How is Mahela still in the ODI team? Confronting ageism in Sangakkara’s camp

From 01 January 2009 to 18 December 2009, only one batsman has averaged over 50.00 in ODI cricket for Sri Lanka. It’s not a brain teaser. That man was neither Mahela Jayawardene or Sanath Jayasuriya, it was TM Dilshan.

In the same period, Sanath Jayasuriya has averaged more (28.42 in 21 matches) than Mahela Jayawardene (26.41 in 24 matches), and he also has a better strike rate than Mahela.

Yet, Jayasuriya finds himself struggling to maintain his place in the team, whilst Mahela Jayawardene has a guaranteed spot.

Here is a head to head comparison of Mahela and Sanath’s last 10 ODI knocks for Sri Lanka

Mahela Jayawardene Sanath Jayasuriya
39 v India 5 v India
3 v India 24 v New Zealand
77 v New Zealand 0 v England
9 v England 10 v South Africa
77 v South Africa 36 v India
1 v India 98 v India
17 v India 7 v New Zealand
0 v New Zealand 6 v Pakistan
31 v Pakistan 30 v Pakistan
19 v Pakistan 15 v Pakistan

Clearly neither batsman has lived up to their reputations, or ability. It is also evident that there has been no consistency from either batsman. What then warrants the inclusion of Mahela Jayawardene and not Sanath Jayasuriya?

During the 1st ODI between India and Sri Lanka, where India scored over 400 runs, Ravi Shastri posed a question to Russel Arnold on commentary. Shastri asked Arnold if Sanath Jayasuriya would be sent to open the innings despite being dropped down to the middle order. India had scored over 400 and Sri Lanka needed Jayasuriya to get them off to a flyer.

"Sangakkara has definitely made up his mind that Jayasuriya is going to be playing a new role in this team," replied Arnold.

"Best sides in the world are flexible," Shastri responded.

When Sehwag and Dhoni were pummeling the Lankan bowlers to all parts, Sehwag hit a ball back with such ferocity that Jayasuriya, who stuck his hand out to stop it, winced in pain.

The stump microphone picked up Sehwag telling Dhoni that if anyone would get close to this huge Indian total it would be Jayasuriya, and they hoped he was hurt.

What could possibly prompt a progressive Sri Lankan skipper like Sangakkara to drop a man with such a feared reputation?

It can’t be form can it? As pointed out above, other batsman have failed as miserably as Sanath Jayasuriya.

Sangakkara hasn’t even given the legend an opportunity at the top of the innings on these flat batting decks to get back into form.

If Upul Tharanga can make a half century on these tracks, just imagine what Sanath could do?

The only thing that keeps pushing Sanath Jayasuriya out of the Sri Lankan squad is the blatant age discrimination being displayed by both the former skipper Jayawardena and the current skipper Sangakkara.

In 2006, with the inclusion of Tom Moody as coach, Sri Lanka was on a drive to introduce "young blood" in to the squad and drive out the seniors. Jayawardena and Sangakakra both were mislead into thinking this is a progressive move which would set them apart from other Asian teams.

Unfortunately in both Marvan Atapattu’s case and now Jayasuriya’s, it is a case of ageism, also known as age discrimination.

Sanath Jayasuriya is as competent as any player in the current squad. His fitness is not in question. If his form is the reason for his omission, why is Mahela still in the team?

The series is level, I would think it’s only just to give Jayasuriya a go at the top. Demoting a batsman of Sanath’s calibre to the middle order, when bowlers around the world have faced his wrath at the top of the innings, is a great disservice to a man who put the Sri Lankan cricket team on the map.

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