Rex Clementine, in Sunday Island, 21 april 2019, with this title
This week, Sri Lanka Cricket announced their World Cup squad. Ironically, they had chosen Maundy Thursday to make the announcement. Maundy Thursday is an important day in the calendar for Christians as this day marks the betrayal of Jesus by two of his disciples – Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Judas openly betrayed his master while Peter, Jesus’ most trusted disciple, denied knowing him three times and later repented. Several Sri Lankan cricketers must have felt betrayed on Thursday by the very man who is supposed stand by them. Ashantha De Mel is his name. The Chairman of Selectors played both Judas and Peter at the same time. Like the latter, he still has an opportunity to rectify some of his errors.
The man who felt betrayed most was Niroshan Dickwella. Only four months ago, the very man who sacked him had elevated him as Vice-Captain of the Sri Lankan side. De Mel in fact suggested that Dickwella was good enough to take over as captain moving forward. How quickly time changes. Dickwella now has suffered a double whammy, axed as Vice-Captain and out of the side too.
Dickwella has been one of the brightest young players to represent the country in recent times. He has been Sri Lanka’s wicketkeeper for the last 24 months across all three formats. One bad series in South Africa and he finds himself sold down the river by the very man who had hailed him as captain in waiting.
De Mel argues that Dickwella’s batting is inconsistent. That is true. But can anyone remember when was the last time Dickwella put down a chance or fluffed a stumping? Actually, in his last ten ODIs, Dickwella has scored three fifties and averages 34. The risks that Dickwella takes while batting are far insignificant than the risks those who engage in million dollar hedging deals take plundering the economy into crisis.
Not many people out there are prepared to scoop the first ball from Kagiso Rabada over third man for six. There aren’t many people willing to pull Mitchell Starc’s first ball over midwicket as well. There aren’t also very many people to tell Virat Kohli to get lost. This kid is 25 and has some special talent in him. Axing him doesn’t make any sense.
Dinesh Chandimal is another who must be feeling betrayed. De Mel’s predecessors had picked him as the captain for the World Cup. He was getting settled at number three slot when De Mel was put in charge. In three days, the selectors destroyed Chandimal. On day one he was axed as captain. On day two he was demoted down the order and on day three he was dropped from the side. No conversation with the Head Coach and no conversation with the player concerned whatsoever. Can you find a better alternative for bull in a China shop story?
The selection policies of Graeme Labrooy and his successor De Mel are like chalk and cheese. Due to lack of continuity the sport is going to suffer major setbacks and at least after the World Cup, authorities need to see whether selectors can be given longer periods in office rather than one year terms.
When De Mel took over he had about six months for the World Cup and less than a handful of ODIs before selecting the World Cup squad. He would have been better off sticking with status quo with minor changes rather than looking to shake up the system. He opted for the latter. He thought he knew the answers and felt that by appointing Lasith Malinga as captain everything will be tickety boo. That proved to be a disaster.
Since De Mel became Chairman of Selectors, Sri Lanka have not won a single game in white ball cricket. This is after 12 attempts and that sums up the story. Whatever the experiments he has done is not working and the worst is yet to come.
Changing players in New Zealand didn’t work. It didn’t work in South Africa either. What makes you think that it will work in England? Changing pillows for headaches is simply not the answer.
In his World Cup squad, De Mel has chosen five players who have not played an ODI in the last 18 months. It’s laughable. Barring Dimuth Karunaratne and maybe Jeffrey Vandersay, the three others – Milinda Siriwardene, Jeevan Mendis and Lahiru Thirimanne had been given a fair run before. Then the selectors had decided that they will not feature in their World Cup plans. Now it’s back to square one.
No one would have faulted De Mel had he chosen some young talents instead. But rather, he has picked proven failures at the international level. De Mel did have some sound reasoning for some of the selections that he had to do. He would conveniently find an escape route to some of the dubious selections that were done. It’s a joke to pick five players who had not played an ODI in the last 18 months for the sport’s showpiece event. As Kumar Sangakkara once said; ‘Selectors all over the world move around mysteriously like gods.’