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|March 10, 2000||
Sri Lanka streets aheadHarsha Bhogle
While India and Pakistan embrace chaos, and an unbelievable ignorance of reality, Sri Lanka march ahead. More than any other Asian country, they understand the ground rules of the modern game and know where it is headed.
Four years ago they won the World Cup and shook off the little brother tag that they were, perhaps inevitably, shrouded in. They were tactically brilliant and had the players to implement ideas. They redefined the one-day game but even as they were winning the World Cup, it was apparent that the very strengths that were taking them there would come in the way of winning Test cricket.
That is why this is their second coming. They beat Australia at home but then they beat Zimbabwe as well (and remember that is something India have never done!) and now they have beaten the might of Pakistan in a home series (and when was the last time India did that?). And they have done it playing wonderfully focussed cricket.
The key to their success lies in the discipline with which they are playing cricket. Strangely, it has rarely been a strength with them for earlier successes were built around the brilliance of some extraordinarily talented people. The talent is still there but it does not erupt and extinguish itself and nowhere is there more apparent than in the manner in which they bowled at Peshawar.
Saeed Anwar had put them, in itself a baffling decision, and aware of the fact that Muralitharan could win them the Test match, the entire team played around him. Atapattu in the first innings and Russel Arnold in the second laid anchor and everybody contributed. Then the bowlers took over. Murali apart, there wasn't a bowler in that team that would cause a batsman to lose sleep. But they bowled a wonderful line, rarely gave the batsmen room to play shots and inevitably, a combination of impatience and Murali at the other end got them.
You could see the thought process at work. These were simple hardworking men doing the job they had been told to do. Chaminda Vaas did not try to be Wasim Akram, Wickremasinghe had no illusions of being a Donald and very often, when you understand yourself, you achieve success.
You could see the work ethic behind it and you could see the hand of Dav Whatmore guiding them along. "You have to be able to do more than your basic skill" he said and that is what Sri Lanka did as they fielded and played cricket with purpose. And they were led by a modest man; a man who can bludgeon the ball and yet be humble about it.
Watching the Whatmore-Jayasuriya combination you realise that cricket is as much about boundaries and wickets as it is about giving players an identity and putting them in the right frame of mind to perform.
They are also the fittest side on the sub-continent and the difference in standards between them and India and Pakistan is quite obvious. It is something that is very difficult to understand because, even to the untrained eye, that is the way forward in world cricket. And yet, two of the major powers in world cricket seem to close their eyes. It is bizarre.
Sri Lanka have proven in Pakistan that they are quite happy to embrace the four modern pillars of international cricket: discipline, fitness, a work ethic and a strong game plan. They have realised, while India and Pakistan haven't, that the era of great match-winners coming and blasting the opposition out is over. And so, Sri Lanka have forsaken the flair that inevitably characterised their cricket, in favour of a more industrious approach.
It is interesting isn't it? The teams that are moving ahead in Test cricket, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, have coaches that are rarely seen and rarely heard; people who do the background work; who work with paper and pencil, or computer, as much as they work with a bat and a ball; who are intelligent beyond the game.
The likes of Kapil Dev and Javed Miandad have some great skills; when they speak people listen; they probably have it in them to motivate cricketers but is coaching a modern international side more than just that?
Weren't the three top coaches of the nineties, Bob Woolmer, Dave Whatmore and Steve Rixon? People with a strong work ethic and a commitment to discipline? These were people who turned struggling teams around much like Bob Simpson did with Australia in the eighties.
Maybe that is the way ahead for India and Pakistan.
Mail Prem Panicker
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