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DINESH WEERAWANSA

 

Lankans looking to raise one-day rankings

Sri Lanka's national cricket team will launch their Tri-Series campaign in Australia next week with India as the third team taking part in the annual tournament - better known as World Series Cricket in its early years.

Sri Lanka is ranked third in the ICC Test rankings but has only secured the fifth spot in the ICC one day international (ODI) ratings. Hence, this will be an ideal opportunity for Mahela Jayawardane and his boys to prove their class and climb up in the ladder.

The Lankans must make every endeavour to dominate early in the three-nation series as they open their campaign with a match against India in Brisbane on Tuesday. Confronting the World champions Australia and the high-riding India, won't be easy.

The Aussies could always be dangerous on home conditions. Though they have lost some of their seasoned campaigners due to retirements and other reasons over the past couple of years, the Aussies have found equally good and quality replacements. Thereby, they have maintained the overall strength of the champion team.

On the other hand, the mighty Indians would make every effort to consolidate their position. The morale of the Indian team is high after they demolished the Aussie powerhouse in the third Test, winning by 72 runs in Perth.

It was even more creditable considering the fact that there was a tense situation between the two teams after that 'Monkey' drama involving their spinner Harbajan Singh. We do not know whether the Indian spinner had cast such a remark. If Singh has done so abusing Australian Andrew Symonds, it is not sport.

But the Australian fans are no better and most teams from the subcontinent, Caribbean and Africa have had some bitter playing experience in Australia in the past.

Compared to spectators in other countries, the Australian fans are much more clever and 'play a mind game' to put mental pressure on touring teams.

Even after being cleared from the ICC on several occasions, our own Muttiah Muralitharan does not have happy memories with the Aussie fans, who have often targeted him in an unethical and unreasonable manner.

Thanks to the courageous leadership and inspiration by the then Sri Lanka captain and present Sri Lanka Cricket Chairman Arjuna Ranatunga, Muralitharan was able to overide that pressure.

He is now a mature player who could not be beaten in that psychological game of the Australian fans.

Even most of the Australian media join that campaign of putting mental pressure on touring teams and many touring cricketers have fallen into that trap by either failing to face that pressure or making unwarranted comments or reactions.

But at the same time, that has done some 'good' to Sri Lanka cricket. The Lankan team was at the receiving end when they toured Australia in late 1995, which marked the infamous 'no balling' of Muralitharan in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. But the Lankans were courageous in defeat and bounced back.

They realised that attack is the best form of defence. At the end, it brought fruitful results.

It was that grit, courage and determination that took Sri Lanka to the pinnacle of World cricket. Every member of that team was so determined to give Aussie a doze of their own medicine.

That was the secret behind Sri Lanka thrashing Australia by seven wickets in the 1996 World Cup final.

I see something common in that Lankan 'determination story' with India's recent Test win over Australia. There are only a few teams who could turn such bitter experiences to sweet memories.

Now that Harbajan Singh has been exonerated, it is not fair to cast remarks. Though the decision has been hailed as a victory for justice in India, but the decision has incensed Australian cricketers, who believe their board has caved in to overwhelming pressure from the game's financial heavyweight.

Press reports from Sydney, quoting an unnamed Australian cricketer, hit out at the decision, which was only reached after Cricket Australia persuaded their five players at the hearing to 'downgrade' their charge against Singh from 'racism' to 'abusive language'.

An Indian pull-out due to Harbajan Singh issue would have threatened neighbouring Lanka's participation in the CB Series as well. But everything was ironed out late on Tuesday night, when Cricket Australia and the BCCI issued a joint statement, saying Symonds and Harbhajan have "resolved" the issue and that both captains were also "satisfied with the outcome".

Meanwhile, SLC chief Ranatunga called for a ban on sledging and hoped the Australians "would learn their lessons' from the recent controversy.

"Australians have had these issues with some touring sides," Ranatunga was quoted as saying.

It is the responsibility of all sportsmen and administrators, as well as fans, to avoid this type of unpleasant situations which harms the basic goals of sport.

But with the professionalism being injected, an unnecessary competitive atmosphere has been created. But it is not conducive for sport and the good and honest intentions.

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