I am venturing bold and proceeding to select fifteen players without the ‘data’ issuing from the trial matches taking place in Sri Lanka. I have taken serious note of Asantha de Mel’s provocative and thoughtful media session and been assisted materially by comments from a pal in Lanka who keeps a close eye on events within the island, but wishes to remain in the background. He will feature in my essay as ‘The Ghost’.
The initial focus must, of course, be on the captaincy. While Lasith Malinga has been anointed by the De Mel Committee and is apparently marked out as a death overs bowler of value, his lack of mobility as a fieldsman raises doubts in my mind. Moreover, The Ghost tells me that that this choice has generated some disquiet within the squad.
Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal have figured as captains in the past. Mathews, alas, has only been able to take the field intermittently because of his susceptibility to hamstring and other problems. The Ghost is quite scathing in his appraisal of Angelo’s captaincy, while Hathurasinghe identified an unenviable record in his centrality in run-out episodes. But his overall ODI average (42.36) is way ahead of the others and is linked to a reasonable strike-rate of 83.39. It seems advisable to place him as a key figure in the middle order and a member of the leadership team without the cap of captaincy.
Chandimal, I gather, got on well with coach Hathurasinghe, but the grapevine information indicates that this combination contributed to an unpleasant if not toxic team environment during the Antipodean tour. It also brought the duo into conflict with the new Selection Committee. Asantha de Mel took the bold decision to exclude Chandimal from the tour of South Africa – a radical step which paid off handsomely in the Test series.
Since the considered policies fashioned by Dimuth and his vice-captain Dickwella boosted team sprits and aided their triumphs in the two Tests, Karunaratne must feature seriously in the captaincy stakes – even though he has not been a member of the ODI squads in the past.
De Mel has made it clear that Karunaratne must stake a place in the ODI side with his batting before he is considered for captaincy. But will batting prowess in 2 or 3 matches in Sri Lankan conditions today in 2019 serve as adequate evidence?
Karunaratne has the capacity to play an anchor role in a 50-over match and the place of a captain in sustaining team spirit is so vital that I would enshrine him as our skipper in England. Michael de Zoysa also recommended him for this spot and The Ghost is equally adamant. So, Dimuth is to be my skipper.
So, that resolves one opener’s spot. I would choose Kusal Janith Perera and Niroshan Dickwella as the other potential opening batsman. Perera has matched Mathews recently in his propensity for injuries and it is not clear if he will be fit in time. Dickwella had a bad series in South Africa; but a middling record in ODIs in New Zealand. The Ghost is severely crucial of Dickwella’s style of play, but I am less so: the dilscoop is a legitimate ploy in many conditions and disrupts the bowlers’ equanimity. As it is, Dickwella’s ODI batting average over the course of 49 outings is 32.70 – on par with Chandimal and only bettered by Mathews (42.36). I would retain him in the squad and insert him in the playing XI according to pitch/match conditions. Kusal Perera has had almost as many disruptions as Mathews so Dickwella is cover for both and an attacking option.
Given Chandimal’s experience I would have him as my chosen No. 3. With the chastening experience Dinesh Chandimal has gone through recently I anticipate that he will return to the fold in determined spirit. Given a strong-minded Selector on tour as Manager. potential conflicts can be averted and there is no reason why Chandimal cannot be given a voice in the leadership team.
Kusal Mendis is an obvious choice as No 4. With Mathews at No 5, Dhananjaya de Silva is my choice No. 6 and back-up spin bowler – or even principal spinner if seaming conditions dictate a packed pacemen attack.
Tisara Perera is to be our allrounder at No. 7 and to be followed by Isuru Udana who proved his mettle as a bowling allrounder in South Africa and was a shining example in support of the De Mel Committee’s thinking beyond the previous stack of selections.
THE PROBLEM OF SPIN-BOWLER
There is no Murali and no Herath. The ICC regime directed at bent-arm actions seem to debilitate Asian spinning-arms: witness what has happened ver the last decade to Sachitra Senanayake and Tharinda Kaushal … and now Akila Dananjaya. Akila is no Mural,i but had developed into a decent option … and one who bought a fighting spirit into the field and the batting crease as well. But the enforced change in action has debilitated his strike-power.
Both Sandakan and Vandersay evince a fighting spirit, but their consistency of length is in serious question.
What are the other options: the dual-type Kamindu Mendis? the lefties Siriwardena, Embuldeniya and Aponso? Or Dilruwan Perera? Or Seekkuge Prasanna? I am tempted to opt for Vandersay as a potentially explosive time-bomb; but a safer route would be to lean towards Dananjaya, Prasanna and Mendis in that order…. And to add Prasanna’s experience in English conditions into our ‘weighing scales’. My coin-toss landed in favour of Vandersay.
The OTHER BOWLERS
In normal conditions there would be two front-line pacemen in the team and my choices would be Malinga and Lakmal – with Lakmal given the vice-captaincy in support of Karunaratne and part of a leadership team comprising Karunaratne, Mathews, Malinga, Chandimal and Dickwella.
SUPPORTING PLAYERS 13-14-15
The supporting requirements are a batsman, a spin-bowler and a paceman – with the hope that each of these personnel can make a contribution in the subsidiary department of bowling or batting.
The batsmen in contention are Tharanga, Thirimanne, Gunathilake, Oshada Fernando, Avishka Fernando, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Angelo Perera, Kamindu Mendis and Shehan Jayasuriya.
Oshada Fernando revealed an attacking capacity and good temperament in the Test matches in South Africa and my leanings are towards him – subject to one caveat: he requires a through-going crash course in running between the wickets from a senior advisor.
Having opted for Vandersay on a whim and a prayer, my reserve spinner would be Akila Dananjaya, though some thought should be given to Angelo Perera as a batsman who can offer spin-bowling options and to Kamindu Mendis as a spinner-allrounder.
Kasun Rajitha’s height as well as his calmness and spirit on the field leads me to opt for him ahead of Lahiru Kumara (also tall) and the swing bowler Vishwa Fernando as the fifth paceman in the pool.
1= Dimuth Karunaratne
2= Kusal J Perera
3= Dinesh Chandimal
4= Kusal Mendis
5= Angelo Mathews
6= Dananjaya de Silva
6/7 = Niroshan Dickwella
7/8= Tisara Perera
8/9 = Isuru Udana
10/11 = Suranga Lakmal
11/12= Lasith Malinga
11/12 = Jeffrey Vandersay
13 = Oshada Fernando
14 = Dananjaya/ Siriwardena/ Kamindu Mendis
15 = Rajitha/Vishva Fernando
My selections have been made without sufficient observation of the players as fieldsmen – since my viewing has been limited to recent international matches. Quickness of movement, agility and safe hands are a must …. And should weigh the scales in favour of B over A if the latter has suspect capacities in either one of these three facets of fielding. Indeed, it is my hope that my premature venture into the public realm with a Chosen Squad will stimulate emails and social media comment with assessments of the players in the fielding realm.
I have added overall career statistics in Batting as an Appendix as another criterion – but one which must be read cautiously because some players are just starting up and others have been around for a while. Ideally, one should have statistics for the last three years as out guideline. Thirmanne, Tharanga and Gunathilake present decent averages, but their strike-rate is not remarkable and my (suspect) recollections indicate that their most recent performances were not striking and were even poor.
RESERVES in UK
As indicated in my previous essay, Sri Lanka cricket should select a few players as stand-by players with the requisite travel documents and go yet further and secure cricket-playing placements in England, Scotland or Ireland for three more players. So, whom should these be in the light of the fifteen chosen above?
Angelo Perera, Kamindu Mendis and Lahiru Kumara would be my options for stints in UK; while Milinda Siriwardena and Prasanna should have their gear and passports at hand for any urgent call-up.
Those critics who have wielded scathing pens and etched poisonous lines in writing on the Sri Lankan team’s performances in the short-form game should take note of the horrendous run of injuries that have hit the squads. The pacemen seem to have been out of action as often as they took the field. But since they were not throwing the wickets down, their absences cannot be said to have influenced overall results that much.
It is among the batting XI that illnesses or bodily ailments have hit the team hard. Mathews and Kusal Perera are not the only batsmen who have been out of section on two-three occasions recently. Asela Gunaratne and, more recently, Dasun Shanaka have been put out of action. Gunaratne was a late entry into cricket; yet revealed remarkable aplomb and a capacity to improvise as a batsman. His recent spate of ailments (can someone clarify details please) deprived us of a ‘cool-hand Luke’ in the middle order who could address tight situations.
APPENDIX = Batting stats
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