Since sport became the central subject in Parliament and hogged the debate-calendar, no excuses are made here about contributing an op-ed about cricket.
Much has been said already about the subject, and the cricket administration and the team have both come in for flak in general. The issue of cricket administration is a minefield. Opinions can be offered on this aspect, but no prizes for guessing why people are circumspect.
Who wants to open that can of worms? But the players are part of the game, and the press-conference after the match with the entire team in attendance was quite the spectacle.
Though the coaching staff are not in the playing XI, they are part of the team. So what was the purpose of the post-World Cup press conference in Colombo?
It would have been to put the record straight. But what was the takeaway from this meet-the-media exercise? It wasn’t certainly meant to be a tea and cakes affair where the players were introduced and then reintroduced to the domestic audience.
There was a raison d’etre for the media-meet. Obviously the team management felt the need to pacify the fan base — or you could say the Sri Lankan people — after the abject failure at the 2023 World Cup (WC) in India.
This was not a mere day off in office. The team had ended up one before the last on the points table, just ahead of a non-test playing country, the Netherlands. Besides that, Sri Lanka failed to qualify for the upcoming Champions Trophy that required a team to finish within the first eight in the WC points table to qualify for that tournament.
This was easily the worst disaster that Sri Lanka cricket had faced in recent times, after the World Cup victory of 1996 which was the watershed event that signaled Sri Lanka’s entry into cricket’s big league.
The team spokesperson seemed to be yesteryear’s cricketing hero Mahela Jayewardene who either by default or otherwise seemed to have been eased into that role recently.
It appeared however that intent of the press conference was not to come clean and say that mistakes were made. After a failure as abject as the one that was referenced above, what would have been expected was a soul searching exercise that at the least left the impression that failure would be taken seriously.
None of that happened. There was instead a festival of excuses and rationalisations. It was said that the team had performed well in the World Test Championship, and that one recent Asia Cup was won while in another — in the last edition — the team had ended up as finalists.
Why these excuses were being trotted out was rather puzzling, because these ‘achievements’ were all in different formats of the game. What was at issue was the ODI debacle, so why was the coaching staff talking about these other formats in earnest? Besides that, the accomplishments spoken about were not exactly ones that should come with bragging rights.
In the World Test series (21-23 edition) Sri Lanka finished fifth, after having lost more games than the team had won. That we had been in contention for the final until the very last series does not mitigate any of these outcomes.
As for the Asia Cup successes, Sri Lanka probably was lucky to be in the final this year, as Afghanistan was seemingly not aware that there were mathematically other ways in which they could have qualified for the finals instead of us.
The explanations on what exactly happened and how Afghanistan was apparently left uninformed are all there on the internet, and would not be gone into here.
It has to be added that Pakistan dealt Sri Lanka a humiliating 2-O home series defeat with one thundering innings win at the ongoing 2023-25 World Test Championships, something about which Jayewardene said nothing.
Coming back to other more current issues that transpired at the press-meet, the team captain Kusal Mendis did apologise for the poor performance of the team at the end of the press conference, but the general tone of the coaching staff was that the WC failure was one of those things, and we would soon be bouncing back.
Contrast that to the situation in Pakistan for instance, where the captain and the bowling coach both turned in their resignations after the below par showing at the World Cup, which of course was a much less humiliating debacle than Sri Lanka’s in the first place, with Pakistan finishing fifth in contrast to Sri Lanka’s ninth on the points table.
The country was in contention for the semi-finals until the last stages of the World Cup and was eliminated decisively only after Sri Lanka beat New Zealand in the very last match of the group stages for both teams.
So, when coach Chris Silverwood says there are other countries too that are having the same conversation about their own failures at the concluded tournament, he should have added, not quite.
Pakistan for instance is probably having a different conversation which is about how the playing XI missed the knockout stages so narrowly, which is a somewhat different predicament than finishing ninth and getting no slot to contend in at the next Champions Trophy tournament.
It seemed therefore, considering the above, that the excuses trotted out were rather lame, and that the team management tried as they say in the U.S, to “apply lipstick on a pig”.
Just imagine how useful that press conference would have been if the team management had tried to be more self-effacing and said, it was an utter failure (our World Cup campaign), and we’d even consider offering our resignations if only they’d be accepted?
The staff, however, went to the extent of talking about the next T20 championship and other upcoming events, making all types of promises about the future. The press contingents that turned up would have surely pinched themselves? Were they at the correct press event?
This article is not about the wider administrative issues that face Sri Lanka cricket. Those are dicey matters that are not being addressed here for several reasons.
But it’s about the immediate reactions of the team and team management that were there for all to see at the recent presser, even before the World Cup had ended for the other qualifying teams.
It’s not exactly time for business as usual, even though that thought may not have occurred to the team Management. The domestic fan-base was also not ready to accept this rather casual appraisal which seemed to be in the nature of ‘ok that one ended, ask about the next.”
It’s only cricket, but as far as the game is concerned, we have not hit such a nadir for a very long time. There is a way to address such abject failures, and to try to gloss over them as it was done at the recent media briefing is certainly not the strategy normally expected from a team that had performed so poorly for whatever reasons.
Mahela Jayewardene is a cricketing hero, and it would be remembered that he and his team was hard done by at the 2007 World Cup finals when Sri Lanka was forced to play in bad light after it rained at the final in West Indies.
That was a game we would have probably won if everything was fair and the umpires did not take the hideous route of asking one team — ours — to play in the dark.
In fact it’s not too late to share the 2007 World Cup between Australia and Sri Lanka with an apology to the Sri Lankan cricket team of 2007.
Yes, Australia and Sri Lanka should be declared joint winners of that edition, and it’s not too late for that. After all, Susanthika Jayasinghe’s bronze was officially made a silver, after Marion Jones was caught cheating having used banned substances at the 2000 summer Olympics. The medal re-ordering took place years after the event.
Mahela Jayewardene will not be spurned by Sri Lankan fans despite helming that fiasco of a post WC press conference, but that is precisely the point. If it was a lesser person than MJ that press conference performance would not have been forgiven. Since it was MJ, fans were biting the bullet — but then that’s hardly a satisfactory outcome.
It cannot be business as usual after such and abject failure involving our cricketers, but somehow the Sri Lankan team and team management appears not to have got the memo on that.