Just a pale shadow of their past

MAVERICK: Kusal Perera is a bright talent, keeping Sri Lanka's rich batting tradition going. AFP

Triumphant tales of the unfancied leave a lasting impression. Sri Lanka, going into in the Wills World Cup 1996, weren't among the favourites to win the title. But on the night of March 17 when captain Arjuna Ranatunga lifted the trophy in Lahore – the epochal moment of Sri Lankan cricket – the game had welcomed another powerhouse.

Since their first and only World Cup triumph, Sri Lanka have entered one semifinal (2003) and two finals (2007 and 2011). And along that journey, the Island nation has produced a bunch of world class cricketers.

Sri Lanka found fitting replacements for their inspirational duo of Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva in Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Be it the extraordinary talents in Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga or some of game’s purest operators in Marvan Attapattu, Roshan Mahanama and Chaminda Vaas, wonderful variety powered the Lankans.  

However, dominance isn’t permanent. In cricket, no team more than the West Indies has suffered from this harsh reality. Sri Lanka’s progress in the recent times has been described as ‘a side that’s heading the West Indies way’. Ranked ninth in the world, Sri Lanka appear a team desperately hoping to revive their glorious past.

Ahead of a huge event, it’s important to understand the mood around a team. Sri Lankan cricket is at its all-time low. Their World Cup preparations have been marred by an array of problems. Issues in administration rocked the sport last year with multiple postponements of elections turning into a legal mess.

Corruption and match-fixing charges, especially on the big names, reflect the sad state of affairs and set a poor precedent to the current generation. Jayasuriya is banned from all cricketing activities for two years for failing to cooperate with a probe into corruption. Former internationals Nuwan Zoyasa and Avishka Gunawardene were recently charged with match-fixing by the ICC.

Harmony is the need of the hour for the Lankans. But blame game has become the order of the day. “I don’t watch Sri Lankan cricket anymore. It is run by people with bad reputation,” Ranatunga had said two years ago. “Sri Lankan cricket lacks credibility,” Muralitharan had said last year.  

A chaotic atmosphere has hit the team’s performance on the field. Owing to poor domestic structure, Sri Lanka are yet to fill the Sanga-Mahela void. The team has had multiple overhauls at the management levels due to bizarre decisions from the selection management. Coaches have come and gone. Captains have been named and dropped. As a result, Sri Lanka haven’t found their core for the World Cup and it's not a surprise that they haven't won a single ODI series from 2017.

In England, the 15-member squad led by left-handed batsman Dimuth Karunaratne, has proven match-winners in Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Thisara Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne and Kusal Perera. The experienced ones will need support from the emerging ones.

Unity is strength and it’s a cliché hard to dispute in the case of Sri Lanka. They might not have the experience of the 1996 batch but they must learn to click as a unit like Ranatunga's men did. The World Cup will prove if the Lankans have the mental strength to succeed at the top. They have to rouse themselves to play with passion. It's their chance to regain lost respect.

The squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Dhananjaya de Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Avishka Fernando, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Mendis, Jeevan Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Milinda Siriwardena, Lahiru Thirimanne, Isuru Udana, Jeffey Vandersay.

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