Saturday, September 30, 2017

ODI game is not for the hitters but diggers

Once, in recent times, India tried a young batsman who just turned 20. I think they had some opener slot free due to injury so they had him to open, against a 5 match series in SL.

The young opener was very slow for an ODI opener especially to match the legendary Indian openers. His returns were 12 (22), 37 (67), 25 (38), 54 (66), 31 (46). It was a low-scoring tour involving two Dambulla rock scaling games. But, despite the fact that he showed the potential for a long stay, his returns were characteristically too slow. He lost his position [maybe because the other guy recovered from injury].

He was dropped for one year and then he returned as a lower order player again against SL, to make 2 n.o. He got promoted to no 4 and for the first time played diff opponents, making 16(24), 79(104), 30(41), 10(16). 

They dropped him to lower order at times they made good runs as he was the slower cog of the wheel. Remember these are the days of great Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag, Dhoni and establishing heroes like Gambir, Raina, UV. They had every damn reason to drop him. They'd have found a "better hitter" by just waiting at the picket fence of a mercenary IPL dressing room, any one of them.

But they retained him. It was for the quality of his. The temperament of his. That they wanted the digger in him more than a wonton hitter they may find at every gate they knock. And moreover he was given a massive IPL deal and a permanent club to play for.

The lucky bastard is Virat Kohli. and this one is for those who still think ODI game is a hitter's game. I agree that his first many outings were too slow, but that is not the most important aspect. A good digger will turn a great hitter with much ease compared to vice versa.

I do not look at any particular SL player, but note that we need stable quality strong-minded young diggers, not six hitting broiler chicken. We may loose few games but the stability will be forever. Look next door for the little master if you doubt.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Gemstones surface in flushing flood erosion - I repeat

I wrote this article slightly more than a year ago, expecting a rank show against world number one Australia. I posted it with a different picture, never expecting to be proven picture perfect and totally wrong otherwise. Well, that was history but in a year the anomalies have disappeared and normalcy has taken its place. And here we are facing the much-expected humiliation in the hands of a different world number one.

What went wrong with my prediction last time, and went right for Sri Lanka then, can be summed up in three points.

  • In form Rangana Herath against Australia. But he did not show the same skills against India. If that is due to aging, well that would be a bigger hole than Sanga Mahela combined
  • Australia had no good spinners so we had the freedom to set pitches with as most spinning as possible. Sadly India has the two spinners who fight for world top rank and we had no idea how we should set the pitches.
  • Graham Ford had just started as the coach. The system was fully functioning and board sounded sensible. Neither is the case today, at best it is a cacophony for that symphony. Too many cooks poison the meal, and Ford jumped the boat before sinking.
Gemstones surface in flushing flood erosion. But whether we will pick them up is an entirely different question. In the agony of ongoing Indian tour, we encountered followings which are yet noteworthy. I hope whatever functioning administration would not miss them and try to enhance them.

1. In Niroshan Dickwella, we have an attacking ODI opener, a fighting test middle order player, a good wicket keeper and a good brain with potential for future leadership

2. In Akhila Dhananjaya we have a complete spinner with every trick in the book, well, almost [drift seem to be missing, depends on conditions too much]

3. In Vishwa Fernando we have a potential Vaas

4. Milinda Siriwardhana is a quality tail ender, and it was so unfair to drop him just for failing in one gloomy icy cold England tour.

Having said that let me copy paste my previous article with a whole new picture.

SL squad for Australia Tests:
Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (vice-capt), Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal

If the word mismatch needs an example, look forward for the test series of Sri Lanka vs Australia. When we were at peak with experience and numbers in our ranks and they were at the rock bottom with juveniles, they still outplayed us in tests. When both seesaws changed its sides the gap may rise to a mount Everest. If that gap is not enough, SL sinks further with injuries to Prasad, Chameera, Vandersay and omission of Shaminda Eranga due to health and legalities.

The squad comes with many new faces and some surprises in non-selection. Noticeably, the top seven batters are pretty much predictable except for one lower order slot. Without the recent trials of Thiri, Mili and Shanaka either of the new players Roshen Silva or Dhananjaya De Silva is set to play in that. Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal have potential for some surprises. If Angelo regains his form, and openers do their defending bit at their best, you can hope for something. Kusal Perera can single-handedly win games, but he may need some time to find the game after ICC chased him to Siberia.

Roshen Silva averages 50.8 after 87 first class matches and that first class average is surpassed by only Angelo of all the SL players I can think of. Averaging more than Sanga, Mahela, Aravinda, or Thilan in first class after a reasonable period is seriously a bright factor, but you have this difficulty in interpreting what is meant by Sri Lankan first class which is played in below par conditions. Nevertheless it is unique, and if you consider that nearly a third of his first class innings are 50+ and he bats mostly in middle or lower middle, you may think he is an year-overdue solution for the problem.

In bowling there is a high likelihood that two Fernandos may sit back leaving regular pacemen to lead bowling.I personally think that the bowling in England was too conventional and there was no real attacking fast bowler. 18 year old Asitha Fernando may not be as fast as the grown ups but he may add that difference. However chances are high that they'd stick to the conservative solution.

Rangana's partner would be an interesting debate as Dilruwan is itching for a chance and Lakshan Sandakan looks equally competitive with his chinaman magic. Dilruwan is the third player with 30- average (take 40 wickets as minimum condition) behind the big two, hence deserving the slot. But a chinaman is as rare as that.

Of the non-selection, there will be debate over the drop of Milinda and Dasun Shanaka. Milinda misses selection with innings of 1, 68, 42, 35, 29, 62, 26, 0 and 35 and pretty effective bowling. Shanaka didn't get a fair chance for batting but his bowling created perhaps the only moment that SL was in control in England. Lack of their part-time bowling means that injury-prone Angelo is the only option other than the main bowlers. Nevertheless Thirimanne's name will get an standing ovation for getting dropped from the list.

Aussies are likely to play the the star of the practice game Steve O'Keefe instead of Marsh for their fifth bowler/all-rounder. They have five players averaging 49+ with bat, and bowlers of all variations. Lyon's offbreak combined with O'Keefe left arm orthodox may be like poison for spin-allergic SL batsmen. If that is not enough Starc shoots canon balls of150+.

Sri Lanka has beaten Australia only once in a test, and that win came with injuries to Steve Waugh and Gillespie which left them two men less in the second innings. A win this time is hardly an expectation but a national celebration. Hence any matches drawn can be considered equal to victory. Even in the case of total whitewash by them, I'd like to focus on individual performances as at this time what really matters is where we will be in 2-3 years time, not now. Let's pick gem stones as the flood gates open in Kandy on the 26th.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Let the order re-emerge within the chaos itself

I see that many people are talking about cricket. Some in jest some in despair some still having hopes. Some who did not like SL, cricket or cricket of SL are taking this opportunity too. Some even ask me why I did not write anything. Why should I? I mean has there been any unexpected event that should not have happened taken place suddenly?

I expected this and found it as a good research opportunity. I am glad they played 6-5 and found some answers regarding spin bowling and fast bowling questions.

Or do you want me to select a choice XI now and show my depth in team selection just because the XI failed? Any XI will fail, did you not know that?

It was pathetic and sad. Worrying and concerning. But not a surprise for hysterical or euphoric behavior. I am not surprised about the results of the three matches. But I am surprised about those who have suddenly found that SL is losing and got themselves surprised about it. Did you really expect to see a different result?

It has been a decades long period of mishandling, in which SL cricket beat the levels of Pakistan and West Indies boards to be the worst governing body, and was once crowned as the most corrupt institute within the corrupt nation, which may have been saved by the central bank now. It is run by a man with family connections to betting industry. It has been conducting musical chairs for team selection and coach selection. And 23 first class teams are accepted and select the board by means of their votes, hence creating a vicious cycle.

None of these are information to many, we all knew them well. But everyone seems to have woken up from a rosy dream and screaming in cold and anger. WTF is wrong?

If you still think that SL cricket died in Galle SSC and Pallekale and still wanna keep throwing stones at the unfortunate XI in the middle see the actual funeral proceedings that happened in front of your own eyes in past year or so.

You were there, you paid your final rites, so now let things calm down. If you believe in reincarnation, let the new being be revived one day, if you believe in God leave it in his hand. If you believe neither you know that there is nothing called fate and all is randomness, so let the order re-emerge within the chaos itself.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Tale of two tests

Sri Lanka, playing a world number one team, is expected to lose. Some may recall an Australian tour a year ago, yet, that was played in our conditions. Just like India claims entire Sri Lanka being within their naval military domain, so can they for our grounds - almost Indian territories. So what happened in Galle and SSC should not be a concern. Yet it is.

The issue is not in the fact that we lost, but how we did. How our key players performed and how we took up the challenges. Even more importantly how we selected the teams.

Having played the world number one team in pitches where a coin toss wins games most, we lost both tosses. That gave India a chance to deliver another knockout punch on already bleeding SL who'd fall anyway. Both times they amassed 600 or more. If not for their own demons two years ago in Galle, we'd have lost twice by innings, all told, done and dusted, just in the first innings, just after the toss precisely. 

Clearly, SL batsmen did their best, and if not for the 600 deficit that looms in the back of their head, they'd have done better. Other than the first innings of the second test, the batting was all right. Those are the kinda scores that win games in SL usually.  Most batsmen did something or the other in the four outings.

The key culprit is Rangana Herath. It is true that he did not do so well against India except for that Galle test, and hence would deliver same bowling figures anyway, but his bowling was all over the place. It is not the lack of wickets that scares me but the lack of beating batsmen so often as he was used to doing. Being a player with lesser armory - little turn more often than not - his weapons were strategies, placement, and guise. Neither of it was on display in either of the games. He'd bowl unusually batting friendly stuff, half pitch to full toss or leg side lollies. The worrying issue is whether it is age. 

The impact of ageing is sudden at times, as shown by Sanath Jayasuriya in the latter stage of his career. For a player who depends on the utmost subtlety in accuracy, Rangana Herath may have passed a point of no return to his previous skill level. If so, the accountant of SL Cricket can start his final ritual, the declaration of bankruptcy.

In both games, Lahiru and Malinda respectively played blunders on the first days. Their lack of anything in the bowling other than just tossing it up, gave away a necessary advantage. Shikar Dhawan capitalised on Lahiru where at 3/133 India regained valuable advantage off Malinda's 75k non-turning bouncers. Having said that both players played commendably well since then that they both deserve selection for next game. Malinda bowled turning and bouncing deliveries that beat opposition often and gave two wickets. He proved that his style drastically differs to Rangana, although they both turn the ball in the same direction using the same hand. I think SL should no longer look at him as next Rangana, for he is a different player, hence let him play even when Rangana is around.

So the question pops up about the selection. Fast or spin, India had the capacity to out bowl us. Yet we had more chance for fast bowlers to grab their wickets. Sadly it is a time that we had not many such players. Prasad and Chameera have never recovered or regained form after injury more than a year ago. Lakmal got injured and Eranga's state is unknown other than he was cleared [he left the game with a health issue on top of bowling action being reported]. The next level players of Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Gamage, Vikum Sanjaya et al never impressed recently. So only Nuwan Pradeep and Lahiru Kumara were all we had.

Even on that grounds, we should have played at minimum two pace bowlers in the second test. Having only Pradeep as the sole fast bowler, knowing that he always shows a fitness issue of dropping his pace at the end of the day, selectors were calling for trouble. He just delivered what was expected from him - an injury.

With that comes the debate of how the composition should be. Notably with Asela Gunaratne being absent should Sri Lanka play 6-5 leaving the lower order in the risky hands of Niroshan Dickwella and the bowlers. But in comparison, Dilruwan playing as a fifth bowler may well be a better option than an all rounder with nothing in every department. We can postpone this debate for next tour when Asela is fit, but for now, it was proven that our best all rounder, for the time being, is Dilruwan.

Last but not least is Dinesh Chandimal. He's done bad even by his own standards in this year. His highest against anyone but Zimbabwe or Bangladesh is 30 for 2017. And then he was named the captain. Having a history of lack of form taking him away from the automatic selection as the captain, Chandimal may well be going in the same cycle.

My suggestion for Pallekale is that we should not play Rangana. He deserves a break as there are five more tests for the year. He wasn't effective so far, although that does not tell that he cannot win the game, it is a worthy risk to take. We should leave the game in the hands of other three spinners - Malinda, Sandakan, and Dilruwan. And we should play the best two fast bowlers that we have - Lahiru Kumara and the fastest available another player. And of course 6-5.

That game may be lost, but we can use the challenge and conditions to best in order to select the team for the Pakistan tour. A dead rubber is worthy that experiment. A game that Thilanga's family business may list as all odds on India, can be risked with no hesitation.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Half plus half equals one

Dilhara  Lokuhettige, one time fast bowling all rounder of Sri Lanka, has accused Angelo Mathews for "not selecting him" in his retirement press conference. The evidence he gives dates back to 2013, where he found from a selector that Angelo chose a different player instead of him. "The captain wanted a batsman instead of an all rounder", says Lokuhettige.

Now this story falls apart itself. Lokuhettige is a 110k bolwer, and Angelo was correct that he does not need another player who bowls at same speeds as himself occupying a slot where a proper batsman can play. In fact Lokuhettige has been given ample chances long before Angelo  played under 19, and has never done anything special, only noteworthy is the 26 runs-an-over  humiliation in the hands of Sehwag around 2005. There is nothing needing explanation about Angelo's decision. Obviously it wasn't personal, but was based on principle, that a proper batter should play the all rounder slot.

And that principle, which Angelo seems to have forgotten today, has opened a worthy discussion, which is more relevant than Lokuhettige legacy itself.

Batsman for an all rounder, or bowler for an all rounder, would have been a nice theory to revive limited overs cricket of Sri Lanka today as the team is plagued with such players who will not be selected for their batting skills or bowling skills considered alone. But just because of their half skills in each discipline, they earn the classification of all rounder. Half and half summed to one and then they are in the playing XI.

Term "all rounder" may be misused here. Players like Angelo Mathews are by all means all rounders, just  like  how Sanath  Jayasuriya  or Kapil Dev  was. But they developed one  discipline to such an  extent  that they'd  be  selected only on that basis. In that light, their other skill becomes only an add on. 

After 2015 WC Sri Lanka has started using these "half plus half equals one" players quite often, and with no surprise, their returns in every discipline is not much different to Lokuhettige. However they keep getting selected as the captain seems to have redefined his principle as "all rounders for batters and bowlers". Even at the era of batting carnage, Sri Lanka is throwing these half bowlers and gets hammered around the park.

Dilhara Lokuhettige made a claim which is becoming laugh lot in all circles. But in the wake of that claim what Angelo should ponder is how far he has deviated from his correct call in 2013. How many Lokuhettiges he's carrying with him today where talented others wait for a chance.

In simple Angelo should follow Angelo of 2013. Perhaps that is a good nourishment to pick from the dirty can of worms served today in many press conferences.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Through the backdoor of Premadasa Stadium - 2002

SLC has restricted match ticket selling to the internet. This is very unfair as the life blood of the game in Sri Lanka was always not internet or the elite but the street and the common man. This will create chaos, and eventually this will discourage regular visitors.

There were chaos already at Dambulla. If people protest for not having tickets available, go after black market to buy them and finally storm the gates resulting 45000 people (mostly without tickets) packed into 18000 capacity ground SLC gotta be happy. Still the matches are sell outs, and cricket is very very popular.

It is YOUR people that you denounce. Karma is a bitch Sri Lanka Cricket. Do not cry for lack of crowds in ten years time.

Anyways, the last time where there was such a mess that I remember was when ICC took over tickets and sold them via super markets etc. Here is a personal experience, a bit of nosta, but all lovely memories. This was posted in many other blogs by me, so this is really a re-post.

It was during 2002 champion's Trophy, I and few others wanted to watch SL vs Aus. We were attracted more than the cricket and dancing girls, by Shane Warne - simply that we wanted to booooo him. A Big Big BOOOOOO.

Incidentally Mr Warne is the only person whom I have ever booed throughout my "disciplined" life so far; for those purists and my school teachers. Further more for any reborn purists I have to remind that indecent booing originated in Australia against Murali, and Warne was a chief architect behind that. This is a tit-for-tat. A capital TAT.

And tickets were going like, err... national flags after war victory. We called dozen places, including Food City outlets and numerous lads in Sri Lanka Cricket, but luck was not in our side. Finally, we walked in thinking of 50/- or 100/- "on-the-spot" ticket. It took one huge hurdle to get to the ticket counters to see the soldout indication - a sellout crowd as rare as it could be in SL. I never knew that it was a national task to boo the bastard.

Wandering hopelessly in the outside alley of the ground [while the cheer and beer tossed high on sky inside] we met this hawkish man. If you make Russel Arnold not taking a wash for 3 months you could caste this man out of Arny, but the sharp eyes were much the same. Before we realized who he was, he did, and spoke.

"Mahatthayala ticket gaththe ne neda?"

Firstly a very innocent voice, with a strong muslim accent.


We were puzzled...

"Sadda nethuwa mage passen enna"

Whispered a hidden demon in him.

We followed, rather were choiceless to follow. He was our only hope. Is he the president of the cricket board in disguise? Well... even the board president couldn't put anyone in, as ICC had taken over complete ticketing rights.

As we were kept waiting for some good pacie overs which were dispatched by Aussie openers many a times to the ropes, we wandered anxiously.

Then suddenly, he came to us throwing three remains of tickets already used and torn by the gateman.

"Ara inne ape mahaththaya. Shape eke oka denna"

Demon spoke again.

"Man athenta enawa..." he showed us some unattended corner around the park.

"...mata ticket thuna aapahu oone" he commanded.

"Ekak thunsiya panahayi".

Dammit, whatever it costs.

When I looked at it, they were Rs 300 tickets. Just 50 more, and without the ticket tag. That was just the cost.

So we walked into the park, over crowding the sellout by another three [no wonder why some stadiums crash], with the kind curtsey of his "mahaththaya". We had no issues in entering Rs 300/- category.

With the noise of the game, we heard a sharp whistle from our behind to see a centimetre gap between two sheets that serve as the wall of the ground. A thin finger was calling us, rather commanding.

While Sanath Jayasuriya tossed the ball in dilemma to choose spin or fast bowling within first 15 overs, we toggled with the idea of teaching him a lesson [look who's talking ethics anyway] by not returning his precious ticket tags. But again somebody with little more grey matter suggested that we give it or else, it will be us to receive a better lesson by his lads around the park. Sanath also opted it right for Aravinda De Silva [as we gave away the ticket tags] who tossed a teaser which got Aussie opener [Hayden, wasn't he? Note that we missed the game so far] to walk down the track and miss it completely. We looked back to see stumps in rattles.

Rest was history as it always happened during the great times of SL cricket. Wickets went crumbling and brought Warnie way too early. We did indeed boo him, in an unprecedented standing ovation, just to find that it encouraged the man to top-score in the lower scoring game. Sri Lanka won the game but Warnie shone in the cacophony of "over crowded" stands.

When we walked out we saw our friend strolling down the side road perhaps for his daily dose.

End of a good day for everyone.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

It is very hard not to interfere into team selection

It is very hard not to interfere into team selection for a captain. In most places, captain has a legitimate right to choose alongside with the coach and the panel of selectors. Specially on the grounds that you are the most accountable individual for the conduct of the other 10 individuals you select. 

What happens is that the fallible and at times sinful human in the captain pulls his leg. Going beyond his interest to play the best XI, some captains may choose players of preference for reasons outside of talent. Perhaps your club member, perhaps your cousin, perhaps the school buddy or a compatriot of social elites, religious groups, races or castes. Sometimes the skipper's right to pick may have saved a Sanath Jayasuriya who could not play in the V, but some captains make a horrible mess in selecting 'his team'.

It is very hard not to interfere into team selection for the bigwig of the cricket board. Unlike the captain this is not a rightful interference but having the almighty powers of the game in a country, or imagining so, his majesty the king of the game would always make an evening phone call or watch the match with the selector and his wish will come true. After all, the selectors can never be independent of the man who "selects" them.

It is very hard not to interfere into team selection for the minister in charge. Well, he cannot pick players but he can block a selection by not approving. So there is a hidden but legitimate power in him. With that and other connections and powers of lobbying half a dozen other politicians can interfere selection. Among them there is one who only could not do a gender transition in 1978, and today, with magic of medical sector, has nothing left that (s)he cannot do. Political henchmen and relatives or sons make their way to team quite often or loose their fair selections on similar grounds. Surprisingly these politicians show an unbelievable solidarity that this influence is retained for their buddies in opposition.

It is very hard not to interfere into team selection for the regional cricket powers. To start with, most regional cricket powers even interfere school teams, and simply who can play within their locality. Despite being lesser obvious this is the dirtiest part of the selection game. This is where father's booming business can cause son's expulsion as his rival leads the regional cricket entity. Coaches may go to bed with fellow cricket candidates irrespective of gender. Money may be a reason to play, where not being a slave to one's supremacy to get sacked.

Fair or not, legitimate or under the table, these actions that interfere into selection on matters irrelevant to the skill has caused many to suffer and loose their futures, perhaps burying more Sangakkaras, Aravindas and Muralis among them. Selection interference in Sri Lanka provided enough to write a thriller of a book called Chinaman by some musician called Garfield Shehan Karunasena under the pseudonym of Shehan Karunatilake, yet many feel that his book is only about sundries of the unfair selection whereas there are centuries he missed to talk about. Anyways, for the XI chosen, there are CXXI others to talk about, and that talk around the town is perhaps the only way to regulate the selection and reduce injustice.

For that matter, as cricket fans it is very hard not to 'interfere' into team selection for folks like us. It may raise a shout such as "oh another selection pundit" or "which backyard team have you played to select a team". Agree, helmet off, but IT IS SOOO EFFING HARD NOT TO WRITE SOMETHING ON SELECTION when you saw the XI at Dambulla on last day of August 2016. Apologies before the chest-high beamer.

Sri Lanka should consider followings for ODI.

- To play a minimum of two genuine fast bowlers no matter what (test cricket may be different) because most part of ODI cricket is not spinner's game any more. If some are injured fetch others. I can name few such as Kasun Rajitha, Asitha Fernando, Vishwa Fernando, Dasun Shanaka etc who may perhaps be choices if the ones in squad are not.

- To reduce the number of all rounders in the squad. Accept the truth that we have only one complete all rounder (or very close to it) in captain. So others are all half/half players. In S Prasanna and likes even the half is questionable. Name only about two of them and that is enough. Currently we have Milinda, Sachith, Prasanna, Thissara and Dasun in round robin, none allowed to establish.

- Try to establish on at least one opener. Well the only set opener in past six seven years is chased even before his partner settled. Last thing you want is a musical chair for openers in post-Dilshan era.

- Have experience in no 6 and no 7. If possible have your best players like Angelo. Angelo's promotion in batting is not justified in ODI as he is not the most elegant in middle part. I believe SL can train a better no 5 if Angie plays no 6. Pls think of the WC Angelo, we cannot entertain individual ego, just like you may have spoken to T M Dilshan.

- Selectors should not consider cricket game plans as runaway marriages. Plan of sending Tharanga at no 7 worked so well in England. So please do not divorce your sweetly working game plan for the next bimbo who walks past you. 

I know that the interference cannot be avoided and favouring happens always. But at minimum there should be some sanity in the XI and squad. If we allow today's nonsense to continue we may play an XI of all batters all bowlers or all so called whatever percentage all rounders. Or all sons of politicians or all from one school. 

Favour you may, but don't harm the balance.