'Too many cooks spoil the broth’ goes the saying and it holds true for Sri Lankan cricket selections. For far too long, selectors and administrators have bothered the captain and coach with undue interference in several matters and this has led to a constant change at the helm in recent times.
Graham Ford, who quit as head coach two months back, had felt that the coach and team were under too much pressure because of external influence and now Nic Pothas, the current Lankan coach, has openly come out with scathing remarks against the “outsiders”.
"You get frustrated. Am I angry with the players? Absolutely not. The players work as hard as anyone can ask of them. They've been superb. Support staff have been out of this world. Brilliant. They work endless hours with planning and helping the boys. You can't fault anyone within that changing room," Pothas had said after Sri Lanka's recent nine-wicket loss to India in the first one-day international of the five-match series.
It follows a 3-0 drubbing in the Tests and concerns have been raised about Sri Lanka not fielding their best XI a large number of times. Their decline has turned into a rapid freefall in 2017 after they lost in South Africa, drew a Test series with Bangladesh, then lost an ODI series against Zimbabwe before they completely disintegrated against the Indians.
Fickle selections are believed to be as big a problem as the retirement of some big players in clusters. The Sanath Jayasuriya selection panel has made some bizarre calls, including dropping Dinesh Chandimal for the first ODI, including Malinda Pushpakumara in the ODI squad despite his poor showing in the Tests, and persisting with Chamara Kapugedara despite his poor returns to name a few.
Since this new selection panel took over (May 2016), Sri Lanka have played 40 players in ODIs. Of these 40, only six have played more than 20 ODIs and only one player has figured in all 34 matches Sri Lanka have played (Kusal Mendis).
As many as 18 players have played less than five ODIs during this period.
It is strange that despite Sri Lanka's woes, the selectors haven't given a consistent run to several budding cricketers. In times of turmoil, teams usually tend to stick by atleast eight-nine players and give them a fair run. This hasn't happened with Sri Lanka and it is breeding disastrous results. Pothas revealed as much in his statements when questioned about timelines for improvement.
"If it was up to me and we had control over what we did, then we could probably give you a timeline. It's a question you probably need to ask a few other people as well. For me, if we were left alone and you could work with this group of players, you could get some stability and consistency over a period of six months. You'd see massive improvements. These are seriously gifted players. You give them a little bit of time — you give them a little bit of love, a little bit of care, and build up that confidence, you'll see results quick," Pothas had stated.
Pothas felt that for a team in a slump, it is difficult to rise when there are new players for every match.
All said and done, Chandimal’s exclusion at Dambulla was the most glaring. The Test captain was omitted from his usual No 4 spot where the ODI skipper, Upul Tharanga batted. But Kapugedara at No 6 was probably the straight swap in for Chandimal.
In 99 ODIs, Kapugedara has an average of 20.97, zero hundreds and eight half-centuries to his name. Chandimal, on the other hand, has an average of 33.44 after 128 matches with four centuries and 21 fifties. He was ignored in the series against Zimbabwe as well, but after his appointment as Test skipper, was expected to return to the ODI fold.
Pothas wasn't the only one to express his displeasure at Jayasuriya's selection panel. Former Sri Lankan skipper, Arjuna Ranatunga, had also lashed out at Jayasuriya for Chandimal’s exclusion from the Zimbabwe ODIs.
Ranatunga felt that Sri Lanka needed to stick to talented and experienced cricketers like Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal after the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. “Why we are struggling is because we have mismanaged our talents," Ranatunga was quoted as saying by Cricbuzz.
Ranatunga also pointed out the case of Marvan Attapattu, who had struggled in the early half of his career. The former opener had five ducks in his first six innings but later became one of Sri Lanka's best Test players. He even cited Jayasuriya's case. The flamboyant opener turned selector had just one half-century after 55 ODIs, but later flourished.
"I am disappointed that Sanath has failed to protect younger players and build teams for the future. Raw talent is rare and Sanath should stop killing raw talent. Chandimal has done extremely well for his age. He has four ODI hundreds at the age of 27, which is more than what Kumar Sangakkara or Aravinda de Silva had at that age. He had a bad Champions Trophy, but he is too good a player to be snubbed,” Ranatunga hit out.
Jayasuriya has been the head of the selection panel for close to four years now, but given the displeasure from the coach to captain to former players, it might be time for a change. Such haphazard selection in difficult times does not do Sri Lanka any good and it has only helped in plummeting them further. Pothas was spot on when he expressed: “To say ‘too many cooks’ is probably accurate.”