By Russel Arnold
After such a long and tough tour of India the prospect of playing India again might not have been very appetising for the boys as the New Year dawned, but to their great credit a young team showed huge character in Bangladesh and rose to the challenge brilliantly. Most importantly, Sri Lanka’s rebuilding process showed real signs of progress.
As Sanga rightly said afterwards, one win does not make the year, but it was definitely a very positive start to 2010 for the ODI team. The performances of the some of the younger brigade were really encouraging as we all look forward to the all-important 2011 World cup that is looming fast on the horizon.
Critics may point out that the tournament was undermined by the dew making life so difficult for the side fielding second. It is true that Sanga winning every single toss was a huge bonus, no doubt. But no one can claim that the result in the final was dew-affected. Sri Lanka won fair and square with a fine performance from their bowlers.
For me, Thissera Perera and Suraj Randiv were the silver linings. Thissera grabbed the opportunity provided by Angelo’s absence, showing plenty of flair and guts for someone so inexperienced. Suraj, meanwhile, showed amazing consistency. He gives it a tweak and his short bowling stride also helps him get bounce.
It is not by chance that we have seen so many youngsters walking into the national team and bringing smiles on so many faces. Lots of credit must go to the coaches of the various SLC training, academy and development squads there today. The level of skill and confidence has been outstanding and the availability of good guidance as well as access to good training facilities has been key.
Although not originally a fan of the many training squads around, with hindsight I do agree that the ploy has proved positive. To up the standard further it is now very important we have a strong competitive domestic structure in place. I am looking forward to the forthcoming Provincial Tournament and hope it will be taken serious by all the players.
I also agree that the decision to extend SLC playing contracts to a wider pool of cricketers has also paid off. Cricketers need to earn a living just like anyone else in the world. By giving greater security the cricket board has helped players focus on their training and improving their skill levels. While not all contracted players will end up in the national team, the rising skill levels help raise the quality of domestic cricket and therefore indirectly uplift the standard of Sri Lanka’s cricket.
Looking forward to the 2011 World Cup, I feel it is important that some of the senior players missing in Bangladesh are back in the team and firing on all cylinders. I hope a rest for Murali will help get him back into top shape while Lasith (Malinga) and Ajantha (Mendis) have plenty to work on in the coming weeks and months. If Lasith and Ajantha can return to their best – and I strongly believe they can with hard work and self belief – then it will give the team some x-factor.
In the batting department, I was glad to see Chamara Silva back in the fray and it was really disappointing to see him return home early. He is a quality middle order player, especially in the subcontinent where his prowess against spin is so valuable. He is also a natural in the field. He has the flair and the experience to make a difference in big tournaments.
Although (Thilina) Kandamby did not have a great tournament, he also has my backing to be in the thick of things. He has many similarities to Arjuna, especially a cool head and the ability to finish off games. I think the burden of expectation might have worn him down a little, as it does many, but he’ll bounce back.
Great, too, to see Mahela (Jayawardene) scoring runs at crucial times. There is no doubt in my mind that he has a crucial role to play going forward. The question is where is it best for him to bat with this current team. He’ll hate me for saying this, but I feel he should move down the order a bit so he can use all his experience and expertise to get us over the line when it matters.
In terms of the all rounders, I’d like to see Farveez Maharoof back to full fitness. The rise of Angelo and Thissera has created healthy competition and the pressure on each to perform will be healthy. If Maharoof is bowling really well then he could even bat an No 8 and add great depth to our batting, as well as flexibility in terms of best utilising the Powerplays.
The Asia Cup is next for the ODI team and we can be confident that we will have an almost full strength squad to pick from, which will be a great test and also an opportunity to wrestle back that tag of being difficult to beat at home which we have surrendered of late.