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A laughing stock

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by Rex Clementine

We were a nation that reinvented how the one-day game was played. Our players were so skilful that they dominated the sport particularly in the white ball formats. Many are the careers that Sanath Jayasuriya ended with his brutal hitting. Many were the games that ended before noon after Chaminda Vaas ran through the top order. Many were the series that Sri Lanka won with a game to spare and then half a dozen seniors were rested for the dead rubber blooding in some promising youngsters. Today, England, the perennial underachievers in limited overs cricket are giving us a taste of our own medicine.

Not even during the nation’s formative years in the sport in 1980s, Sri Lanka suffered such ignominious defeats. Losing is part of the game, but what has been worrying is the manner in which Sri Lanka lost, unable to find the boundary in the Power Plays and unable to bat out the full quota of 20 overs. Surely, a school team would show more character and courage than this.

To make matters worse, the players are adamant that they will not sign central contracts. Four of them who were supposed to attend a residential training camp in Dambulla ahead of the India series were sent home on Saturday for their stubbornness.

England are the defending champions in the 50 over game and world’s number one ranked team in the 20 over format, not many fans expected Kusal Perera’s side return victorious when they went to UK. But at least, it was expected the team will put up a fight. The batting display they put up throughout the series was shocking to say the least. In England, you expect a team to improve on their batting performances as they spend more time on tour. Sri Lankan batting went on the reverse faring worse every game.

Batting has been a concern for some time now no doubt. There have been various excuses given over the last six months but it is tough to imagine how Grant Flower, the Batting Coach, will survive this debacle. When put under pressure, the options that the batsmen took were simply no good.

What’s more shocking is that coaches like Mickey Arthur and Tom Moody, who have been in the business for long enough now have failed to address tactical issues. The buck, however, should not stop with Flower, Arthur or Moody. We need to take a serious look at things.

Oshada Fernando has been one of our best finds in the last five years. But for god’s sake, he’s a solid Test match player. Why on earth would you expect him to convert his Test match successes in the T-20 format? The excuse that’s going to be given is that Oshada came in only because Avishka Fernando was injured. That’s correct but should you not have enough T-20 cricketers as back up especially now that you are carrying an extended squad.

To add insult to injury, Oshada was coming in when the Power Play was on. Now this is an area that you have been badly exposed earlier in the series and should you be not sending in someone who can clear the boundary? Sri Lanka played a brand of cricket making most of the fielding restrictions two and half decades ago. Today, our players are struggling to find the boundary. For Sanath Jayasuriya, hitting five boundaries in an over was something that he did frequently. Today, our entire team put together is not able to hit six boundaries in 20 overs.

It was clearly evident that Oshada did not belong there. Into the bargain, he’s also an average fielder and a poor runner between the wickets. Another person who doesn’t belong in T-20 format is Dhananjaya de Silva. Surely, we have seen enough of these players to know that in what format they are good at. But how come the decision makers aren’t so sure of these?

When Bhanuka Rajapaksa gets his act together and passes the fitness tests, Sri Lanka will have lesser headaches perhaps. Another guy who has to be seriously looked at for the T-20 format is Sadeera Samarawickrama. His attitude, work ethic and skill set were so good when he toured India and UAE in 2017. But ever since, he has not got a look in.

Here are some of the bigger issues that need to be addressed by all concerned. When the system was given a shake up with as many as six seniors axed from the white ball team, it was a welcome move as change was long overdue. However, the choice of captain was rather perplexing. Now, KJP is one of the nicest guys you will find in cricket. He minds his own business and not a social media warrior which most of our young players are. But he’s also an introvert. You have taken the tough decision of axing all your senior players, but then, how come you give flimsy reasons like that KJP is the only guy who is sure of a place in the side when handing him the captaincy? At one point you are being bold and few minutes later you are extra cautious.

Surely, there’s Dasun Shanaka who dethroned Pakistan as world’s number one ranked team in T-20s not so long ago. Why wasn’t he given the job back? Mysterious indeed. The first thing that KJP does after being appointed captain is to say that he is going to keep wickets. That put Niroshan Dickwella out of the side. Now, we are told that Dickwella was offered a top contract because he features in all three formats. Are these people taking us for a ride?

There are many changes that have happened in cricket and some of them are welcoming moves. But something that authorities are unable to do is changing the domestic structure. The moment we say this, the clubs are on war path. They treat the press like the plague. Provincial or club cricket, our elite domestic tournament can’t have two dozen teams. The rot started there. It was increased to please member clubs in 2016. Since then, our cricket has suffered new lows.



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Dominant Zverev wins second Italian Open title

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Alexander Zverev won his last Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati in 2021 (BBC)

Alexander Zverev produced a dominant serving display to clinch a straight sets victory over Nicolas Jarry and claim his second Italian Open title.

The German third seed dropped just five points on serve in a 6-4 7-5 win to seal a sixth Masters 1000 crown.

Zverev will now move up a place to fourth in the world rankings and served a warning to his rivals ahead of the French Open, which begins on 26 May.

But he said: “The focus is on Paris for sure, but let me enjoy this one for a few days first.  “Rome is a very special place for me. Obviously it’s a very, very special week.”

Chilean Jarry was competing in his first final at this level.

The world number 24 had knocked out sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals, but while he battled hard to stay in the match he had no answer to his opponent’s arrow-like serve, as Zverev landed 80% of his first serves in.

“He’s playing huge,” said Zverev of his opponent, who also beat America’s Tommy Paul en route to the final.  “I can see by the opponents he has beaten this week, that he is playing incredible tennis.  “I told him that if he carries on playing like that then he is going to have many more titles at this level.”

(BBC)

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Rajasthan Royals consigned to Eliminator after washout in Guwahati leaves them third

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There was a toss late in the evening, but there was no play (BCCI)

Rain in Guwahati denied hosts Rajasthan Royals a shot at a top-two finish in the final league fixture of IPL 2024. The game was abandoned, without a ball being bowled, at around 10.50pm local time, meaning RR ended the league phase with four losses in a row, followed by this washout, to finish third with 17 points.

Sunrisers Hyderabad also had 17 points, having successfully chased down 215 against a severely depleted Punjab Kings side earlier in the day, but they stayed second, thanks to a superior net run-rate. Pat Cummins’ SRH will now face table-toppers Kolkata Knight Riders in the first qualifier in Ahmedabad on May 21. As for Royals, they will run into a red-hot Royal Challengers Bangalore side, which is on a six-match winning streak, in the Eliminator the next day at the same venue.

KKR’s players might have to rock up cold in the playoffs, with their last two league games having been abandoned without a ball being bowled. Especially Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Phil Salt’s potential replacement, who is yet to play his first game this IPL. His last outing with the bat was for Afghanistan in mid March.

Royals have similar concerns around their overseas players. Their finisher Shimron Hetmyer was originally deemed fit for Monday’s fixture, but eventually didn’t make it to the XI or the Impact subs bench, with RR captain Sanju Samson suggesting that they had to make some last-minute changes to their team.

Hetmyer hasn’t played since failing to finish a tense chase against SRH along with Rovman Powell on May 2. Tom Kohler-Cadmore, who is somewhat of a like-for-like replacement for Jos Buttler, had a fairly rough initiation into the IPL, managing 18 off 23 balls against Punjab Kings in much drier conditions in Guwahati on May 15.

The Guwahati surface was under covers for the most of Monday evening before the rain briefly relented to allow the toss for a seven-over shootout, which was scheduled to restart at 10.45pm local time. However, soon after KKR won the toss and chose to bowl, the rain returned to force a damp end to the league phase.

(Cricinfo)

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Silverwood’s final hurrah

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Looking back at his tenure as Sri Lanka’s Head Coach, you would notice that the team won the Asia Cup under his watch. There were other highlights like squaring a Test series against Australia and beating the same opponents in an ODI series.

by Rex Clementine

The team that has won most County Championships in England is Yorkshire. Generally, Yorkshire’s players are snobbish often blowing their own trumpets and looking down upon others. But Chris Silverwood, Sri Lanka’s Head Coach, has been the complete contrast. A friendly, unassuming man, Silverwood hardly gives you the impression that he was a former fast bowler; that too from Yorkshire. He has been very passionate about his coaching and has embraced the Sri Lankan culture. More than anything, he is a good man.

While the coaching staff of the national cricket team was completely overhauled after last year’s World Cup debacle, Silverwood survived.

Having got an extension till the World Cup in the United States and Caribbean, the upcoming tournament will be his swansong. Will there be a final hurrah for Silverwood?

With Mickey Arthur done with Sri Lanka two years ago, when one of our former captains was entrusted the job of head hunting a successor for Arthur, he opted for Englishman Paul Farbrace. There was bad history between Farbrace and SLC as he had abandoned the team after just a few months into his stint in 2014. That he walked straight into the England dressing room as Assistant Coach from the Sri Lankan dressing room as Head Coach with a tour of England on the cards was a bitter pill to swallow. Farbrace abandoned Sri Lanka a second time too and then it was decided to settle for Silverwood.

Silverwood had been England’s Head Coach but was sacked after the disastrous Ashes tour. When a coach is sacked, the last thing he would want to do is to take up another struggling team. If things went south with the new team, that would be very bad to the reputation of the coach. Silverwood, however, took up the challenge.

Looking back at his tenure as Sri Lanka’s Head Coach, you would notice that the team won the Asia Cup under his watch. There were other highlights like squaring a Test series against Australia and beating the same opponents in an ODI series. But on paper, by and large, you would declare that his tenure wasn’t an overwhelmingly successful one. However, you need to look beyond results.

Despite the drawbacks, one thing that has stood out well for Sri Lanka in the last two years is fast bowling. That’s credit to Silverwood for bringing the best out of some young quicks that Sri Lanka have introduced in recent years.

The team also has had several discipline issues over the years and fitness has been a major concern. There is so much a coach can do at the highest level and the initiative has to come from the players themselves. You can only take a horse to the water. You can’t make it drink.

There’s another school of thought that a team that had so many discipline issues needed someone in the mold of Tom Moody, a taskmaster as Head Coach and not the nice guy in Silverwood. But in his own imitable style, Silverwood has groomed the team well giving young players confidence and backing the ones that had impressed him to the hilt. He deserves to go out on a high note.

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