Sri Lankan cricket started 2011 with fire works. The small island nation was in the world cup finals for the third time in history of the sport, a feat only bettered by Australia. For several decades cricket has put Sri Lanka on the world map and made headlines. It was all good news, until Nuwan Kulasekara dropped Gautam Ghambir on that very special evening in Mumbai. From the moment that ball hit the ground next to diving Kulasekera, Sri Lankan cricket has been on its knees. A sport that has romanticized a nation has been on a downward spiral at a remarkable pace over the past few months. The decline was so rapid that the Sri Lankan team hit a new low by losing ten wickets in less than 25 overs against England. It is gut wrenching.
When Sri Lanka lost the world cup, the country's president remarked "we didn't want to make a billion Indian brothers and sisters unhappy". While the president and his fellow citizens were trying to find a sense of humor in a heart breaking loss, Sri Lankan cricket has fallen apart. One of the most illustrious captains of Sri Lanka resigned. Chairman of the selectors followed, together with rest of the committee. The coach also handed his papers. Thorough all this, the greatest of all, wizard of the doosra, retired. The best genuine quick bowler Sri Lanka has ever produced said good bye to test cricket without giving himself a chance to prove he is the best. Sri Lakan cricket suddenly looked like a ship with a broken mast trapped in a storm, literally short handed on sailors and without a captain to command them. Although, Tillakaratne Dilshan stepped up to the plate announcing an early exit from IPL, the storm has continued the wreckage.
Lasith Malingas retirement from test cricket, whether the motivation was to secure his own financial future or physical health, left the Sri Lankan attack on board to England looking paper thin. In the two warm up games, when everyone gave Sri Lanka an outside chance of surviving the English fast men or making a dent in their batting line up, Sri Lanka pulled off two miraculous victories. However, they were exposed; the weakness against the moving ball and not finding the right lengths to bowl on seaming tracks with the unfamiliar Duke ball was apparent throughout. The weaknesses continued to the big stage. What was suppose to be the biggest strength of the Sri Lankan team - their batting - failed them when it was most needed.
Back home, on the street corners or in the parliament, questions will be raised. Fingers will be pointed. Kumar Sangakkara's and Mahela Jayawardena's commitment to test cricket, when they arrived late from IPL for an important tour will no doubt become a center of discussion. Although selecting five bowlers to iron out the bowling weakness appeared to be the right move, the team management will have to answer the lack of variety in the attack that left-out Suraj Randiv and Chanaka Welagedara for the first test. However, A defeat of this nature, which perhaps even surprised the English team, is not a result of lack of skill, preparation or wrong team selection. Not to take any credit away from the brilliant show by the English, this defeat boils down to the attitude of the Sri Lankan team. The mindset that Mahela Jayawardena at the beginning of the series touted to be the most important factor appear to be not at the right place. How could a team lose the plot so abominably, unless it was not for their lack of focus and respect for the game? Farveez Maharoof, on the eve of the fifth day publicly declared this test match as a meaningless game. If his attitude towards the match was any reflection of the Sri Lankan team's mind set, that would simply explain the loss of seven wickets in as many overs.
"If you understand what goes on in Sri Lanka cricket behind the scenes you'd be amazed how well these guys play," Stuart Law, the interim coach recently echoed the sentiments of his predecessor Trevor Bayliss. Most recent resignations, retirements, injuries, and the allegations of match fixing followed by more last minute injuries, drug abuse accusations - they will pierce the thickest of skins.
There is hope for Sri Lanka to bounce back, they are capable of it. To a team that survived a bullet rain and a rocket launcher, a rather peaceful English attack ought to be less frighting. To a nation that survived a civil war and a tsunami, one test defeat would be less demoralizing. Sri Lanka just has to believe - believe they are capable.