By Michael Roberts –
As I have not been keeping an eye on the domestic cricket within Sri Lanka, my ability to comment meaningfully on the Selectors’ choices for recent tours is limited, Fortunately, a call from Nirgunan Tiruchelvam provided thoughts from an expert student’s perspective. Nirgunan indicated that in recent years the principal wicket takers within Sri Lanka’s domestic cricket scene have been conventional spin-bowlers. Their bowling averages are way, way superior better to that of the fast-bowlers.
News items indicate that the SLC administration had recently sought to rectify the problem by asking groundsmen to prepare wickets that are less spin-friendly. However, the scorse in the ongoing domestic matches suggest that the result has been a batsmen’s paradise.
If the contention above is part of the explanation for the recent failures in Australia, questions arise. (A) How did more or less the same squad fare reasonably well in the West Indies recently? (B) if our pitches provide such poor training grounds for the severe examination of batsmen by pace bowling threesomes in the Antipodes and UK, how is it that over the last three decades we produced Aravinda, Jayasuriya, Sangakkara, Dilshan, Jayawardene and their like? …. Have the fast-bowling ‘threesomes’ or ‘foursomes’ in the foreign climes developed extra yards of pace coupled with a variety of tricks in knuckle-balls, slow bouncers, et cetera that make batting more testing? Or have Sri Lanka’s new generations of batsmen declined in their techniques?
I do not know. I am flying a kite here. Amend that: I am sending a drone up in the sky for experts to testify (one must keep up with the times in one’s metaphors).
If our pitches nurture poor quality pacemen, why place them in the side? Why not open the bowling with one paceman and, say, a left-arm spinner bowing sliders mixed with standard spin bowling? Aloysian Skipper Anwar Jawath did that with Mohamed Nizam and Roy Vanderputt at the Galle Esplanade in the 1950s. Successfully at that level. That policy would be even more effective, of course, if we had a leftie of the Derek Underwood or Daya Sahabandu type. The potential advantage here is that such lefties as Malinda Pushpakuamra and Milinda Siriwardena would be more effective abroad during the long periods when the shine is off the ball than the pedestrian pacemen who have shot their bolt (such as it may be) during the opening overs. Well, maybe.
The Coach as Selector
This is a thorny issue and it would be pertinent to have an ESPN expert summarize the policies on this front pursued by the cricket-playing nations in recent years. Rohan Wijayaratne has stressed the common-sense argument that the Coach’s relationship with all the players should not be compromised by indications of favouritism in finalizing a XI from a broader set.
But how does one decide on Selections when on tour with only one selector in the travelling team? Modern communications by smart phones can meet that requirement of course.
For the benefit of the uninitiated let men note that the present Selectors ‘Team’ are Ashantha de Mel (Chair and Head) Chaminda Mendis, Hemantha Wikremeratne and Brendon Kuruppu. Mendis is the only one I have never met. Both de Mel and Wikremeratne are strong-minded individuals and Kuruppu provided me with a lucid dissection of the Pakistani terrorist attack on the SL team bus in Lahore where he, as Manager, also escaped with his life intact.
While this assessment augurs well, it does not preclude failures. The churlish and uncommunicative way in which Hathurusinghe was removed from a spot in tour selections, as Rohan Wijayaratne indicates, smacks of poor statesmanship.
The axing of Chandimal as captain is a different issue. In New Zealand Chandimal the captain batted at No. 5 (six) and scored a laboured 06 runs in 34 balls in the First Test at Wellington; but did not bat because a magnificent 4th wicket standoff 263 runs between Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews saved a draw for Sri Lanka. In the Second tEst at Hagley Oval in Christchurch Chandimal replaced Dhananjaya at No. 3 and scored 06 runs (in 9 balls) and a resolute 56 runs (in 228 balls) in a losing cause.
He continued to bat at first drop in the Test matches in Australia and produced a disastrous set of scores. There ae indications that as captain he insisted on leading from the front. This may SEEM a plus mark. I question that conclusion. What struck me in both innings at Manuka Oval was the pugnacious and decisive demeanour and style in which batsman Chandimal walked in.
Good? Leadership exemplified? Not if you fail dismally. The more so when your very pugnacity contributes to your downfall. As I have remarked earlier, Chandimal’s attempt to hook a headhigh bouncer was a terrible stroke – the more so when attempted at the 09th ball he faced and that against Starc. “Stark raving mad,” one might well say.
So, it was not a wholly unreasonable move on the part of Sri Lanka’s Selection Committee to drop Chandimal and ask him to recuperate and display his wares in the domestic circuit. However, given the limited chances they received on tour Roshen Silva and Sajeeva Samarasinghe may feel hard done by to be dropped
One replacement, Angelo Perera, is an experienced batsman, has umpteen runs in recent matches at home and can also bowl left-arm orthodox spin. The other batsmen replacements are Kaushal Silva and Oshada Fernando. I know little about Fernando. Kaushal’s recent form at the highest level is not encouraging; but his ability at short-leg must be taken into consideration. Thirimanne dropped a sitter (Patterson at 00 runs) in that position and Roshen missed another (Lyon as nightwatchman) which any decent short-leg should have taken.
While it would be a great underground coup if one could find out if Sports Minister Harin Fernando was involved in the decision to remove Hathurusinghe from his spot as one Selector on the tour, his more recent move to assemble Chandimal, Mathews, Malinga and Thisara Perera in a convivial setting directed towards ironing out difficulties seems an excellent initiative. Kudos where applaud is due – with the proviso that ego trips by numerous sports ministers over the decades have generally not served Sri Lanka well.