2017 a bruising one for Sri Lanka cricket | Daily News
The year that was

2017 a bruising one for Sri Lanka cricket

Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne
Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne

What has happened has happened it is no use dwelling into the past and regretting of what might have been. One has to look at the positive side of things and keep moving. In that context the year 2017 is something that Sri Lanka cricket should quickly forget and put behind and hope that 2018 will be a rosy one for them.

Since winning the Cricket World Cup in 1996, the past year has been the worst that Sri Lanka has ever gone through in international cricket. No one ever thought that Sri Lanka cricket could fall to such despicable levels that it came to a point where people who followed cricket were so frustrated and angry that they simply switched off their TV sets or changed to a different channel rather than watch a team wilt and go down without a fight time and time again.

Dilruwan Perera

The departures of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilhan and the fading performance of Lasith Malinga as a potent match winning fast bowler over the past two years had a telling effect on the team as the replacements tried out could not match up to the class of the four and subsequently the performances suffered. It has been a gradual decline of the performances since the 2015 World Cup when the two big guns Mahela and Sanga decided to quit international cricket. The culmination of it was 2017.

It is no surprise that Sri Lanka’s bane for the losses was their batting. What, with Mahela, Sanga and Dilshan all match winning performers missing from the line up the batting struggled to come to terms especially in the one-day format and the failure to run up competitive totals left the bowlers with a hard task of trying to contain world class batting line ups.

The consistent chopping and changing of players (some of them due to injuries and others due to cricket politics) and captains had an adverse effect on the overall performance of the team.

For the record Sri Lanka fielded 36 players in ODIs, 23 players in Tests and 31 players in T20Is during the year which is the highest by any country for all three formats in 2017.

So it was no surprise to see Sri Lanka ending 2017 with a dismal record of 23 defeats from 29 ODI matches with only five wins to show for the entire year. It came to a point at one stage that Sri Lanka were in danger of having to qualify for the 2019 Cricket World Cup – something they have never experienced since 1979, but thankfully to West Indies who were the only team that could have put them in such an embarrassing position, Sri Lanka were denied of that humiliation. West Indies had to beat Ireland and England to rank above Sri Lanka but they failed.

Even in T20 internationals where they were once the world champions not so long ago, Sri Lanka faltered badly suffering 10 defeats from 15 matches. They began the year promisingly with surprise 2-1 series wins in South Africa and in Australia but fell away in the remaining nine matches to record just one win.

Sri Lanka’s performance in the Tests was not as bad as that as in the one-day game. Although they suffered two 3-0 whitewashes at the hands of South Africa and India and a maiden Test loss to Bangladesh handing to them a rare win in their 100th Test, Sri Lanka stunned Steve Smith’s Australians with a rare 3-0 whitewash of the series at home and followed it up with another 2-0 whitewash of Pakistan handing to the hosts their first series defeat in the UAE.

Apart from these two Test victories, Sri Lanka had only an unexpected win over India in the Champions trophy and another win in the first ODI at Dharamsala also against India to show in what was a terrible year. The most talked about and much publicised moment of the year was the sitter dropped by Thisara Perera off Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed in a crucial quarterfinal match that denied Sri Lanka a place in the semi-final and allowed Pakistan to go and win the Champions trophy beating India in the final.

The absolute nadir for Sri Lanka cricket came when they lost the five-match ODI series to Zimbabwe for the first time that resulted in Angelo Mathews stepping down from the captaincy across all formats.

Amidst all this onfield gloom Sri Lanka won accolades when they took international cricket back to Pakistan by sending their national team to play the third T20 international of a three-match series in Lahore – the venue of a terrorist attack on their team bus in 2009, an incident that brought to an end international tours to Pakistan. Amidst tight security the match went ahead without any incident and it issued to the ICC a strong statement that it was now safe for cricket to resume regularly in Pakistan. How other non-Asian countries would view it was a matter of conjecture.

Everything looked rosy for Sri Lanka at the beginning of the year when Graham Ford came on board for a second stint with the national team. But his tenure was soon cut short the moment Sri Lanka Cricket appointed former World Cup star Asanka Gurusinha as the cricket manager of the team. Ford had differences with Gurusinha and the relationship soon ended with Ford quietly making his exit without much fanfare at the end of the Champions trophy. Sri Lanka were left without a head coach for the next seven months and had to manage with their fielding coach Nic Pothas who was elevated to interim head coach. With the limited knowledge he had of handling a national team Pothas somewhat managed to keep the team afloat despite the mounting losses until Sri Lanka Cricket eventually found a permanent head coach in former Sri Lanka cricketer Chandika Hathurusingha whose arrival has renewed hopes of a much needed team revival for 2018.

Individually in the Test arena Dimuth Karunaratne and skipper Dinesh Chandimal showed consistency in their batting each reaching 1000 runs in the calendar year, while in the fifty-over format Upul Tharanga achieved a similar milestone. In the bowling the improvement of Suranga Lakmal as the spearhead of the bowling attack in Tests and ODIs was a redeeming feature. Veteran spinner Rangana Herath continued to churn out Test victories for Sri Lanka but at 39 his days are numbered as a regular Test player finding it difficult to continue playing three-Test series as the demands on his body and recovery period gets getting longer.

The biggest disappointment was the fading form of Lasith Malinga who could not produce the pace that made him a feared one-day bowler.

Of the individual performances Kusal Mendis’ two outstanding knocks 176 against Australia and 194 against Bangladesh marked him as a player for the big occasion, Niroshan Dickwella continued to impress and depress with his approach to batting. With Danushka Gunathilaka he figured in two back to back double century opening partnerships against Zimbabwe in ODIs. Mendis and Dickwella are the players to watch in 2018. 


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