Is there a jinx on our cricket?

by Mahinda Wijesinghe

At the end of the second Test against India, the image of Sri Lanka cricket is wallowing in the doldrums – possibly as never before.

In the current Test rankings (as at August 7) Sri Lanka is at No.7 – out of 10 teams. In the ODI rankings we are at No. 8 out of 12 participating teams, and finally, in the T20 competition Sri Lanka is ranked No.8 out of 18 teams. The only Test-playing nations below Sri Lanka are Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Then add on the results of the two past Tests against India: lost the first Test at Galle by 304 runs which, by the way, is the highest win by India against Sri Lanka in terms of runs. In the second Test, India swamped us by an innings and 53 runs. Both games did not go the full distance and on each occasion the visitors made totals of 600 runs or more. Previously, Zimbabwe won the ODI series 3-2 and, made Sri Lanka sweat very hard to win the single Test. A glaring error by an umpire did not help the fighting Zimbabweans cause either.

Admittedly, this situation does not portray a pretty picture of where Sri Lanka Cricket is heading from the heady heights which our cricket previously was. Unless this situation is arrested sooner than later our hopes of even qualifying for the upcoming World Cup in 2019 may be in serious jeopardy.

With the third Test in the offing what can Sri Lanka do, at least, to minimize the continuing seemingly one-sided Test to be played at Pallekelle? Let us wish the Sri Lanka think-tank the best. Injuries to pacemen Suranga Lakmal (strained back), Dhammika Prasad (shoulder complaint) and the inability of former all-rounder and skipper, Angelo Mathews, to bowl due to a recurring hamstring problem adds to the Sri Lankan woes since the already weak bowling attack would be one seamer short.

In mitigation, it must be conceded that skipper Chandimal was not fit to play due to illness in the first Test at Galle. Normally a spinners’ pitch – and Herath’s happy hunting ground – yet, the Sri Lankan spinners made no impact. The Indian batsmen used their feet – as the visitors cruised to 600 runs at a rollicking 4.58 runs per over. Only right-arm paceman Nuwan Pradeep kept picking up wickets and ended with 6/132. Finally he too fell a victim to injury at the SSC Test.

Now comes the strangest of the jinxes. The Selection Committee in their wisdom (!) strengthened the spin department by picking debutant left-arm spinner Pushpakumara to support Herath and Dilruwan Perera for the SSC Test. The result? The three spinners conceded a colossal 457 runs and picked seven wickets as the Indians made over 600 runs. As in the first Test, the Indian batsmen used their feet judiciously to play our spinners.

Historically, the SSC pitch is normally a batsmen’s paradise, at least during the first three or four days of a Test match; so why pick an additional spinner? However, it appeared that the prepared pitch was not the usual SSC strip. After all, the selectors would otherwise have not picked an extra spinner! Obviously the ploy backfired. As skipper Chandimal said at the end of the game: "We expected our spinners to make a bigger impact." On the other hand, the India spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja turned the ball square on day two as Sri Lanka crashed in the first innings for a paltry 183 runs in the 50th over. As the saying goes: "One cannot fight a canon with a catapult."

The Sri Lankan batsmen salvaged some pride in the second innings when Karunaratne and Mendis made centuries in a defiant 191-run partnership and minimized the loss but it was too late.

The latest jinx to hit Sri Lanka cricket is the absence of 39-year old Herath for the Pallekelle Test due to injury, mainly due to a heavy work-load. Of course Herath has not enjoyed this series. The five wickets he had captured in the two Tests after having bowled 91 overs had cost him 347 runs! Most of those victims did not come from the top-half of the Indian batting order either.

It is high time that medical specialists/physiotherapists consulted who can ensure the prevention of so many injuries, especially to our pacemen, on a long-term basis. The selectors must make every effort to develop spinners who can SPIN and not ROLL the ball. The only promising spinner in the horizon at this stage is Lakshan Sandakan.

This reminds me of, possibly, a rhetorical story. The Ceylon team had gone on a tour of India under skipper Sargo Jayawickrema around 70 years ago. In the morning before the game the skipper went across to inspect the pitch followed by the spinner of the side. The latter prodded the pitch very carefully and announces to his skipper: "You know Sargo, I feel the pitch will take spin." And, the skipper replies: "But who is there to produce the spin?" Touche!

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