They say desperate times need desperate measures and Sri Lanka’s selectors have gone from one extreme to another to fix their cricketing woes with deep infighting and disharmony threatening to derail their World Cup campaign. Lasith Malinga remains their best match winner but a lousy captain. Not that tactically he is fragile, but the inability to bring everyone together saw him lose 12 games on the trot. The selectors then went to Angelo Mathews, who captained them in the last World Cup, but he turned down the offer, due to differences with Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha. They could have gone back to Dinesh Chandimal, whom Malinga replaced in December, but he would have taken up the captaincy on one condition – there can be no Lasith Malinga in his World Cup squad!
So the selectors were left with Hobson’s choice. They had to bring in a total outsider - Dimuth Karunaratne - and hand over the reins of the team to him. Karunaratne last played an ODI more than four years ago. The reason why he is captaining because only he can bring the Mathews, Malingas, Pereras and even the Hathurusinghas together.
That’s not the only gamble former pacer Ashantha De Mel and his fellow selectors have taken. They might regret some as well. Their first choice wicketkeeper is Kusal Janith Perera. While KJP picks himself as a specialist batsman, his wicketkeeping doesn't inspire confidence. Plus he is injury prone as well and the backup keeper is Kusal Mendis, both players don’t keep wickets even in domestic cricket.
Niroshan Dickwella has kept wickets for Sri Lanka across all three formats in the last 24 months. His axing has been extremely harsh. The selectors argued that runs were the currency to earn a World Cup spot. But he rarely makes a mistake behind the stumps. So does Chandimal although his strike rate in the mid-70s may be a bother. But as a wicketkeeper, he rarely concedes a bye. Leaving both their best wicketkeepers home might hurt the Sri Lankans.
Chandimal is perhaps the most high profile casualty. After all, he was the man destined to take the Sri Lankan side to the World Cup. In December he was Sri Lanka’s captain. Four months later, he doesn’t even find a place in the side. His is the unkindest cut of all.
Now on to the lucky ones. In December 2017 in Mohali, Sri Lanka’s selectors decided that they had seen enough of Lahiru Thirimanne. He had been given ample opportunities but had failed to make most of them. He didn’t play an ODI for the next 18 months. Then he got a hundred in his last domestic game representing Galle. Suddenly the selectors believe that his cover drives will fetch them a place in the knockout stages of the World Cup! The reality, however, is far from it.
They have also picked three spinning all-rounders – Dhananjaya de Silva, Jeevan Mendis and Milinda Siriwardene. Carrying that many spinning all-rounders to England is like carrying coals to Newcastle. Furthermore, they play just one game in the south with all their other games being played in Wales, Midlands or North.
Apart from De Silva, who is a lower middle-order batsman, both Mendis and Siriwardene were tried, tested and discarded. Siriwardene, who bowls left-arm orthodox spin, was given an extended run as Sri Lanka were trying out their World Cup hopefuls and was dumped in October 2017. Mendis has not played an ODI in more than four years. He was given opportunities in T20 cricket last year but was nowhere near the required standard.
De Mel’s problem is that he has failed to continue what his predecessors have been doing in preparation for the World Cup. Not that Sri Lanka were covering themselves in glory in the shorter formats of the game in recent times as their world rank of eighth indicate. But at least they should have backed those who were in the system for the last 12 months. Making wholesale changes and going back on the policies does simply not augur well moving forward. Sri Lanka’s selectors have picked four players in the World Cup squad who have not played an ODI for at least last 18 months.
De Mel has done the job before. A respected former cricketer, he has been Chairman of Selectors on three instances in the last 15 years, including in 2007 when Sri Lanka reached the finals of the World Cup.
This time around, his selections have lacked reasoning. He is perhaps outdated and certainly doesn’t see eye to eye with head coach Hathurusingha. All the high profile casualties have close working relationships with Hathurusingha and look up to him as a mentor. That may have sealed their fate. Whatever it is, Sri Lanka are destined for disaster at the World Cup. One time champions and two times runners-up, they have pressed the self destruction button. The final nails on their coffin will be delivered in England and Wales.