23rd  March,  2003, Volume 9, Issue 36

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Cricket World Cup 2003 saw... 

Kings become clowns

Final encounter today

by Gamini Sendadhira

The curtain of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 comes down today with the big battle for supremacy between Australia and India at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. This year's competition that featured 14 cricketing nations, was crammed with agonies, ecstasies, thrills and spills that surely must have kept every cricket fan at the edge of their seat. The eighth Cricket World Cup in South Africa, without question, will linger in the memory of the enthusiasts of the game, as a result of the shocking experience they must have had in witnessing, many a powerful king in the cricket arena becoming 'clown.'

The 'king pin,' the host nation, South Africa, England, Pakistan and West Indies were all knocked out in the first round itself. New Zealand had to bow out at the Super Six stage. The 1996 world champions, Sri Lanka, had already touched their 'Green Green Grass Of Home' despite the golden opportunity they had in securing a berth in the grand final today. Kenya, yet sans Test status surprised one and all by pushing their way to semifinals, beating Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the process.

Supreme

the current world champions, Australia, with 10 comprehensive victories in this year's World Cup, has proved their supremacy and without a shadow of doubt, are the firm favourites to pocket the prestigious Cricket World Cup for a second consecutive time. But one must not underestimate the Indians. After a shaky start in the first round, the team rallied round admirably to assure their deserving place in the final.

Though the wicket at the Wanderers is predicted to be a fast one, India's inform batsmen of the calibre of the little 'maestro' Sachin Tendulkar, skipper Saurav Ganguly, Shewag, Kaif and Dravid are more than capable of handling any venomous attack. True, Brett Lee, Glen McGrath, Andrew Bitchel and Harvey have been the nuclear force who had been instrumental in guiding the Aussies to 10 successive triumphs in this year's tournament inspite of a couple of poor totals that they had to defend. If India exploit the Aussies weakness in tackling spin and if they are blessed with the opportunity of batting first, collect 250 runs and entire India can toast champagne as they will own  the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003.

Post-mortem

A post-mortem can only determine the cause of death. But it cannot resurrect the dead. The reason for Sri Lanka's failure to reach the final is quite obvious. Can any strong unit with half its side stone dead make their presence felt in a World Cup competition, leaving alone, reaching the final. One must applaud the Lankan captain, Sanath Jayasuriya for guiding his half crippled outfit into the semifinals.

Old soldiers never die

The above phrase was proved correct in South Africa. If not for the Lankan heroes of the 1996 World Cup, namely, Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Marvon Atapattu and Hashan Tillekeratne, Sri Lanka too, certainly, would have been nudged out of the very first round. The young blood that was infused to the team was only a burden to the Lankan skipper.

Selectors are nuts

The silly suggestion of the chairman of the BCCSL selection committee, that Sanath Jayasuriya must decide whether to carry on as captain or step down and concentrate more on his performance, only proves that this so called chairman of the selection committee is definitely nuts. I do not regret a bit for calling this individual 'the Nutty Professor' in an earlier article. After Arjuna Ranatunga's grand stint at the helm of the national squad, Sanath Jayasuriya as captain, had done exceptionally well to keep the lion flag fluttering in pride with many a Test and ODI triumph to his credit. His record of beating every nation affiliated to ICC barring New Zealand, in his very first assignment as captain against them in the Test arena, speaks volumes for his capabilities as a leader. Even in this World Cup, he came up with a superb allround performance to guide a side who were rated as minnows to the semifinal stage.

It is not the Lankan skipper who should be axed. It will do a world of good to Sri Lanka cricket if the Minister of Sports make it his business to axe the current set of selectors and choose a knowledgable lot to do a proper job. Why should Sanath Jayasuriya suffer for the sins of a silly bunch of selectors who were not efficient enough to select the correct combination for a World Cup competition?


Carey Cricket Scholarship

Sukitha Senaratne (Royal) and Lahiru Peiris (St. Peter's) have been a great hit at Carey Grammar School in Kew. Their performances so far have carried Carey through a winning streak. Sukitha has a batting average of 43.0 so far and has taken one wicket. Lahiru has a batting average of 76.25 and has taken four wickets. They have been free of any injuries and have played for Carey in every match since they got here in January.

Dilip and Kumari Somaratne of Ferntree Gully have looked after Sukitha - Dilip is an old boy from Royal. Dawn and Winston Foenander (St. Peter's) of Keysborough have played host to Lahiru whenever he has been free.

They both played for their respective old boys cricket associations during the six-a-side tournament conducted at the Kandy Cricket Club grounds during the Australia Day weekend. St. Peter's old boys won that competition with the assistance of Lahiru.

They have stayed with families from the Carey network and will return to Colombo in the second week of April.

Carey have been so pleased with their talents and good behaviour - that they will consider offering the same scholarship next year. They have studied Year 11 subjects such as Physics, Chemistry and Mathemetics. Their school books and school uniforms have been provided by Carey.

Roshan Mahanama from the Sri Lanka Cricketers' Association assisted with the final selections. Roshan did make the comment that the talent of the boys he interviewed and observed was stunning. It was unfortunate that some very deserving candidates did miss out.

We hope the boys associations in Melbourne will again assist us by publicasing the scholarship with their schools when it is offered again next year. The boys need to have a good command of English and study in Year 11 (age about 16-17). Carey offers a wide selection of subjects in Year 11 and 12.

"The Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation of Victoria is grateful to the ex-Sri Lankan community in Melbourne for the hospitality and kindness extended to these two fine ambassadors for their country. We hope Lahiru and Sukitha will one day represent Sri Lanka at the highest level," Writes Dr. Quintus L. de Zylva.


Guest column

Well played boys, but shouldn't
it have been better?

by Mahinda Wijesinghe 

A warm welcome to the Sri Lankan team! A side, which most observers felt, including myself, would be lucky to get past the first round in the World Cup 2003, reached the semi-finals, and wasn't that great? Strangely the consensus of opinion is 'No'! Remember, Kenya benefiting no doubt from a bit of luck - didn't Sri Lanka too have similar luck on forfeitures in 1996? - and whilst being a non-Test playing nation beat Sri Lanka and entered the semi-finals as the third team quite comfortably while we scraped through to fourth place by the skin of our teeth? Many are the fingers being pointed at some of the players and the administration in general.

Especially the middle-order batsmen, and the administrators for a series of blunders which have been enumerated times without number and now too painful to recall.

In the wake of the sacking of captains Shaun Pollock and Waqar Younis, Jayasuriya too maybe feeling "uneasy is the head that wears the crown." Ironic isn't it after the team ended up amongst the first four in the tournament? Why? Well for one, it is the fickle nature of One-day cricket and for another it was the doctored pitches that suited our players whilst not forgetting the sterling and consistent performances of a few players such as Chaminda Vaas, Marvan Atapattu, Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan. When a batsman of the calibre of Mahela Jayawardena scores a mere 21 runs in 7 visits to the crease, obviously there is a gaping hole in the batting. Whilst Vaas was bowling his heart out from one end and finishing up with a record haul of 23 wickets, where was the support from the other end? You do not look for support when in South Africa.

That should have been sorted out long before. That is where cricket expertise is called for. Jayasuriya must have indeed been at his wit's end unlike (say) Australia's Ricky Ponting who had replacements as good as the original! I would be failing in my duty if I do not say "Well played" to Aravinda de Silva. A magnificent batsman who played a stellar role with great aplomb for almost a decade and stood heads and shoulders over most of his mates.

Just as vultures hover over carrion, there will be many who will offer their services for the "betterment of cricket in Sri Lanka" now that there is a crisis. It is the majority opinion that the word 'Interim' smells foul being not only inept but also not interim. Already intrigue is at hand. Recently it was brought to my notice, whilst being away from the country, about a news report published in the local newspapers stating that two senior national players were financially duped by a former unsuccessful aspirant to the Cricket Board Presidency on a land deal in Australia.

Adding spice to the story was the players' lives would be threatened if they spilled the beans. Absolute James Bond stuff? No, this is closer to Baron Munchausen's rock-splitting yarns. Absolute balderdash. In fact, the aggrieved party has written, I understand, both to the Prime Minister and to his club requesting for an independent inquiry on this matter. Let's hope that clears the air. This is simply not cricket.

Getting back to cricket. Just as Arjuna Ranatunga lost his crown after the disastrous World Cup in 1999, will the same fate befall Jayasuriya now? In mitigation, one can plead that Jayasuriya fared better both as a player and as a leader than Ranatunga. After all, Sri Lanka ended in the first four, and one does not suddenly get up in the morning and find oneself in the semi-finals. Beating New Zealand, West Indies, Zimbabwe and level-pegging with South Africa are no easy feats. No, begin at the beginning. Before dealing with the players, short-shrift must be made of the administrators who were not only responsible for recommending crucial appointments which turned sour ranging from selectors to coaches but also taking certain policy decisions which on occasion were clearly bordering on conflict of (business and personal) interests. Clear the decks and make room for competent new hands.

I understand that the all-important Cricket Academy is to be inaugurated. This would be the crucible from where future Sri Lankan cricketers will be cast. Can these same administrators be given the responsibility of planning and manning such an important institution? As the pithy Sinhala saying goes: The donkey should not try to do the dog's job. Or, are we to carry on the accepted Sri Lankan tradition of: "What matters is whom you know and not what you know?" Sad. Very sad indeed.


Samat on Sunday

To captain or not to
- your call, Sonna

IS this the moment to contemplate a change in the leadership of Sri Lanka cricket? The country's overall World Cup performance Cup was unexceptional and the meekness with which the batting surrendered in Tuesday's semifinal, truly saddening. So, present emotions are not likely to be partial to the incumbent.

This would seem unfair by Sanath Jayasuriya. His records, after all, show he is the country's most successful captain. But sentiments and history don't a perfect captain make.

To reflect on his four-year tenure at this point wouldn't out of order. Given the reins in the aftermath of the 1999 World Cup shamble, Jayasuriya's team won six Test series: over Australia, for the first time, India, Zimbabwe and the West Indies and also shared a series with South Africa, all on home turf.

Overseas conquests were in Pakistan and Zimbabwe. But five series were lost too: twice each to South Africa, both away, and to England, home and away, and to Pakistan here. If you bring into the calculation the two series wins over Bangladesh and triumph over Pakistan in the Asia Test Championship final in Lahore, then the ratio of wins far exceeds the losses. The purple patch of his leadership years was, doubtlessly, the historic sequence of nine Test-wins in 2001-02, a feat no country, bar Australia, can boast of. As well, numerous one-day series were won in Sharjah, Morocco, New Zealand and shared with India the mini World Cup trophy. There were, however, some disappointing performances in the current World Cup.

Yet, that his team was able to overcome both reversals and some obvious deficiencies in the team to finish among the top four is quite an admirable achievement, no matter the part played by good fortune. Cynics though prefer to put under microscopes the moments of failures, and pass outright condemnation of his team. But then these are detractors who would detect only negatives, even if the World Cup had been won. They won't acknowledge that, Jayasuriya's team advanced further than South Africa, Pakistan, England and the West Indies did. Ironically, some past captains with less to show than Jayasuriya have been subjected to less severe chastisement and their reign allowed to prolong without question.

The short answer

So, why talk about the eviction of Jayasuriya at this point of time, you might well ask. The short answer: the World Cup is four yearly. The purists might give little credence to a World Cup decided on countries' strengths in the shorter version, which, to their minds, isn't cricket at all. They will argue that one-day cricket is a cheap guide to decide captaincy. But the wider world sees the shorter game with far more approving eyes, and like it or not, the World Cup has come to be regarded as the planet's premier cricket show; the game.

It has to be remembered that this ultimate in recognition has come after only eight tournaments over a period of 28 years _ a drop in time in the centuries-old sea of Test cricket. Because of the importance of the World Cup - the winners, after all, are referred to as World Champions - Test-playing countries clearly plan their futures from one to the next event, four years hence. The dismissal of the captain of the failed South African team, Shaun Pollock, and the appointment of 22-year-old Graeme Smith as his successor, is a classic example. And the official reason for the change clearly says that South Africa ''is looking at the 2007 World Cup. It's (going to be) a new era.'' The timing of Nasser Hussein's resignation as one-day skipper soon after England's exit in the first round is significant, though the real reasons for quitting lie in the part the English Board played in the forfeited Zimbabwe match. The talk is of a successor who will be around in 2007, and young Trescothick is spoken of the next leader.

It is fairly certain other countries will appoint new leaders; Pakistan and the West Indies, with ageing leaders, for certain. The younger Fleming, Ponting and Ganguly look more secure. Jayasuriya would be more at home in the company Hooper and Waqar than with Ponting and crowd.

Should Jayasuriya want to be around for a fourth World Cup in 2007 he would've touched 38, a tad too ripe for the one-day helter-skelter. Presently Aravinda de Silva is a year younger and Tillekeratne, two years junior, than Jayasuriya would be in 2007. De Silva, with bat and ball and tactical intelligence, and Tillekeratne provided some useful contributions in 2003 campaign. But clearly their swiftness and agility on the field were found wanting in the face of standards set by the many younger men, the likes of, say, Yuvraj and Kaif.

This much is certain, however.  Should Jayasuriya set his mind on a fourth World Cup, his commitment to the cause will not be found wanting. But to combine the duties of captaincy and a key batsman for another four years might be pushing things too far for one who would've got on years by 2007. He has combined the two responsibilities admirably over the past four years, but I suspect his enthusiasm is not what it was. Expectations of him are at an unreasonable level _ to the point that it's an accepted belief that he has to succeed for the team to win. Defeat invariably is ascribed to his failure, if not with bat, then his on- field decisions or his mild manners. If that is not enough of a heavy load, his rapport with the selectors, especially the present set, hasn't always been ideal.

It is no secret

This disharmony created all sorts of problems for him and the team _ and there were times he might have suspected factionalism within the team. For example, Muralitheran's public moanings in England last summer that too much was asked of him and little of the others. It is no secret that Jayasuriya asked to be relieved of his captaincy around last December, but selectors as good as said; ''this world cup is your baby _ resign if you want to after it''. All this happened between the failed tours to South Africa in November and to Australia soon after _ and prospects of a place in the Super Six was at best a hope and the semifinal, a distant dream. So, any condemnation of the team's failure to appear in today's final has to be cruelly unfair.

This is not to support the idea that Jayasuriya should remain as captain _ nor that the selectors remove him. The decision should be left to the man himself. Personally, it would be a hard thing to give up Sri Lanka sport's most coveted job. But as Jayasuriya has confessed himself, the job, without the support of administration and with restless charges, is tormenting and difficult _ and would rather not have it all. But there are some other more noble reasons why he shouldn't be captain any more. The most obvious reason is that he would be a little too gray-haired in 2007, probably to even be a player, let alone captain. As the South Africans have done and England probably too, it would be best to make way for a younger member as the next World Cup enters its stage of planning.

If he does so, to my mind, he would've made as valuable a contribution to Sri Lanka cricket as any of his many gorgeous on-field doings. He would've risen above the selfishness, bigotry, insincerity and all the other notorious traits that have blighted our leaders in sport. A withdrawal with grace and dignity would be such a refreshing change from the usual venting-of-spleen by most other departing leaders _ and the bitchiness in their retirement.

But is there a younger player worthy of the 2007 investment? Mahela Jayewardena has been in such wretched form that his name is anathema at this moment of time. Sanagakkara's cause is no better; he didn't score enough, but that is less of a reason than his horrendously expensive wicket-keeping lapses. Arnold, sadly, has reduced himself to the inconsequential and his permanency must now be in doubt. The apparent lack of a suitable young successor might encourage thoughts of Atapattu, Muralitheran or Vaas, but whether they are wise long-term investments is debatable. Jayewardena and Sangakkara, I am sure, will rediscover their form and become acceptable candidates in the not too distant future.

Much rebuilding

 But either of them given the job will surely raise the hackles of the seniors, as indeed it did when Jayewardena was appointed deputy leader in 1999. This could be got round by appointing Atapattu, presently deputy, the Test captain and Muralitheran or Vaas his deputy. After all, Test cricket needs maturity _and one-dayer, young legs and big talent. Jayasuriya had the attributes to lead in both versions all these years, but the sands of time are never still. Clearly, there's much rebuilding of team to be done, and pitfalls there will be during the transition. It will be all too much for the modest, soft-spoken man as age creeps up on him.

Give him the freedom to swing a bat, which is how this simpleton from Matara yet understands the game. It's time someone else took the pains of captaincy _ and let Jayasuriya enjoy life on the field.


No gentle giant when it comes to Rugby

by T.M.K. Samat

CHAMINDA Rupasinghe hardly comes across as the sort of stern man required to read the Riot Act to, of all people, rough and randy rugby players. He might have the physique of a law enforcer, but the modest and politely soft-spoken man couldn't say 'boo' to a goose. A gentle giant, if ever there was one in rugby.

All that softness, however, is only until he begins his job as Manager of Sri Lanka's Sevens team. The change then is almost like, off with the tie and coat and presto, Suuupermann. Listen to the Manager: ''No nonsense, I've made it clear we're going to HongKong to play rugby'' rasped Rupasinghe, sternly. ''Imagine for many years, the HongKong sevens was treated as a shopping expedition. This was being traitorous, absolutely."

The non-manager Rupasinghe would've couched that message in more apologetic and softer language. Or, come to think of it, he might not have said anything at all. But then rugby is serious business for the one-time New York wine taster turned local entrepreneur, himself a rugby player of repute in the 80s.

"The first thing we do when we arrive in HongKong (at noon on Wednesday) is to wolf down some lunch and catch up on loss sleep. Since departure is around 2 a.m. there's no going to bed on Tuesday night. It's important the boys get about five hours of afternoon sleep on arrival,'' said Rupasinghe, revealing his care for details. ''Then we'd spend about two hours in the gym in the night doing mostly stretching exercises to get rid of flight weariness. Lights out at 10 p.m. No nonsense.''

Rupasinghe, former S. Thomas, Havelock SC and Sri Lanka forward, has lined up a coaching session under All Blacks coach Gordon Tietjens on Thursday morning and a possible practice match against Wales, whose manager David Rees, like Tietjens, is a personal friend of the Sri Lankan manager. ''I have already been in touch with Tietjens and Rees and they've said they'd be happy to help us.

Thursday is only the day we have for a serious workout and somehow we have to work out our time so as to take advantage of both offers. It's going to be valuable for the players,'' said Rupasinghe.

Sri Lanka open their Credit Suisse/First Boston HongKong Sevens campaign on Friday night against heavyweights South Africa, no.2 last year in the World Series ranking and presently sixth. On Saturday morning, they will confront Argentina, seventh in the current World Series standings and winner of the Plate final in South Africa. The South Americans always run the superpowers close. Later Saturday, Sri Lanka take on Korea, the Asian champions.

''All the Pool matches will be painfully tough, but then it has always been so. For us it is a learning experience against superpowers, who otherwise we will never play against. Our job will be to restrict the scoring and score a try or ourselves,'' said Rupasinghe.

The HKRFU's official publication, Rugby Talk, says of Sri Lanka's chances thus: ''Home of the world's second oldest rugby union, Sri Lanka will be looking to improve on an excellent performance in 2002. The gutsy Sri Lankans scored two tries against Scotland, running them close 19-10, and also played well against eventual Bowl champions Morocco in a 14-5 loss.''

The ultimate success for Sri Lanka this year would be to repeat the 1984 deed under Hisham Abdeen, winning the Bowl. But the competition since has got a whole lot tougher, especially after the event became a part of the World Series circuit in 1997. This is one reason why, since defeating the Arabian Gulf in 2000, Sri Lanka hasn't won a single match since in HongKong. Should Nalaka Weerakoddy's men crack the two-year duck, a deserving tribute would've been paid to coach Asanga Seneviratne and manager Chaminda Rupasinghe, who finish their three year assignment with this outing. In their three-year term, Sri Lanka impressively came within one try of defeating giants like Scotland, France and Wales and overcame Kenya, presently 10th in WS ranking, Belgium and China in Sevens tournaments in HongKong and elsewhere.

It is vastly different to past record sheets when 70s and 100s were conceded to the giants and defeat at the hands of China was sustained. Could the change have come about by the gentle giant choosing to talk tough? Might well be.

 

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