by Rex Clementine
One Day International (ODI) cricket has been played for over half a century now and early this year the sport saw the biggest ever defeat in that format of the game in the Indian city of Trivandrum when Sri Lanka suffered an ignominious defeat by a massive 317 runs at the hands of India.
On that fateful day, Sri Lanka (SL) had been shot out for just 73 runs with rookie Nuwanindu Fernando top scoring with 19. SL had got their combination awfully wrong in that series. They were playing five all-rounders in that Trivandrum game – Captain Dasun Shanaka, Ashen Bandara, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dunith Wellalage and Chamika Karunaratne.
Those who follow the game closely well know that former captain Mahela Jayawardene (MJ) plays a very much hands on in his role as consultant coach. Be it team selections, selection of coaches, support staff or structure of our cricket, all these need to be okayed by him. There’s no harm in giving him full powers, but on his part he’s got to take up responsibility for his decisions too.
Certain individuals have an axe to grind with MJ. They believe that given his monthly USD 18,000 pay packet from Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), he is not spending enough time with the national cricket team. But the real issue is not that. MJ is like a MOSSAD operative carrying out secret missions rather than acting openly.
His sidekicks – the selectors – have not addressed a single media briefing to explain their policies although they have done the job for more than two years now. The conclusion you can draw is that they simply don’t have the answers for decisions that were not theirs.
You find that when Sri Lanka wins the Asia Cup, the Chairman of Selectors praises MJ. But when debacles like Trivandrum happen, the blame is quietly palmed off to Chris Silverwood. Coach Silverwood doesn’t pick teams. Surely, someone of MJ’s stature should be aware that playing as many as five all-rounders was a strategy that was tried out by England two decades ago and it was recipe for disaster.
Thankfully, lessons have been learnt and Sri Lanka have moved away from banking on all-rounders too much. Recalling Dimuth Karunaratne was one key reason for Sri Lanka’s success in the three-match series against Afghanistan. In the crucial second ODI, he provided the platform for the rest of the batters and that turned out to be a winning formula.
It is for that very reason that Dimuth who hadn’t featured in an ODI for four years was recalled for the 2019 World Cup where he did a decent job. But the current selectors dumped him in 2021 and it is a supreme irony that they themselves have recalled him. It was an admission of ‘Yes, we got it wrong.’
But are they being held accountable for the current mess where Sri Lanka is playing the qualifiers while other teams like Bangladesh and Afghanistan have qualified for the showpiece ICC World Cup event later this year?
While the squad selected for the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe is commendable, there are flaws. It’s been said umpteen times that both Dasun Shanaka and Chamika Karunaratne are players of similar style and with Dasun certain to play, there’s no room for Chamika.
Then why do you have to take two leg-spinners to Zimbabwe? Hasaranga is anyway going to play. So why do you need a Dushan Hemantha? Worst, Sri Lanka are only carrying six specialist batters for a tournament where there is so much at stake. If someone breaks a finger or pulls a hamstring, the squad doesn’t have a replacement. Then we will be back to square one with both Dasun and Chamika figuring on the team sheet.
When the 16-member squad was selected for the Afghanistan series, it was obvious that if Hasaranga was fit, Hemantha was going to miss out from the trip to Zimbabwe. But it was the big fish, Angelo Mathews, who was axed.
Mathews like Dimuth was recalled to the ODI side after more than two years when Sri Lanka toured New Zealand. Since his comeback, he managed only scores of 18, 0 and 12. The selectors may argue that he deserved the chop. But what about Kusal Mendis?
This year he has played all three ODI series’ that Sri Lanka participated in but managed just one half-century and that too only last week. This is a clear indication that the players are served with different spoons.
Six batters is an awful choice. Mathews should have been there. The selectors will not utter a word. Neither will MJ. The conclusion that you can draw is that some people are trying to settle old scores. That is simply not cricket.
Decision on sexual assault case against Danushka Gunathilaka next Thursday (28)
The hearing of the sexual assault case against Sri Lankan cricketer Danushka Gunathilake before the New South Wales District Court concluded today (21) and Judge Sarah Huggett will hand down her decision next Thursday (28).
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Selectors make ‘U’ turn after requesting Shanaka to step down
by Rex Clementine
The national selection panel that met yesterday made a complete ‘U’ turn having earlier requested captain Dasun Shanaka to step down in the lead up to next month’s ICC Cricket World Cup to be played in India. After Sri Lanka’s horrendous show in the Asia Cup final, where the team was bowled out for 50 runs, their lowest total at home, someone had to be scapegoated and Dasun Shanaka fitted the selectors’ bill.
The captain had been informed to step down so that a new captain could be appointed and accordingly Kusal Mendis was tipped to take over. Team management had endorsed Mendis highlighting him as the player who contributed most during team meetings. He was anyway deputy to Dasun in ODIs.
Although Dasun had expressed his willingness to step aside so that the selectors could make the change, the national selection panel decided to retain Dasun following a meeting yesterday.
While a section of the public had wanted the captain gone due to an extended run of poor form with the bat, some others had argued that axing the captain on the verge of an event like the World Cup wasn’t the most sensible move.
Had Dasun stepped down, he was in fear of not finding a place in the team as well as the selectors had wanted the new captain to make the call of having or not having the misfiring ex-captain in the team.
Despite the debacle in the final, Sri Lanka had done well to progress to the finals of the Asia Cup having beaten Afghanistan and Pakistan and Bangladesh twice. There were fears of the team not progressing beyond the first round after the bowling attack was completely depleted with injuries.
Although Dasun has been now retained as the captain, he will be under tremendous pressure to deliver following a string of low scores. Having said that, he was Sri Lanka’s best batter when the national cricket team toured India earlier this month.
Sri Lanka will leave for India next week and will be based in Guwahati where they will play two warm-up games against Asian rivals Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Sri Lanka’s first game of the World Cup is against South Africa on the 7th of October in Delhi.
Arachchige to lead second-string Sri Lanka side at the Asian games
Sri Lanka have announced a young squad for the 2023 Asian Games – essentially a Sri Lanka A side – with Sahan Arachchige set to lead the 15-member squad.
Among those with international caps, Ashen Bandara tops the list with 11 white-ball games under his belt. Nuwanidu Fernando and Nuwan Thushara have played four games each, while Arachchige has played two ODIs.
A majority of the team have however appeared in the Lanka Premier League (LPL), so fans may not be completely unfamiliar with some of these names, but this will be a good opportunity to observe them over a more consistent period.
Most of the excitement will arguably surround the batters, with the likes of Lasith Croospulle, Shevon Daniel, Fernando and Arachchige having popped up on the radar during the most recent LPL season.
Croospulle was part of ESPNcricinfo’s LPL 2023 team of the tournament for his 232 runs at an average 33.14, while Daniel too had some exciting cameos opening the innings. At just 19, he also has a first-class double ton to his name.
Fernando meanwhile has the distinction of having played one of the most impactful innings in last year’s LPL, when he scored a 42-ball 63 on a surface all other batters had struggled on. This year as well he compiled an unbeaten 39-ball 56 against Dambulla Aura but wasn’t able to take his side over teh line. As for Arachchige, despite having a subdued LPL, he has impressed in recent games for the Sri Lanka A side, notably notching a pair of centuries against England Lions earlier this year.
In Bandara, Sri Lanka have one of the best fielders in the tournament, while his six ODIs for the national side have already brought about two fifties – his relative experience will hold them in good stead. Rounding out the batting will be wicketkeeper Lahiru Udara, lower-middle order batter Ahan Wickramasinghe and allrounders Lahiru Samarakoon, Nimesh Vimukthi, Ranitha Liyanarachchi, Sachitha Jayathilaka and Ravindu Fernando.
On the fast bowling front, a lot will depend on Thushara. Dubbed podi (little) Malinga due to his slingy action, Thushara has been consistently among the better performers in recent LPL seasons. He makes up for his lack of searing pace with good control and variety. Thushara will be supported by 26-year-old quick Isitha Wijesundara, and allrounders Samarakoon and Liyanarachchi.
In the spin department, Sri Lanka boasts a fair degree of variety. Legspinner Vijayakanth Viyaskanth will the lead the way, having broken into the starting XI of Jaffna Kings – and played a key role in their 2022 championship. Nimesh Vimukthi will share the burden with his slow left-arm orthodox, while Ravindu and Arachchige provide offbreak options. Jayathilaka meanwhile is capable of zippy leg breaks pushed quickly through the air.
Sri Lanka have a direct entry into the Asian Games quarter-finals and play their first game on October 4. All matches will be in the T20 format.
Lasith Croospulle, Shevon Daniel, Ashen Bandara, Sahan Arachchige (capt), Ahan Wickramasinghe, Lahiru Udara (wk), Ravindu Fernando, Ranitha Liyanarachchi, Nuwanidu Fernando, Sachitha Jayatilaka, Vijayakanth Viyaskanth, Nimesh Vimukthi, Lahiru Samarakoon, Nuwan Thushara, Isitha Wijesundera
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