concerns. Test matches finishing in three and four days, as did
happen to two Test matches last week, can't be good advertisement for
cricket, never a box-office hit as are football, rugby, tennis or golf
in these times of commercialized sport.
Sponsors investing in Test matches must surely feel cheated if
they get value for only three or four days when they've paid for five.
So, though a win in under three days might have brought joy to
Pollock's men, the empty stands to see them win well before the
scheduled close of the third day doesn't tell a happy story for the
The pitch was, however, not the only reason why the
Johannesburg Test ended in nearly half the allotted time. The
ineptness of the Sri Lankan batsmen is equally a reason, not to
mention the ruthless exploitation by the South African quick bowlers
of all the built in advantages in the pitch. Brought up on
batsman-friendly pitches, Sri Lankan batsmen's discomfiture against
pace and movement is well known, especially in the post-Ranatunga
years. In the 2000 series in South Africa, pace undid Sri Lanka, 0/2,
both defeats coming on the fourth day. The story was repeated last
summer in England. A ditto to this series only needs to be inked.
This continuing trend of failures only raises the
question whether coach Dav Whatmore is delivering all that is expected
of him. The pitch no doubt was treacherous, but even on less difficult
pitches, like in England last summer, our batsmen were unable to make
the technical adjustments to cope with bounce and movement. It is easy
to explain this away by pointing out that we are natural shot makers
and that any changes to technique will remove the flair our cricket is
admired for. But cricket is not all about playing attractively alone.
It is also about playing to win. And for that there has to be a
completeness of technique. Whatmore has fallen short here. Short too
in the job of expanding our bowling to something more than a one-man
Of course, he's contributed handsomely otherwise, notably
the World Cup of '96 and that remarkable unbroken sequence of nine
Test triumphs. When he assumed duties in 1995 a Test win was a rare
achievement. He has now brought us to a point where wins are expected
- and achieved. But success also has a cruel side.
With home series wins becoming customary, the expectation is
now of winning overseas series. Whatmore hasn't failed here either.
His charges won over Zimbabwe and Pakistan, both in the 1999-2000
season. What is asked of him now is the conquest of the likes of South
Africa and Australia. He has managed those goals over the acknowledged
world's nos. 1 and 2, both on the dust bowls of Galle. The expectation
now is to beard the lions in their own dens. But that is a job that's
beyond most other countries too. But these are the remaining peaks
Whatmore is asked to scale. The question is if these are too Himalayan
No easy answers
There are no easy answers. A new coach could well be a
case of a change of pillow not curing a stiff neck, which, in the
context of our cricket is the deficiency in our batsmen's technique.
That chronic deficiency is something Whatmore should be held
responsible for. Much of the blame for the failures of the two to
South Africa and the last one of England, over the three past years,
can be attributed to our batsmen's inability to make technical
adjustments to the differing conditions. So, it isn't unreasonable to
presume that remedial measures haven't got the priority and importance
they deserve. That probably was a reason why the previous interim
committee secured the specialized services of batting coach, Barry
Richards, a few weeks before the English tour. To no avail, some say.
But obviously the malady isn't a quick fix thing.
Whatmore's contract is up for renewal after the World Cup
in March, and should the abysmal failures continue, a chorus-call for
his removal would be unavoidable. But in deference to the intimacy
that exists between him and our cricket and country after nearly five
years spent here, one hopes the liaison will continue. For that the
Sri Lankan-born Australian will have to replay the wondrous deed of
1996 at next year's World Cup too, though at this point of time that
looks a far fetched. The stars, unfortunately, don't seem to favour
him at this point of time. As
if the disastrous first Test wasn't bad enough, Whatmore has now to do
the job without skipper Jayasuriya for the remainder of the tour and
Muralitheran for the five-match one-day series as well as the one-day
triangular in Australia. But one wishes the stars would turn for this
likeable man - and Sri Lanka cricket.
berth in final
Ananda College, with a sound six wickets
victory over St. Sebastians College, Moratuwa secured a berth in
the final of the under 13 Division one cricket tournament.
Ananda, the defending champions, certainly will go flat out to
make it two in a row, winning this year's final against St.
Peter's, to be played today at St. Joseph's
College grounds, Darley Road.
Scores: St. Sebastians 92 all out in 40.1 overs (C. A.
Perera 18, J. de Silva 15, Kishan Hewagama 3/5, Lakindu Wasala
Ananda 96 for 4 in 34.3 overs. (Kishan Hewagama 31,
Ranganath Wijetung 30 n.o., Dhyan Ranatunga 16, Nipula Aponso
Rajiva Wijetunga -
veterans TT champion
Rajiva Wijetunge of Ceylinco Shriram gave a pleasing
display in winning the veterans men's singles table tennis title at
the junior and senior Nationals Table Tennis Championship 2002, held
at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium recently. Rajiva defeated A.D.S.K.
Chandrasekera, 11-03, 09-11, 11-05, 11-05 comfortably to win the
veterans singles titles