India vs Sri Lanka: Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva showed on Day 5 why selectors must drop their juggling act

Sri Lanka selectors haven't given new players enough time to accustom themselves to the rigours of international cricket.

Rohit Sankar, December 07, 2017

To state that Sri Lankan cricket is in a mess would be an understatement. The island nation has been churning out listless displays across formats in recent times, not just due to the retirements of some stalwarts, but also because they have failed to groom the next generation of cricketers.

Does that mean they haven't given chances to youngsters or players who perform admirably well in domestic cricket? Hell, no.

Since the start of 2015, Sri Lanka have played 48 players in ODIs alone, which is a record in this time period. In Tests, the number is 33, second only to Australia (34) and England (35), who have played quite a few more games than Lanka in this time frame.

Sri Lanka batsman Dhananjaya De Silva (L) and Roshen Silva run between the wickets during the third Test match against India. AFP

Sri Lanka batsman Dhananjaya De Silva (L) and Roshen Silva run between the wickets during the third Test match against India. AFP

This clearly indicates that the selectors have not at all been reluctant to venture into unknown territories by giving opportunities to new players.

Then what has gone wrong for Sri Lankan cricket? Why are the selectors a huge part of the turmoil that Sri Lanka find themselves in?

The simple answer is that they have had a rather interesting policy of not backing whoever they bring in. It is not that only 12 of the 48 players Sri Lanka tried were good enough to play international cricket. It is just that they haven't been given enough time to accustom themselves to the rigours of international cricket before they find themselves dumped unceremoniously.

Take for instance the case of Dhananjaya de Silva. The flamboyant top-order batsman was in pristine touch on Day 5 at Delhi, taking on the Indian bowlers with a positive mindset and impeccable technique. His tenacity in the face of danger helped raise the energy in the Sri Lankan dressing room, so much so that Roshen Silva, on debut, and Niroshan Dickwella, still an unpopular figure in India following an ill-timed laugh, carried the team to a draw even after Dhananjaya walked off the field.

Dhananjaya's hundred was his third in Test cricket and he has played a grand total of just 11 matches. He was the top run-getter when Australia toured Sri Lanka last year and suffered an embarrassing whitewash.

Yet, by July this year, the selectors felt that Dhananjaya was surplus to their requirements and dropped him for the home Test against Zimbabwe, which was even more surprising given his record against the nation. In four innings against Zimbabwe, Dhananjaya had one half-century and a hundred.

Even if he had four ducks, Sri Lanka should have stuck by him given the potential he displayed during that Australian series. Instead, the Lankan selectors have always gone back to their tried and tested group of players.

The return tour of India was supposed to be a huge deal for this Sri Lankan outfit. Instead of persisting with Kusal Mendis, who was among the only two centurions for the hosts in the home series against India, the selection panel, headed by Graeme Labrooy, decided that his confidence would grow if he were dropped. A logic that would go down into the 'just Sri Lankan things’ category.

"He is a confidence player. For him, confidence is everything. He has got everything in his armoury. We don't want a situation where he plays two more innings, gets two low scores and then (we have to) drop him and destroy his confidence further. He has got age on his side and we want him to go onto becoming one of the greatest of the game. We want him to play for another 10 years,” Labrooy had said.

While the idea might seem appropriate, it is bizarre that Lanka have been struggling to no end and their most talented batsman was left behind for a rather important tour.

Dhananjaya and Mendis aren't the lone sufferers in this regard. Lakshan Sandakan, Dasun Shanaka and Danushka Gunathilaka have all been meted out similar treatment by the selectors. A furious Kumar Sangakkara had spoken to the media about the instability in team selection.

"One of the things that the current Sri Lankan team needs is to have some sort of continuity. If you're not emotionally mature or mentally skilled enough, most people won't thrive in an environment where there is insecurity, where either you're looking over your shoulder, or above your head, waiting for that sword to fall," Sangakkara had said.

“Giving opportunity continuously to the best” is something the selectors would need to take note of. Like Sangakkara said, nobody thrives in an insecure environment. It is about instilling confidence in players who you know have the talent and potential, and backing them through their lows.

In that, the selectors have fared miserably. That the Lahiru Thirimanne's, Chamara Kapugedera's and Thisara Perera’s get countless opportunities despite being mediocre over a long period of time, and the likes of Dhananjaya and Mendis get sporadic chances, is where Sri Lanka are faltering and continue to falter.

In Delhi on Day 5, another domestic star (alongside Dhananjaya) made his presence felt. Roshen, on his debut, and coming off the back of a duck in the first innings, hung around for 154 balls to make 74 and showed that players with no scars are sometimes better than seasoned warhorses.

At 29, Roshen has the experience of more than 100 First-Class games and his maturity stood out when he restrained Dickwella from going after the target, which was a sensible move considering that Sri Lanka had little batting to come after the wicketkeeper-batsman. That kind of maturity and realisation is what Sri Lankan cricket needs right now.

Will the selectors still resume their maddening policy of juggling players without giving them a longer run continue after their new crop of talents exhibited some exhilarating stuff on Wednesday or will the Delhi Test be a turning point in Sri Lanka's transition journey? Only time will tell.

Updated Date: Dec 07, 2017

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