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Sri Lanka sinks to their lowest

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Less than a month back, Sri Lanka had achieved a stunning heist by beating tournament favourites India in a Champions Trophy league match in England. The win was seen as a catalyst for the rise of this Sri Lankan team, which has been in transition for some time now. Barely a month later, though, and the island nation is recuperating from one of the most humiliating chapters in their cricket history. 

A 3-2 ODI series loss to the 11th ranked Zimbabwe at home has left Sri Lanka deeply embarrassed and in immediate need for some thorough soul searching. Prior to this series, Zimbabwe had not won even a single match in any format in Sri Lanka and were going through their own lows. But somehow, they managed to play better cricket than the hosts and thwarted them at home to create history.

In the immediate aftermath of this crushing defeat, Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews has chosen to step down from his captaincy role.

 

It's one of the lowest points in my career, and a hard one to swallow,

 

Mathews was quoted as saying to the press after he made the announcement.

Sri Lanka will now have to pull themselves up real quick as they have to face much stronger opponents than Zimbabwe in the coming months and further slip ups like this may cost them dear.

When losing becomes a habit

Shocking as it was, the ODI series loss to Zimbabwe was not an aberration for Sri Lanka. Over the past couple of years, their performance in the limited overs format has really slipped.

Sri Lanka have now gone three consecutive home ODI series without a win. They lost 1-4 to Australia last year and drew 1-1 with Bangladesh earlier this year before losing 2-3 to Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka's win-loss record in ODIs in 2017 currently stands at a horrible 4-11, making their win-loss ratio of 0.363 their third-worst in a calendar year with 15 or more ODIs. Only in the years 1985 and 1988 had Sri Lanka got a poorer win-loss ratio. Those were times when Sri Lanka still hadn’t made a mark in international cricket. To have had such a poor performance now speaks volumes of how much they have declined in the shorter format.

The descent began after Sri Lankan legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara bid the game adieu. This became evident after the 2015 World Cup. Since then, they have won just three ODI series – one against West Indies, one against Ireland and a tri-series that involved West Indies and Zimbabwe–and have lost home series against Pakistan, Australia and now Zimbabwe, while losing against New Zealand, England and South Africa in away ODI series.

 

The defeat against, Zimbabwe, however, will sting Sri Lanka the most. Even when they were going through indifferent form as a team over the past couple of decades, Sri Lanka were known for ruthlessly annihilating lower-ranked teams. Losing this series against Zimbabwe will haunt Sri Lanka for some time to come.

 

What lies ahead?

With this loss, Sri Lanka now stares at the prospect of being forced to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales. The top eight ranked sides will get direct entry to the event and the remaining teams will have to go through a qualification tournament, where the best two sides will then get the opportunity to participate in the World Cup. Currently ranked 8th in the world, Sri Lanka might slip further and the 1996 world champions may well have to go through that qualification tournament if things do not improve.

At present, Sri Lanka has to straighten out a few things immediately. Though they have a pool of talented young players for the future, their biggest bane is inconsistency. Batsmen like Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella have been brilliant in patches and frustratingly mediocre in most situations. 

And while Lasith Malinga has been extremely patchy and clearly on the wane, Sri Lanka does have other exciting options in fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep, off-spinner Akila Dananjaya and chinaman Lakshan Sandakan, who can take the bowling unit ahead. But the problem is their ability to remain consistent performers.

Once considered a fantastic fielding unit, Sri Lanka’s fielding has also deteriorated drastically. Repeated fielding errors and regular dropped catches have become a norm of this unit. Had they fielded better in the Champions Trophy, Sri Lanka would have been the semi-finalists.

Former captain Angelo Mathews had been pretty ordinary with strange bowling choices and field settings that hurt the team frequently. With him stepping down, Sri Lanka will now also need to find an able leader to guide them through these tough times very quickly. 

 

Another aspect that Sri Lankan cricket needs to sort out is getting their selectors to do the job astutely. The current chief selector, Sanath Jayasuriya, has fielded 39 ODI players in the last twelve months or so. That is just absurd and means that there is a growing list of young players who are being dealt with inconsiderately.

 

Then there is also the matter of the selection of the head coach of Sri Lanka, which has been handled quite bizarrely in recent times. Over the last few years itself, names like Trevor Bayliss, Stuart Law, Rumesh Ratnayake, Geoff Marsh, Graham Ford, Paul Farbrace, Marvan Atapattu, Jerome Jayaratne and Nic Pothas have made way as the head coach of the Sri Lankan side. This reeks of clear instability in the selection department and a reluctance to give one man a long enough leash to understand the dynamics of the team properly.

Clearly Sri Lankan cricket has issues galore at present. They would have to tick a lot of boxes to bring themselves out of this ebb and come back to their winning ways. The team is in desperate need of a proper guiding hand and the players simply must stick their hands up and be more accountable. Currently, the unit appears to be plagued with insecurity and uncertainty. 

Tough times lie ahead for Sri Lanka. It will be interesting to see if and how they claw their way back up.

 

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