So Near…

Sri Lanka and Afghanistan teams walking into the ground for the national anthems prior to their match in the 2015 Cricket World Cup

Ranjan Mellawa believes that injury prevention and management, along with the quality of bench strength would be critical success factors at the next World Cup.

 

 

Mahela Jayawardena’s masterpiece (103*) gave Sri Lanka a commanding total of 274 for 6 in the 2011 World Cup final. Never before had a Jayawardena century led to a losing cause for Sri Lanka.

The 275 target looked imposing for India. No team batting second had scored more than 250 runs under lights at Wankhede Stadium. Sri Lanka’s varied bowling attack seemed geared to defend the highest run chase in a World Cup final.

In reply, Lasith Malinga’s second ball skidded into Virender Sehwag’s back pad, out lbw for a duck. It silenced the stunned Indian fans in the stands and delighted the vastly outnumbered Sri Lankans.

In the seventh over, Sachin Tendulkar, 18 from 13 balls, square drove loosely at a fast Malinga out-swinger. Kumar Sangakkara dived to his right and made no mistake.

With India struggling at 31 for 2 the decibels plummeted again. It all seemed to be headed in Sri Lanka’s direction. A faithless few in the Indian multitude left for home.

In difficult circumstances, the duo of Gautham Gambhir (97) and Virat Kohli (35) rebuilt the innings with a stand of 83 runs. A vastly improved Indian innings read: 183/3 (RR: 5.22) after 35 overs, needing 92 runs @ 6.13.

In the penultimate over, M S Dhoni’s signature helicopter shot for six off Nuwan Kulasekara sealed Sri Lanka’s fate. He finished with a captain’s knock of 91 off 79 balls.

In an epic battle, India refused to be beaten and Sri Lanka just couldn’t deny their destiny.

Sri Lanka’s jaded display in the field was in stark contrast to the energetic and committed performance by the Indians, who saved at least 25 runs. Sri Lanka appeared a disjointed team, with three missed chances at crucial stages.

According to informed sources, captain Sangakkara looked pensive and wasn’t a happy soul on that day. In addition, there was widespread speculation of powerful personages influencing the team selection and upsetting its delicate balance. It may not have been entirely speculative, as four changes in the team for a big cup final is not exactly run of the mill, is it?

Sri Lanka sorely missed Angelo Mathews’ all-round brilliance due to his injury in the semi-final. Chaminda Vaas – last played for Sri Lanka in 2008 – was added to the final’s squad as a late replacement for Mathews. Similarly, Suraj Randiv, not in the original squad, was called up as cover for Muttiah Muralidaran. He, in fact, had watched the semi-final with his mates from the stands. Vaas didn’t play but Randiv replaced Ajantha Mendis.

Muralidaran had been a fantastic servant of Sri Lanka cricket, but he struggled with niggles throughout the 2011 World Cup. Understandably, in the final, his bowling lacked bite and he was not at his reliable best in the field either.

Fast-forward to run-up to the 2019 World Cup. For Sri Lanka, New Zealand later this year followed by Australia and South Africa; a hectic schedule away from home. In the tournament proper, each team plays 9 matches in the group stage itself. Hence, responsibility lies squarely with support staff to ensure effective strategies for injury prevention and management. The 2011 campaign also taught Sri Lanka that success is critically linked to bench strength. They should waste no time in deciding on a squad of say, 20 players and rotate them in the lead-up to the World Cup, enabling those on the bench to seamlessly interchange owing to injury or other reason.

In the final analysis, injury prevention and quality bench strength may be the critical factors that decide between success and failure.


An edited version of this post appeared in the November 2018 issue of the LIVING magazine.

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