Another lean year for cricket – hope for 2020? | Daily News

Another lean year for cricket – hope for 2020?

It was another lean year for cricket with Sri Lanka hardly showing signs of lifting themselves from the depths of despair they have sunk to at international level. In another troubled year for the sport’s controlling body, Sri Lanka Cricket eventually managed to terminate the services of head coach Chandika Hathurusingha and replace him with South African Mickey Arthur towards the end of the year with the hope that he could turn the fortunes of the national team into a winning one in all three formats during his two-year tenure. Hathurusingha however largely remained in the background with a legal battle between him and SLC expected to ensue in the coming year. Arthur a no-nonsense type of coach who’s had success with South Africa and Pakistan has a big task ahead of him of trying to uplift the performance of a team loaded with talent but lacking the mental toughness to compete with high caliber teams like Australia, India. England and New Zealand. Inconsistency has been a key factor in Sri Lanka’s performances throughout the year. There was only one bright spark in each of the three formats they played – a historic 2-0 Test win in South Africa, making Sri Lanka the only country from Asia and third overall to win a Test series in the rainbow nation, a 3-0 ODI whitewash of Bangladesh at home soon after a disappointing 2019 World Cup campaign and a 3-0 whitewash of the number one ranked T20I team Pakistan on their own soil. Apart from these three highlights there was hardly any worthwhile performances to crow about. Sri Lanka finished 2019 ranked sixth in Tests, eighth in ODIs and seventh in T20Is. To add to that disappointment, the World T20 champs of 2014 and two-time finalists of 2009 and 2012 has suffered the ignominy of having to qualify for a place in the Super 12s stage of the 2020 World T20 in Australia failing to finish within the top eight ranked sides as at 21 December 2018, the cut-off date for qualification.

However everything was not as gloomy as it was, for off the field Sri Lanka had the proud distinction of having one of its former captains Kumar Sangakkara appointed the first non-British president of the MCC from October 1, 2019.

Test skipper Dimuth Karunaratne was the leading run-getter for Sri Lanka in Tests with 527 runs (avg. 35.13) from 8 matches. Kusal Perera the leading scorer in ODIs with 646 runs (avg. 43.06) and a strike rate of nearly 100 (99.84) failed to retain his Test place despite playing a heroic match-winning knock of 153 not out in Sri Lanka’s historic run-chase against South Africa at Durban. That was to remain Sri Lanka’s highest individual score in Tests for the year that featured only five hundreds. Not surprisingly all-rounder Isuru Udana was the top batter in T20Is with 185 runs which included the highest individual score made by a Sri Lankan batsman for the year – 84 not out batting at no. 8 against South Africa at the Centurion. Sri Lanka’s problems largely lay in the failure of the top order to contribute.

The bowling fell woefully short of experience but with some promise for the future with two youngsters Vishwa Fernando (left-arm fast-medium) and Lasith Embuldeniya (left-arm spin) ending with 18 and 17 wickets respectively from five Tests apiece. In the white ball formats (ODI and T20I) veteran fast bowler Lasith Malinga continued to be the country’s leading strike bowler capturing 27 wickets and 14 wickets respectively in the two formats. Malinga announced his retirement from ODI cricket during the home series against Bangladesh ending a colourful career with a haul of 338 wickets making him the third highest wicket-taker for his country after Muthiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, but continued playing T20Is showcasing his prowess in the shortest format by becoming the first Sri Lankan bowler to take 100 wickets and performing the rare feat of taking four wickets in four balls (in both ODIs and T20Is) on his way to astonishing figures of 5 for 6 whilst demolishing New Zealand at Pallekele.

Sri Lanka also gave hope for international cricket to resume in Pakistan by making two tours to that country for one-day matches and then for Test matches with both tours taking place without any untoward incidents. Ironically it was the attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore by gunmen ten years ago that led to Pakistan being isolated by all countries for tours.

The year also saw two Sri Lankan bowlers Nuwan Kulasekera and Ajantha Mendis announce their retirements from international cricket and spinner Akila Dananjaya being banned from bowling in international cricket for 12 months because of an illegal bowling action. On the inverse former Sri Lanka captain and World Cup hero of 1996 Sanath Jayasuriya became a high profile cricketer to be banned by the ICC anti-corruption unit for two years from all cricket-related activity for refusing to co-operate with investigations concerning corruption in the country. Further, two Sri Lankan coaches Avishka Gunawardene and Nuwan Zoysa were both suspended on corruption charges related to the T10 tournament held in UAE in 2017.

In a bid to stamp out match-fixing in sports a historical bill was passed in Parliament in November making Sri Lanka the first South Asian nation to criminalise offences related to match-fixing and carrying a prison term of upto ten years as well as various fines. This led to Thilanga Sumathipala, a former president of SLC being banned from cricket and holding any position in the controlling body because of his alleged involvement in the betting and gambling business. However one of Sumathipala’s close associates Shammi Silva became president by coincidence beating Jayantha Dharmadasa by 27 votes. How well he can steer the SLC administration and the country’s cricket remains to be seen in his two-year term in office.

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