PREAMBLE: On the 21/22nd March I organised my thoughts on Sri Lanka’s potential ODI squad for the World Cup in England. This was a premature move – before the final two T20 matches in South Africa and without inside information of what had transpired behind the scenes in New Zealand and Australia in ways that led the new selection Committee headed by Ashantha de Mal to insert some radical changes in the squad for South Africa.
I sent some queries to cricketing friends as soon as this draft was completed; while also posting it confidentially to some of them. Since then a searching interview with Ashantha De Mel by Champika Fernando in the Daily Mirror has provided some crucial information on the events that led them to recall Chandimal. More vitally, it has provided illuminating insights into the new Selection Committee’s thinking. His comments should serve as a testing yardstick for my reflections below so that we can then move further forward in the light of the second and third T20matches against the Safs.
The World Cup will be played out in England from late May to early July in around robin format so that Sri Lanka will play nine matches spread over Cardiff, Bristol, London Oval, Headingley and Chester-le street. It follows that the squad chosen for this series must be suited to the relatively small grounds in England and the likelihood of swing-friendly conditions amidst good batting wickets on occasions. The Dukes ball will be the ‘instrument’ deployed by bowlers and must be factored into the selection process.
Sri Lanka’s recent form in short-format games has been terrible and the situation has not been assisted by injuries to Angelo Matthews and Kusal Perera (though the loss of Chameera and Gamage has been a blessing in disguise because we have seen the merits of Vishwa Fernando and Kasun Rajitha as well as a rejuvenated Isuru Udana in more recent matches).
The series of matches in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have also revealed serious flaws among our batsmen: (A) as Rohan Wijeyaratne has contended with suitable detail, there are major deficiencies in coping with shoulder and head-high bouncers on pitches that are quicker than those in use in Lanka; and (B) the shortcomings in running between the wickets that have led to dismissals of leading batsmen at crucial moments in some matches.
In considering whom to pencil in for a tentative list of FIFTEEN PLAYERS at this point of time, I am hamstrung by two limitations. First: I have not studied the recent statistics of our players in the domestic and/or international circuit. Second: I have no inside information on why Dinesh Chandimal was banished from the captaincy and kept out of the Saf tour. Watching the matches in Australia, I was dismayed by his militant approach and its contribution to his batting failures. However, there is something deeper surely behind the actions taken by the Selection Committee?
This Selection Committee is headed by Ashantha de Mel and includes Hemantha Wickramaratne, Brendon Kuruppu and Chaminda Mendis. To my personal knowledge from interaction way back in time several of these men are no-nonsense characters and some of the selections they have made have revealed new prospects of a promising character (three Fernandos, Kamindu Mendis, and the two Pereras on the Saf tour), while they have brought a rejuvenated Udana back into the fold – a success tale here.
The situation may change in the course of the competitive provincial tournament keyed in within Sri Lanka, but in the present situation I see four candidates for the role of Captain: Malinga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal. My choice at present would be Lasith Malinga with Karuanratne as Vice-Captain. I would also constitute a backroom leadership group of these four plus Lakmal.
This decision means that I have chosen to insert Dimuth K into the ODI environment even though he has only participated in this format on a few occasions in recent times. My reasoning is that he brings a calmness into the game and that we need a sheet anchor at the outset of an innings in the manner Atapattu.
His opening partner should be a dasher: Kusal Perera if fit or Dickwella or Avishka Fernando (the last named looked impressive in recent Saf outings). Dickwella has had a poor tour of South Africa, but his fearless and innovative batting can be an asset and as Vice-Captain he was one influence behind the rejuvenation of the test team under Karunaratne. I am also informed by Ranjit Fernando who considered him the best of our keepers when we chatted two years back.
Numbers 3 and 4 = Chandimal and Kusal Mendis
No 5 = Angelo Matthews
No 6 = Kamindu Mendis
No. 7 = Dhananjaya de Silva
No. 8 = Thisara Perera
No. 9 = Isuru Udana
No. 10 = Akila Dananjaya
No 11 = Lasith Malinga
This means a bowling attack of three medium-pacemen (Malinga, Udana and Thisara Perera) backed up by Akila D, Kamindu Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva.
Suranga Lakmal will be my additional paceman and can slot in if ground conditions dictate a four-pronged pace effort – so that one of the three spinners will drop out.
Spots 13 / 14 /15
We now require two batsmen and another bowler. The batsmen in contention are Dickwella, Oshada Fernando, Avishka Fernando, Angelo Perera and Sameera Samarawickrema.
Dickwella is my first choice because of his unpredictability and innovativeness besides his keeping prowess. Though Oshada Fernando was impressive in the Test arena I would opt for Avishka Fernando because of his aggressive intent and because Oshada’s running between the wickets was mediocre.
Bowler 15 depends on a major decision: does one opt for a wrist spinner in Vandersay or Sandakan …. Or another paceman? My inclination leans towards a paceman because most matches are in in the period June. Those in the running are Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Gamage, Dushmantha Chameeera and Nuwan Pradeep.
Pradeep has prior English experience; Fernando’s swing-capacities are tempting; Chameera and Gamage have pace, but I am inclined towards Rajitha. Though seeming ungainly, his performance has been middling-good and he revealed commendable level-headedness in effecting a run-out with a 45% direct hit from mid-on in one ODI match.
Reserves in Place in UK
It is advisable for Sri Lanka Cricket to select three players suited to English conditions as back-up players: one batsman, one spinner and one paceman. With the aid of Sarath Abeysundera and other benefactors, playing roles should be secured for these men in the league arenas – so that they will be acclimatized if suddenly pitchforked into the squad.