Sri Lanka’s Cricket Captain: why there were better choices than Dilshan

Michael Roberts

This article was written on Sunday night, 17 April, in response to a request from Saroj Pathirana of BBC Sandēsaya Service. It was one step behind events because Dilshan has been appointed captain for all three formats. So the title has been altered and it is presented here because it provides fodder for reflection and comment.

 Dilshan and his wife returning from Mumbai–Pic by AFP

 Fans greet Cricketers at Independence Square

As Sri Lanka ruminates over the choice of its cricket captain for the heavy programme of matches scheduled over the next year or so, Tillakaratne Dilshan’s name features prominently. Dilshan (aged 34+) is a mercurial cricketer, lightening quick over the ground, a wonderful fielder in any position, a Genghis Khan of a batsman and a useful change bowler. He is a bloke I, if ever a Captain at this level, would yearn to have in my side.

He has captained Sri Lanka in a series in Zimbabwe before, but it was precisely during that tour that questions arose about his off-field ethics. That is hardly a heritage to bring to such a high-profile position as Captain of Lanka. There is yet another reason, in my book, for keeping him in the side as Vital Senior Player and not as Captain. He will push the boundaries of cricketing sportsmanship to its limits and even beyond the limits. He is the nearest thing to the hard-nosed Australian in our cricketing scene. I do not want Sri Lanka to have an Australian Captain. We must retain the toughness girded by grace and moderation and fairness which Jayawardene and Sangakkara brought to their tenures.

Tait snarls at Dilshan –Pic by AFP

Dilshan is also impulsive. Such imperatives are disastrous when UDRS issues (referrals) arise. We need cool captains who do not indulge in wishful thinking in the manner of a Sehwag or Dilshan.

So, where does that leave us? One line of possibility is a split captaincy with Thilan Samaraweera (aged 34+) as Captain for Tests backed up by Mathews as Vice-Captain; and a Tharanga-Mathews combination for the ODI. Another path would be to have Samaraweera as Captain for Tests and as ODI Captain for an year or so on the explicit understanding that Mathews (23+) or Tharanga (26) would be given that ODI role in, say, 18 months time.

Samaraweera proved an intelligent and fighting A Team captain in the early 2000s just when he was moving from the role of off-spin bowler to that of gritty batsman. He has since improved his attacking skills as batsman in recent years under the tutelage of Chandika Hathurasinghe. He is not quick across the ground, but is a handy slip-fielder. By my reckoning he has 2-5 years of cricket still left in him in the longer version of the game.

Angelo Mathews has experience as captain from the U14 stage at school and also as U19 Captain in the international arena. He is said to be a mature young man. There is, therefore, a good argument for him to be adorned with the captaincy in both forms of the game from the year dot, that is, NOW, in 2011. If this idea gains ground, then great care must be taken to provide him with a Vice-Captain with whom he can work and one who has a good head on his shoulders. This could be even be Samaraweera or Tharanga.

But, finally, the best course may be to request Mahela Jayawardene to take on the role of Captain as caretaker for 12-18 months with Angelo Mathews as his Vice-Captain and understudy. 

It will be evident that I am thinking on the run and juggling balls in the air. All these suggestions, moreover, are from a position outside the team without any information on inner team dynamics and personal relations within the team. Such an outsider-perspective can be seriously flawed. The Selection Committee must surely consult Kumar and Manager Anura Tennekoon — quietly and confidentially — before moving to such a momentous decision.

 However, on a related issue I speak with greater confidence. The SLC must ensure a system is in place to relieve the captain of duties pertaining to player contracts and the organisation of practice sessions. Sangakkara got mentally burnt from the pressure associated with such tasks. The office-bearers of the Players Association must be given due weight and permitted to bear the burden of contract negotiations. The coach they select must be an organisation man in the mould of Moody and Shane Duff, individuals who attend to the minutiae of training in methodical fashion unlike the more recent incumbent. They must also insist on a coach who is prepared to bring his family toSri Lankaand is able to work with the younger players in the periods between series—that is as important as coaching tasks in the heat of battle.

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