I was recently reading Sumit Ghosh’s report from Sri Lanka in Anandabazar Patrika. He was talking about how internal problems were gnawing into the very foundations of cricket in the emerald islands. It triggered a conversation with the Thaliava of off-spin Murali here in the city.
Just a few days back I was chatting up with Muttiah Muralitharan about the minor pleasures of life like camera phones, fast food and my girth and his fitness, when I made the mistake of picking up the topic of Sri Lankan cricket.
I never thought that the subject was a ticking bomb deep-seeded in his heart. The wounds, the pain, the hurt all came out like a rush of molten lava even before I had finished the statement that this was a side in transition.
The fact that the islanders could lose a series at home was unthinkable till only a few years back. And now they lost two series to the Indian side led by Virat Kohli.
He tore into my comments and purged himself as I was trying to empathise with the inexperienced Lankan team. He blamed the country’s cricket board of not doing enough to bring quality youngsters to the fore and called the term ‘team in transition’ an escape to cover up their failure.
A man, who was talking to me a minute back about Rajanikant and his movies and how he enjoyed them with his family when not professionally engaged, was now admonishing the Sri Lankan cricket board like Rajani taking up his cause in Lingaa.
Muttiah, one of the best cricketing minds in the world, was gushing: “I don’t see this as a transition because it is an easy way of getting away with what the administration has not been doing. Transition is when the senior team goes out and you groom enough younger players to fill their shoes gradually. Suddenly you allow a batch of senior cricketers to go and you don’t have enough people to fill the vacuum, it is not transition. That is failure.”
Besides, the administration has not given opportunity to the players to play for a longer stint. From 2015 till now they have changed 42 players. You can’t play 42 players in one and half year’s time chopping and changing at your fancy. Then confidence level goes down,” he added.
“So it is not the players’ fault. It is the fault of the administration and the selectors. Why they are doing this I can’t understand,” he looked to be in a quandary and then added: “If any player, say for example even of my calibre, is asked to perform and deliver within two matches he will not be able to. You have to give a stint and make him get used to a condition and then he can perform,”.
A few minutes back he was talking about rice and curry and how on school vacations he loves to travel with his family and children. Now the Chanakya of cricket had replaced the docile family man.
“The first class cricket is in ruins. I think its mismanagement that should take the blame. They don’t allow zonal system because of politics. Fortunately Arjuna (Ranatunga) had produced several players before 1996 and they have been serving Sri Lankan cricket till 2012,” he said, the pain evident in his voice.
Everyone who has loved cricket knows the pride with which Murali played his game. To see the infrastructure breaking down before his eyes was impairing him deep within: “They did not allow first class cricket to grow. How can you have 20 teams and sometimes 24 teams in a small country like Sri Lanka? There should be maximum 8 teams. We all suggested provincial system, but some people want to benefit out of the existing system and hence no change.”
I asked him so what is the remedy. For a man as simple as Murali, his solution was simple too. “Get the first class cricket and age group cricket going correctly. Talents will come up. The recipe for success is in getting the basics correct,” he said and excused him as his wards had come back from lunch.
In the next ten minutes he was lost with the youngsters teaching them the nuances of the trade of which he was the ultimate high-priest.