ODI loss exposes Sanath Jayasuriya’s highly questionable selection policies

Some of Sanath Jayasuriya’s selection policies during the ODI series defies all logic. A man once known for his on-field exploits, has left fans wondering if his time as a politician had caused permanent damage to his cricket genius.

It’s not a case of him having made a couple of bad choices. It has been a series of inexplicable decisions. Poor judgment. Stubborn actions. Knee-jerk reactions prompting so many cutting and chopping of personnel. Perhaps symptoms of a man having spent just a little too much time in the Sri Lankan parliament and a lot more time around those still there?

The inclusion of Thisara Perera, against the advice of A-team coach Avishka Gunewardena was not just a very bad decision, but also a stubborn one that showed disregard and disrespect for the process. Thisara has had a very long run of poor form. His career averages; batting average of 17 at a strike rate of 108, 127 wickets in 114 matches at 31 runs a wicket, are acceptable enough to consider him a bowler who occasionally slogs for a few. However, his last 35 matches have yielded just 24 wickets at a costly average of 52 and a strike rate of 48.6. He has conceded over 6.5 runs an over in this period. His batting average in this period had dropped to 14.

Thisara was dropped from the England ODI’s for poor form and asked to play A-team cricket. His failures with the A-team prompted the coach to suggest that Thisara is performing at the level of an under 19 player and not someone with extensive international experience. Yet, Sanath Jayasuriya recalled Thisara straight in to the national team. Why, perhaps only a politician could understand.

Malinda Siriwardena’s destiny has taken a turn for the worse since Sanath Jayasuriya took over selections. At a time when Sri Lanka was struggling to find new players who can perform at the international level, Siriwardena’s start was a revelation. He had scored over 250 runs in his first four tests with an average of 35 and taken 10 wickets. Yet, as soon as Sanath Jayasuriya took over as chief selector, Siriwardena was dropped from the Test team (first Test against England) after scores of: 68:42, 35:29, 62:26 in his three previous Tests. Why? Apparently was deemed to be in poor form due to low scores in the World T20 event and a couple of practice matches leading up to that first Test in England. Dropped for whom? For Lahiru Thirimanne! Cricket fans have a good memory and do not need to be reminded of Thirimanne’s previous form, record and background coming in to that Test match. If the Test snub was not bad enough, Sanath dropped Siriwardena from the England ODI’s as well. His ODI start was as promising as his Test start, averaging closer to 30, batting in the lower middle order with a strike rate of over 110. Siriwardena was finally given an opportunity in the first ODI against Australia. Yet, he was dropped again after just one match. This time apparently because he did not bowl well enough. Only a politician could justify such decisions.  

Kusal Janith Perera has long been considered Sri Lanka’s brightest ODI opening batting prospect. He has proven to be a natural opening batsman and understandably has found his greatest success batting at the top. Yet, Sanath Jayasuriya has continued to persist with Kusal batting in the middle order, with limited success. His excuse is that the team needs experience in the middle. That explanation is as unacceptable as the injustice of leaving out Siriwardena, who has shown that he can provide stability to the middle order, if given a fair chance.

Sanath Jayasuriya’s handling of two young batsman, Avishka Fernando and Anjelo Perera, also raises serious concern. Avishka was selected after a sterling performance with the under 19 side. Anjelo had done all the hard work to earn a recall after almost three years. To drop both of these players after only one match goes to show the delusional thinking of selectors and no fault of the player! If a player is so unworthy because they demonstrated how bad they are after just one match, then whoever selected such players must be sacked at the same time.

Sri Lankan cricket fans are educated and sophisticated enough to accept that losing is part of sports, and that there is no shame in losing to a better team. What agonizes every Sri Lankan cricket fan is the fact that our cricketers forever seem to be battling against not just the opponent on the field, but also the enemy within as well. Sri Lanka Cricket bosses will hopefully recognize and demand answers from Sanath Jayasuriya, to these inexplicable actions of his committee. But wait! Aren’t his bosses all politicians too? Oh dear! Will our grievances end up just like another file carried to the FDIC by an opposition MP? 

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