Tuesday, April 17, 2007

what was mahela jayawardene thinking?

i am asking that question literally. what were his and sri lankan team management's reasons for dropping muttiah muralitharan and chaminda vaas from the the match against australia?

i must confess that first time i heard this just before the match, was the first time that i doubted the sri lankan team's capacity to win the cricket world cup this year. cricket is a game of character and being negative is not the way to go. at first glance this seemed to be a very negative move on the part of our team.

but is it a negative move? let us go through several possible reasons.
(btw several bloggers have already written about this while the match was going on; a week in sri lanka, scourge!)

fixing the semi finals?
one of the possible reasons, which comes to mind initially, is that sri lanka was trying to manage where and against who it plays the semi finals. but that explanation cannot be correct. final placement of teams in the super eights points table, which will determine the semi final ties, will depend on several things; actual results of several matches ( sl vs aus, aus vs nz, sl vs ireland, and even sa vs eng, etc. ) and the margins of victory (thus net run rate of teams) in those matches. it is absurd to think that all that can be managed (or sl tried to) through one match. so this cannot be the explanation.

injury free rest
another explanation is that resting vaas and murali and preventing any injuries to them (thus preserving them 'intact' for semis and finals) is in the best interests of sri lankan team. that is part of the 'official' explanation. unfortunately injuries are not confined to actual matches, as lasith malinga's injury showed. sri lankan management will look really foolish if vaas or murali were to incur one (which god forbid!) in the next few days. however this was done before in larger scale when same bowlers were not included in the indian tour. but a tour and a match are two different things. on the whole if this was the correct explanation, it is a bit negative. (however mahela and co. are the ones best placed to know what is best for the team.)

trying out
other part of 'official' explanation is more positive in intent. sri lankans wanted to try out the malinga bandara and nuwan kulasekera. while some may question the wisdom of trying them out against one of the most devastating batting lineups, imo that very fact makes it a very positive move. (in any case this is the first opportunity sri lanka got to experiment) only it did not come off. our batsmen did not put enough runs on the board for those bowlers to bowl at. in addition both nuwan kulasekara and malinga bandara would have been confident if murali and/or vaas were at the other end or were available to replace them, instead of farveez maharoof or dilhara fernando during the match. anyway viewed from this angle this move was a positive one, but sri lankans did not go about it in the correct way.

mind games
another explanation is that sri lankans were trying to play mind games with australians; holding back the main strike bowlers (vaas, murali and malinga) so that they can be unleashed on unaccustomed australians in the semi or final, and while trying to fluster them with lesser bowlers in this match. problem with mind games is that, as the wily detective in novel crime and punishment says, 'they can cut both ways'; australians weren't flustered, their bowlers got the better of most of our batsmen, andrew symonds who wanted some time on the middle got some, it looked like we were afraid to expose our best bowlers to their batsmen while they wanted to expose their best players to all comers (they certainly did not rest anyone, they would have played shane watson if he was fit). most of all they beat us comprehensively in a game that was supposed to be (including in their own assessment) very close. all that would not do them any harm, with regard to morale and momentum. btw they are not all that unfamiliar with vaas and murali in any case.

we on the other hand were trashed. saying that only nine of the beaten side will face them again won't take away that fact. a close defeat with out best bowlers bowling would have been much better psychologically. a similar trashing with out best bowlers bowling would have been worse, but if we want to win the world cup we should have the confidence in our own ability to win. mind games cut both ways.

not that negative
in conclusion this move by the sri lankan team management was not all that negative as it first appears ( and as some biased international commentators may try to make it out - such commentary is another perhaps not significant negative consequence). however we did not do the right things to benefit from its positive aspects.

sri lankans should have done what mahela was saying they were doing all along; face each match one at a time instead of thinking too much ahead. unfortunately he did not do that yesterday. results are in australians' favor. pity.

let us hope that our sri lankan team has enough moral strength to take the few positives and lessons (batting of chamara silva, mahela, and maharoof, russel arnold's wickets, how we can handle australian attack shaun tait in particular, australian plans against our batsmen, etc) and forget the negatives. and hopefully go on to defeat the australians in the semi or final.

quite apart from its effect on cricket and cricketers on the field, dropping of our best bowlers was a let down to all the spectators everywhere (not to mention sponsors). everybody must remember that in the end it is the spectators that make this tournament important. too much of this will put people off.


ddm said...

I think keeping murali and mali out was ok. Mali bc of the injury and Murali bc i don't think the aussie's have faced his relatively new tactic of bowling around the wicket to right handers on a consistent basis. This has been a superb new addition to his bowling in ODIs and i thought its clever to not let the aussies have a first hand taste of it. And I really wanted Banda to have a game. Why they didn't give Marvan a chance is beyond me.

Resting vaas was just not smart, it completely gave the game away bc we didn't have a single specialist new ball bowler and leaking runs from two ends is asking for trouble against aussie. If they wanted to rest vaasy they could have rested him for the Ireland game. He looked a bit grumpy on the bench so i think he'd agree.

But all in all, we screwed up bc the batting. Top and lower middle order failed, and coupled with a weak opening attack, we never had a chance. Bigger concern is the wicket in Barbados for the finals, if we make it. Pace, bounce and movement. Good luck top order.

cerno said...

I hope he WAS thinking.. not that I'm a great cricket tactician by any means to second guess ;)

Someone once told me that the suspense of this world cup was about finding out who the Aussies will thrash in the finals. I wish I had the cricketing brains to argue or beat him up savagely.

It did give a sinking feeling in the guts even before the match started. Sort of like a premonition before a train wreck. This match was too painful to watch. Tried to ignore the howls of pain from the rest of household who were willing to put up with what seemed to be a blood letting.

Well it could have been worse, and there's still hope.


niro said...

I couldn't have analyzed this any better than you did. great work.

to this date i thought mahela was a smart captain. but imo he did the biggest mistake y'day and jeopardized the momentum SL team has been maintaining through out the tournament. i came across several half-ass reasonings for the decision taken up by mahela. the best was "if we had won, hell we beat aussies even with a half assed attack and if we had lost it's because we had a half assed bowling attack". and how stupid is that?

experiments should be left to the less important matches, in our case in the next match against irelands. aussies were not the group on which experiments should be carried out.

while disagreeing most of your reasoning for keeping murali away, i agree with you on the issue with marvan. it's baffling to me too why he didn't get a chance as yet. why they didn't play marvan with their "attitude" yesterday is a big question mark for me. and getting back to murali, i think in an era of high tech analysis aussies would have figured out murali's new tactics. ponting (my favourite batsmen as well as my most hated player with his all pompous, condescending attitudes) himself said yesterday that they had a lot of footage of SL and this should provide enough material for them to study murali.

ddm said...

Niro - Footage only goes so far. Take the Shaun Tait example. First time our boys faced him, and I'm sure they studied his bowling over numerous buckets of popcorn prior to this. But Dilshan and Arnie both messed up trying to pull the short ball (Sanath was lucky to escape as well after top edging a hook). Hopefully they'll learn from experience and just not hook him if we play him in the finals. Experience in the middle is a 100 times more important than watching video analysis. (I've been watching Murali since his debut, I should be a master at playing him by now :) )

Dulan said...

Well, when it comes to international commentary on the match, it was nice to see Wasim Akram and Ravi Shasthri both defending Mahela on "Taking Guard" (some show on ESPN).

Wasim was saying that it was fully justified, since both Murali and Vaas had some "niggles", which prompted the rest. Shasthri was more direct in saying that either way, tactical reasons were just as good for resting the two.

Let's hope the gamble plays off... :-)

Charith Janitha said...

It was a very good strategy.
My feeling is that our guys use this as a practice match for finals with Aus.

Common guys, we as Lankan should be proud of our teams. They were brave enough to do something that no other teams has done b4, hiding their key players and the game plan. To beat Aus one need not only talent, but a master mind plan, something very original. I’m sure that our guys have a very special plan for Aus. (Murali & Vas may be hiding their latest secret balls, only to introduce at finals) They did not want to waste their hard work over a less important match like that. They were targeting the final. And they have a game plan. They know how to tackle Aus & they will.

Think, if we lost by playing our full team on that match, it will carry a huge disappointment and negativity to the final. Even if we could win it will do no good. Aus has all the technology they ever need. They will re-plan and come up with a wining strategy to beat us in the finals.

Now it is not. Sri Lanka deliberately lost the match. Now Aus will play the same game plan against us on the finals, cause they don’t have to change their strategy. There is no reason for them to do so.

Let Aus think that they are the champions, until we get there and show them who are the real champions; with not only talent but brains.

Keshi said...

And the Aus newspapers suggested that it was a walk in the park for the Aus team. No wonder!


sittingnut said...

ddm, cerno niro, dulan charith janitha, keshi:
great to have you all here. thanks for your comments and for sharing the insights they contain.

imo this is one of those decisions we can debate for long time without coming to a conclusion .

kumar sangakara has written an excellent article on this. i highlighted it in my next post