The 2016 T20 Cricket World Cup stirred up enough controversy even before the flag off to the main matches with defending champions Sri Lanka alone generating enough news by struggling to field a competitive team for the 27-day tournament.
Host India had its hands full solving a problem created by arch-rival Pakistan over security concerns which saw a match venue being changed. The T20 World Cup had given vendors and hotel owners in Dharmasala (one of the key venues for the T20 World Cup) huge hopes of cashing in on foreign tourists arriving to watch the games. But the luxury of seeing all their hotel rooms being booked was sent into oblivion when the World Cup organizers gave into pressure by Pakistan and shifted the crucial fixture between India and Pakistan to Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
This edition of the T20 World Cup gives Asian nations that little impetus to do better, given that cricket is played in sub-continent pitches. But Sri Lanka will see nothing to their advantage because the team is alarmingly short of match winners. Veterans Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena have retired and official T20 skipper Lasith Malinga pulling out of the captaincy citing a knee that behaves badly forced Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to go into panic mode. Naming the final squad to India was delayed till the eleventh hour. When a scribe queried from stand-in skipper Angelo Mathews, at a press session held at SLC (on March 8) how he felt to lead a team where many members didn’t know whether they were in or out of the side till the last minute, the skipper said, “As players we have made ourselves ready to perform on call. It’s up to the administrators (SLC) to take all other decisions pertaining to cricket”.
SLC President Thilanga Sumathipala’s dream of Sri Lanka working its way up the international cricket ladder was disturbed as it were when a recent poor run in T20 cricket saw the islanders’ cricket rating slump to eighth in the world. Head coach Graham Ford speaking to the media on March 8 affirmed, “It will be a tough tour for Sri Lanka”.
Sri Lanka are pooled in Group A alongside South Africa (World ranking 3), West Indies (World ranking 2), England (World ranking 5) and the team that emerges the victor of the qualifier of Group B. The other group is headed by tournament favourite India (World ranking (1) and includes Pakistan (World ranking 7), Australia (World ranking 6) and the winner of the qualifier of Group A.
Seniors like Thillaratne Dilshan, Rangana Herath, Angelo Mathews, Lahiru Thirimanne and Nuwan Kulasekare will have to dig into their reserves and produce something extraordinary. This is because cricket analysts have predicted that the ‘Lions’ will make their exit from the tournament after the group stage.
India are hot favourites to take home much of the prize money which is worth US $ 5.6 million. The Asian giant has proved repeatedly that it has a strong reserve of players. Despite the absence of a maestro in Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian cricket system has now produced another batting machine in Virat Kohli who is their main frontline batsman. Hitter M.S Doni and the impressive Shikhar Dhawan are key figures in one of the most aggressive batting line ups which T20 cricket dreams to see.
Sri Lanka cricketers participate in a religious ceremony organized at the SLC Headquarters just before they flew to India for the T 20 Cricket World Cup (Pix by Venura Chandramalitha)
Playing international cricket calls for several skills, some to forge ahead, some just to survive. The ICC has already warned that minnows like Scotland, Ireland, Hong Kong, Oman, Netherlands and Afghanistan, who played in the qualifiers, need to survive the bookies. The bookies and T20 cricket share a similarity. T20 cricket is captivating. So are the offers made by bookies. Once you enter these two worlds simultaneously only ICC’s legal arm can twist your distorted brain back on to shape.