The talent is there, we’re just missing the application. The players need to show more mental toughness in pressure situations.
We have to ensure that there’s a better depth of talent going forward, to keep competition for places strong. We must give our players the confidence to play a fearless, Sri Lankan brand of cricket.
Different day, same familiar platitudes, all of which were once again rolled out as the Sri Lankan team returned home following their better than expected (but still pretty ignominious) World Cup sojourn.
Addressing a packed pressroom at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) headquarters yesterday, chief selector Ashantha De Mel attempted to put a positive spin on Sri Lanka’s campaign.
“Scotland is a very good, up and coming side. In fact they had beaten England and Pakistan in Scotland, so in their conditions they’re a very competitive side. So it was nice to see that we managed to score in excess of 330 runs against them,” began De Mel, referencing Sri Lanka’s two ODI-series against Scotland before the World Cup.
“Then when the World Cup started we got off to a bad start with New Zealand, but of the seven games we played we won three. We beat England and the West Indies as well. I don’t think it was a very successful tour, but I think winning three out of seven is almost 50%,” he continued.
“And the bowlers, although they were not able to get a lot of wickets, I think they bowled reasonably well. It was just that the batting didn’t fire in the first few games to give the bowlers a chance.
“If you watched the (Australia) match you saw that we were 115 for no loss, but when Kusal Janith got out, we allowed Glenn Maxwell to go for just 40 runs. He’s their fifth bowler, and I feel we didn’t attack him enough. Because when you’re chasing 338 you can’t allow the fifth bowler to go for 40 runs because then at the end you’re going to face Starc and Cummins and try to score at eight, nine runs an over.
“In this sense the mental attitude of the players needs to change. We must play a Sri Lankan brand of cricket. We must go there and back our talents. We must play positive cricket.”
In terms of how Sri Lanka can reach these stated goals, De Mel believes Sri Lanka already has a core group of players good enough to succeed, but that long-term planning is crucial.
“We have two goals. One is to plan for the next world cup, the other is to plan for the immediate future and the next couple of games.
“When you look at our present batch of players, Dimuth (Karunaratne) can play another world cup, Avishka Fernando, Kusal Janith (Perera), Kusal Mendis, even (Lahiru) Thirimanne, I think they can play. Angelo Mathews, if he stays fit, he can also play another world cup. So I don’t see too many problems in the age makeup of this squad.
“I personally feel that the batting one to six there’s some stability. Maybe we may bring in one or two people, such as (Niroshan) Dickwella who is form or Shehan Jayasuriya who is also in the runs. But other than that, I think the top six we’re quite set and we want to build around that.
“From the fast bowling side we’ve had some injuries, but with them now recovering and coming back into the fold, we might be able to add some of those guys. Spinners also we’ll have to look and see, because guys like Akila and Sandakan are knocking on the door.
“But at the same time, we expect to bring in more young players into the squad. What we have to ensure is that there is good competition among the first team players and the fringe players. What we’ve told the players is to go and play without fear, without worrying about your position for the next game.”
While such forthright analysis unarguably rings true – and once upon a time may even have strongly resonated with the public and players – a quick glance at the head table – Captain Dimuth Karunaratne, flanked by De Mel and head coach Chandika Hathurusingha – tells you all you need to know about the present uncertainty surrounding the national team, and why such sentiments are now taken with more than a grain of salt.
While Karunaratne’s leadership at the World Cup left both Hathurusingha and De Mel impressed, neither man is guaranteed to continue in their roles for much longer.
Hathurusingha is only half way through a well-remunerated 36-month contract, which runs down on 31 December 2020; SLC has tried and failed to remove him in recent months, but when questioned about his future, he played his cards close to his chest.
“I expect to see out the remainder of my contract,” was all he would say on the matter.
De Mel meanwhile was initially brought in as head of the selection committee up until the end of the World Cup, though at this point it is unclear if he will be asked to continue in the role. With the frequency of change in Sri Lanka’s selection committees only bettered by its coach and captaincy turnover, it is little wonder players fear the axe following a bad performance. And while it’s likely that all three will still be in place for Sri Lanka’s next two assignments, home series against Bangladesh and New Zealand, it’s clear that SLC needs to adhere to some sort of overarching vision in the long-term. Lest the same mistakes be repeated once again in four years’ time. (By Madushka Balasuriya)
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