Stability in ODI team but flaws still exist
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.