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Lanka: All is not well

ALL is not well with cricket in Sri Lanka, it would appear. The team's showing in South Africa has resulted in some fairly sharp reactions from the cricket authorities; there are obviously serious fears that the Lankans will be out of their depth at the World Cup in 1999.

After Sri Lanka won the cup in 1996, there were all sorts of promises, one of them being that the team would now look to better its Test record and become a serious contender in the longer form of the game by the turn of the century. With just over 18 months to go for that deadline, it is unlikely that Lanka will even come close to what was then seen as an attainable target.

The one-day status has also not rested easy on the Lankan head; the nadir came in South Africa when the team could not qualify for the finals in a three-way joust with the hosts and Pakistan. The fallout has not been long in coming. A number of players have been dropped for the forthcoming tour and the coach has gone as well. The last time there was a similar controversy in Lankan cricket was when Asanka Gurusinghe was dropped; the coach, Dav Whatmore, resigned soon after, promising to "tell all" in a book, a pledge he never kept.

The South African trip was marred by allegations that some members of the Lankan team were more involved in extra-curricular activities than the game, something which affected their performances on the field. Late nights were taking their toll, it was whispered. The team was quick to deny the allegations.

Now it would appear that there is more to this than meets the eye. There have been suggestions in the media that the lack of a one-drop who can apply himself is beginning to tell on the team; this is the very position and role which Gurusinghe used to fill to perfection. The man who replaced him, Marvan Atapattu, has now been promoted to open the innings. A steady number three is absent; Roshan Mahanama is not ideal for this role for he is more used to batting lower down and, in truth, has played this role extremely well.

There have also been suggestions in the media that a chap named Hewage, an extremely talented player and one who has won awards, was kept out of the team by the skipper, who preferred a player from his old school. This does sound similar to the Gurusinghe affair; the only difference is in that case, it was a relative by marriage who came in to the team.

Some observers say that Ranatunga now virtually runs the show on his own. If he makes a good showing of it, there is unlikely to be much criticism. But given the way the team performed in South Africa, those at the helm are coming under some scrutiny.

The arrival of the New Zealand team means that the Sri Lankans have got to buckle down to serious business again. They will be under close examination this time and any failing will earn double the penalty it would have in other times and circumstances. Sri Lanka will learn slowly the negative aspects of winning the World Cup.