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Lanka have much to learn

Sri Lanka may win or lose the second Test against New Zealand; that is an academic question now. But after the poor showing overall, a number of questions must be asked not only about the team but also the ratings systems that attempt to claim that one team is better than the other.

The fundamental truth which Lanka must have realised by now is that Test cricket is a whole different game. There has to be a different mindset when one plays the five-day game and despite the fact that Kaluwitharana got a hundred using the same methods that he does in the one-day game, if he were to modify his game he would definitely find that he can reap richer dividends than a duck and a hundred in the same game. The fact is there are naturally talented players who can play like millionaires and get away with it; others, less talented, have to tailor their game to the situation.

Lanka cannot claim that they are stale; they have had no cricket since November. They could have claimed a lack of practice before the first Test but they have had enough games by now to be up and functioning at an optimal level. The question may well be asked -- is this a team which can do well only in one-day cricket? Was that World Cup win a fluke the way India's was in 1983? There has to be consistency for a team to justify the heights it reaches. The occasional fall is permitted but quality shows when one picks oneself up and comes back roaring. South Africa are a good example.

There appear to be some internal problems which will probably be known once the former coach Dav Whatmore brings out the book he had promised. The Gurusinghe incident has given an indication that some players are more equal than others. Not that it is different for other teams; India has given ample proof of the regionalism that exists when it comes to selection by picking a batsman and part-time off-spinner and parading him as an off-spinner who can bat a bit -- he comes from a state which is represented in the selection panel.

Wisden's Mathew Engel had devised some kind of rating system for Test cricket and he had placed Lanka sixth, above England, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. That doesn't really tie in with the way the team has performed. And the ridiculous Ceat rating system would probably have Sri Lanka far higher because it refuses to recognise the fact that one-day cricket is not a first class game and does not rank with Test cricket. As a team which has been fairly successful at the one-day game, the Lankans would have an inflated ranking which does in no reflect the real strength of the team.

Can Sri Lanka now have the gumption to ask for a full Test series against any of the other Test playing nations apart from Zimbabwe? That too only because the latter are the latest entrants to the game and not because they lack the ability to embarass the Lankans. And will Ranatunge still have that unrealistic target of becoming the best Test team by the year 2000? The team which is in contention for the top spot right now is one which has been playing the game for over a century and Lanka would do well to remember that they are in short pants compared to this team despite beating them in the World Cup final last year.

One must remember one additional factor -- New Zealand were expected to have more problems in this series than they did against England. They lost their captain who was dropped due to poor form. They have an inexperienced man at the helm, one who has led earlier only because the skipper was injured. And they had their share of problems off the field during the series against England. Nevertheless, they have not really looked in trouble against a team which had a big reputation before it landed.

The Sri Lankans have a chance to redeem their reputation in the Caribbean. But will they be able to match the West Indies? The latter is a team in transition and going by the showing so far in the series against India, they are not a team which a wise punter would back under any circumstances. By the time Lanka comes a-calling, the Windies may well have ironed some out some of their problems and ready for a show of strength.