Andrew Fidel Fernando, in ESPNcricinfo, 17 April 2019, with this title “How Sri Lanka’s search for a World Cup captain ended with Karunaratne”
Where most teams are merely working out which of their fringe players will make the trip to the World Cup, Sri Lanka had a bigger question to answer: who will captain the team? Over the past two years, the captaincy has changed hands at a dizzying rate, with Angelo Mathews having had it in two stints, Dinesh Chandimal also helming the ship twice, Lasith Malinga getting the job in late 2018 (after having been stand-in captain once, in 2017), while Thisara Perera and even Chamara Kapugedara have also led the team. It’s been like a game of spin-the-bottle, except instead of embarrassing teenage consequences, Sri Lanka have had embarrassing losses. Since the start of 2017, they have lost 41 and won only 11 ODIs.
The selectors finally announced their decision on Wednesday evening: Dimuth Karunaratne. ESPNcricinfo looks at the pros and cons of the contenders Ashantha de Mel‘s selection committee are likely to have looked at before arriving at their pick for the job.
Was Sri Lanka’s standing captain, having led the team since the start of the year. What he offered as a tactician, though, was not enough to overcome his shortcomings.
- Extensive experience in ODI cricket, with the capacity to devise unorthodox strategies, the likes of which have seen Sri Lanka prosper in the past.
- Clearly wanted the job pretty badly, having flown overnight following an IPL gig in Mumbai to play in the Super Four Provincial Tournament, which he proceeded to light up with this bowling.
- Arguably the best player in the team and, as such, the most capable of leading by example.
- Has led Sri Lanka to a global title (2014 World T20) before, although that team contained several other strong leaders, including Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
- Did not have the support of many players, nor coach Chandika Hathurusingha, according to chief selector de Mel. Malinga is generally not reputed to be a good man-manager.
- Sri Lanka have lost all nine ODIs played under his leadership.
- Had family members start Facebook fights with other senior members of the team.
Having been out through injury since December, Mathews was another option. Having been ungraciously axed as ODI captain in September, however, Mathews had some serious scars when it came to the captaincy.
- Arguably Sri Lanka’s best batsman and a player who, if fit, will feature right through the World Cup campaign.
- Has substantial experience, having captained 101 completed ODIs, winning 49 and losing 51 (one was a tie).
- Is understood to have a good relationship with most players in the side.
- Has hamstrings so fragile, they could tear if someone so much as thinks about them. Having not completed the majority of the tours he has begun over the past two years, it is unclear if Mathews can last a whole World Cup, even if he doesn’t bowl.
- Despite a half-decent win/loss record, Mathews has never been a captain who inspired widespread faith. Sri Lanka crashed out at the quarter-final stage of the 2015 event under his leadership.
- Has had a frosty relationship with coach Hathurusingha over the last six months, after Hathurusingha was part of the group that sacked Mathews as captain following last year’s Asia Cup, and raised questions on his fitness.
- Mathews himself was understood to be reluctant at best, or completely unwilling at worst, to take on the leadership.
A left-field choice for the captaincy, Karunaratne is someone who had publicly stated that he would take the job if offered.
- Led Sri Lanka to one of the biggest Test series upsets in history in February, when they whitewashed South Africa, away from home, in Karunaratne’s first assignment as captain.
- Understood to have support in the dressing room, as well as having an acceptable relationship with Hathurusingha.
- Known to be a deep thinker on the game, paying particular attention to data and opposition strategy.
- Hasn’t played a single ODI since the last World Cup and, as such, might not have the most natural grip on tactics in the format.
- Although his ODI game appears to have improved substantially, Karunaratne doesn’t necessarily command a place in Sri Lanka’s best XI, with several other opening options around. This is partly because he is not known to have an explosive gear to his batting. Having now been named captain, however, Karunaratne – effectively an untested player in this format – will almost certainly play right through Sri Lanka’s nine group matches.