Nirgunan Tiruchelvam in the Sunday Island, 23 June 2013, where the title reads: “Three Aiyas and a Boru Captain”
Puppetry is dying in Sri Lanka due to the rise of television. But, the cricket team may help revive it. The 26-year-old Angelo Mathews is a captain only in name. The team is controlled by the old firm of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who are aged 36 and 35. The two veterans whisper field placements to their prodigy. The fielders look to the old guard for guidance not to the official captain. Master strokes such as sending Kulasekera as a pinch hitter against England are not Mathews’ ideas.
To add to the comedy, the 23-year-old vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal can’t command a place in the side. Mathews barely looks at him, let alone consult him. Chandimal was banished to the outfield, while Mathews sought wisdom from the old men.
The two veterans have not only mastered cricket, but also diplomacy. After the Australian win, the unofficial captains were falling over each other to praise the official leader. Mahela and Sanga are brothers from different mothers. The duo have formed a Bro-mance (brotherly romance), which has few parallels. They complete each other’s sentences off the field. On the field, they have accumulated mountains of runs with both of them reaching 10,000 runs in Test cricket.
Sri Lanka has had as many as five captains in the last four years. Mahela and Sanga are the cause of this game of musical chairs. They have been reluctant to keep the job and intent on their personal advancement. Their own captaincy stints were marred by bitter tussles with the board. The bone of contention was Mahela and Sanga’s objection to the primacy of international cricket. After the 2008 Asia Cup win, the two spearheaded a campaign to scrap the England tour in favour of the IPL. Cricketers became agitators. They shamefully submitted to money over national duty. Arjuna Ranatunga, the then Board President, correctly opposed the players.
Bad blood ensued, as the board finances deteriorated. In 2009, Mahela found captaincy a burden and suddenly paved the way for Sangakkara to succeed him. Sanga had success as a leader but his stint ended with the World Cup final in 2011. The tussle with the selectors was not the only issue. Sanga struggled to combine the role of captain, principal batsman and ODI wicket-keeper.
Dilshan’s reign was marred by the attitude of his two leading batsmen. Mahela and Sanga avoided the tour matches in 2011 England tour due to the IPL. Mahela’s form went in to a deep slump. A fifty eluded him in nine successive overseas Tests. In January 2012, the selectors lost patience with Dilshan. Mahela consented to a one year return as captain.
Mathews is an ideal understudy to the old pair. His captaincy experience is thin, having hardly captained in club cricket. Mathews disgraced himself at the IPL. He went from captain to bench warmer in about five games. With just one century in international cricket, Mathews’ batting has promise but little substance. He has strong hands and a calm approach. But, he takes ages to accelerate the scoring. His technique against the spinners is poor. As an insecure and untested leader, he has no choice but to listen to his mentors.
It is possible that Mathews will lead in the 2015 World Cup, with three former captains in their late 30s under him. The arrangement may succeed provided there is harmony.
The third former captain may undermine it. The 36-year-old Dilshan’s reflexes are past their prime. The timing required for the Dilscoop is fading. He drops sitters as often as he takes blinders. Despite his age, Dilshan is crucial to the ODI team. He provides energy at the top of order and on the field. His crafty bowling provides flexibility.
However, Dilshan’s presence in the dressing room may be a threat to the fake captain. Dilshan is a prodigy of the powerful Chairman of Selectors Sanath Jayasuriya. Graham Ford, the coach, is another who owes a lot to Jayasuriya’s patronage. Ford and Jayasuriya formed a bond when Jayasuriya played for the Dolphins in South Africa.
Puppetry may overshadow the cricket. Jayasuriya and his two prodigies are an alternate source of authority to Mahela and Sanga boru show. Sri Lanka’s fortunes at the next World Cup will be determined by the games off the pitch rather than on the pitch.