Colombo: Former Sri Lanka cricketer Russel Arnold feels legendary Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are irreplaceable and it would be a mistake to expect the current crop of players to fill in their big shoes. “We are not going to replace big players like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, or even Tilakratne Dilshan. They cannot be replaced as they are once in a lifetime players,” Arnold said.
“If we ask the current players to be like them, then you are asking too much and would be putting too much pressure on them. I think that’s the biggest mistake we are making, looking for replacements and putting undue pressure on the younger players. “We have to use what we have. They are different players. You have to identify their strengths, let them blossom in their own time and allow them to develop their own styles,” he added.
Sri Lankan cricket have seen a massive downfall in the past six months or so. They were unable to beat Bangladesh at home across formats and then they failed to qualify for the Champions Trophy semi-finals.
The islanders then lost to Zimbabwe at home in the ODI series before being whitewashed by India in the Test in the ongoing tour.
Arnold feels injuries and inconsistency are to be blamed for the down slide. “Well, it has been a real struggle because Sri Lanka have just not been able to get on a roll or been able to identify a team. It has been tough, and lots of injuries have contributed to this,” he said.
“On the other hand poor form of senior players has been a contributor as well and when injuries are put together, the transition has just not been able to move forward. If you look at this Indian series, we have had two captains in the Tests and three so far in the ODIs. We had another one in the Champions Trophy, so that’s how problematic it has been,” Arnold said.
The former left-handed batsman said there is no dearth of talent in Sri Lanka and it was only about understanding one’s role in the side. “Talent wise I don’t see there is a problem. So once the new selection committee irons out the team, and get some continuity, they will be able to move forward,” Arnold said.
“It’s not just about having good players, you also need them to play as a team. You look at India yes, they have match winners but they also know each other’s role and they complement each other.
“For example, MS Dhoni is a match winner himself but he worked with Bhuvneshwar Kumar to win a match. It takes time to gel as a team. Sri Lanka have really struggled and have been unable to go forward as a team,” he added. Unhappy at the crowd reaction in Pallekele, Arnold has urged the cricket-crazy Lankan fans to be patient in this tough transition period.
“At the end of the day, it is about handling that pressure and frustrations, whether in the crowd or as players. We love entertainment but a string of losses and performances have hurt the public. “If we talk about players controlling the variables and handling pressure, the spectators also need to do the same. It is easy to say that they have to get behind the team but we are all humans and we like good things,” he said.
“For Sri Lanka, it is time to be patient, a bit calmer in our expectations and to identify a block of players to go forward with. We need to make some decisions and hopefully the injury crisis will also settle.,” Arnold said. The national selection committee headed by Sanath Jayasuriya too resigned recently after crowd trouble in the third ODI at Pallekele, which Arnold believes could be a step in the positive direction.
“Out of 50-odd changes they (selectors) made, so many were forced changes because of injuries. Sometimes when you replace one player, you have to make another change to balance it because the team may need different components. It is tough to point fingers,” said Arnold.
“(But) at the end of the day though it comes down to results. So I don’t think anyone can say they have done a good job. It has been a tough one but they have not been able to deliver results.” Senior pro Angelo Mathews gave up captaincy after the loss to Zimbabwe, and Arnold believes Sri Lanka need firm leadership from senior players in this hour of crisis.
“It all comes down to leadership, maintaining a team culture and discipline. Even the players need to look at themselves and see what more they can do to be better players and improve as a team,” said Arnold. Talking about pacer Lasith Malinga’s, he said: “We know he is down in pace, a bit down in fitness as well and he is not the bowler he was. But he is still better than the rest.
“It is unfortunate that he has not been among wickets. If he finds his rhythm, he will probably last for for another year or so, maybe even until the next World Cup in 2019.” Arnold feels the current Indian team has depth in all departments of the game.
“I think India are in a very good zone as they have a lot of depth in every department. In the past they had a lot of good batsmen, but only one or two bowlers. But now, not only in the squad here but even back home, there are different types of bowlers available,” he said.
“It is a very solid team. It is tough to beat them with spin or pace or whatever. They are way up there in comparison. They have nearly all bases covered,” Arnold signed off.