Of men, glory and a nation’s hopes and dreams

On the 28th of February 2007, 15 men left the shores of this island carrying with them the hopes and dreams of a nation on their shoulders. Not one Sri Lankan watching them leave for the Caribbean that day would have hoped to see them back here before the 28th of April, and they did oblige upto some extent, not returning back to the country untill the 3rd of May. That, however, sans the Cup that we had all waited, hoped and dreamed for.

Those men, led by Mahela Jayawardene, made it to the final of the 2007 World Cup. A final that they lost in heart-breaking fashion, but not before they had won the hearts and minds of a nation, and made not just themselves, but their countrymen proud, as well.

As the next edition of the World Cup looms around the corner, the time has now come to pick the 15 men that will not only carry the same hopes and dreams that those 15 men carried in 2007, but will also go one better than they did and bring that Cup home this time around.

As the selectors ponder and struggle over issues such as youth vs. experience, political influence and the like, here are my picks for the 2011 Sri Lankan World Cup squad for you to ponder and quarrel over:

Kumar Sangakkara: can almost pen him down with my eyes closed, has long-since been my captain of choice for this World Cup and with his charm, charisma, quick intellect and experience seems well-equipped to take Sri Lanka all the way. That he has performed consistently despite the burden of captaincy makes him an asset to the team, and if he manages to curb that flash of arrogance that has won him many a critic in recent times, i see no reason as to why we won’t be able to re-live the glory of 1996 under his captaincy, besides the World Cup just wouldn’t be complete without those incredibly soothing, trademark bent knee’ed cover-drives of his.

Mahela Jayawardene: although having a lean period of sorts over the last couple of months, the class and reliability he brings to the batting when he is at the top of his game cannot be ignored. These as well as the abundance of experience he brings in to the team as a former captain, who led his team to the finals of the last World Cup, make him an integral part of the bid to win it this time, and as the Vice-Captain of the team he will be of vital assistance to his friend and captain, Kumar Sangakkara.

Tillakaratne Dilshan: anyone who knows anything about me will know that this pick wouldn’t have come easy for me, and yet making maximum use of the fielding restrictions has become essential in today’s game and that when he is on song there is no man better than Dilshan to get us off to flyer, cannot be denied. If he manages to keep his flamboyance and impatience in check and bat with abit more (ok alot more, in my opinion) responsibility, he could prove to be a key to Sri Lanka’s success. And therefore Dilshan makes it into my squad, albeit somewhat grudgingly.

Upul Tharanga: although often over-shadowed and over-looked by his teammates performances, the commentators, the reporters and the like, has been one of the most consistent performers in the Sri Lankan batting line-up in the recent past. Despite the somewhat torrid time he had to endure in the last World Cup, it is hoped that with the passing of years, the growth of confidence and on sub-continent pitches he will be able to inflict on the bowlers the same misery he inflicted on the English bowlers in the Summer of 2006.

Thilan Samaraweera: made his comeback into the ODI team not too long ago and although the doubts still remain over his suitability to the shorter form of the game, makes it in on his temperament and dependability. If wickets fall early his patience and ability to milk the runs make him the ideal anchorman and if the situation calls for quick runs and big-hitters we have the likes of Angelo Maththews and Thisara Perera, who can be sent in ahead of him.

Chamara Kapugedara: probably the player with the most unfulfilled potential in the Sri Lankan team today, Kapugedara can’t seem to move beyond the occasional flash of brilliance and string a few good performances together, and yet his ability, potential and fielding make him hard to ignore, and on surfaces familiar to him here’s hoping he at last fulfills the promise everyone saw in him from an early age itself.

Dinesh Chandimal: perhaps Sri Lanka’s most exciting prospect for the future right now, with consistent performances throughout the year and a century in just his second ODI innings and that too against India, has won the admiration of the skipper and many senior players in the team. Chandimal with his talent, ability to adjust to all situations, youthful exuberance and confidence has the potential to play a vital role in bringing that Cup home.

Angelo Mathews: a little over two years after his debut, Mathews has established himself within the team as a genuine all-rounder, winning matches for them with both bat and ball. Yet what makes him an integral part of this team is not in the least his batting and bowling abilities, but the immense maturity he has begun to show in the face of pressure, not to mention his exceptional fielding skills. His athleticism on the field is a treat to watch, and not just for the girls that swoon at the very sight of him,but for anyone.

Thisara Perera: St. Joseph’s seems to have a knack for producing all-rounders, hailing from the same school as Angelo Mathews and Chaminda Vaas, Thisara has proved to be a big-hitter and a more than handy bowler whenever he’s been given a chance. His match-winning abilities win him a place here.

Chaminda Vaas: completing the Josephian trio, i pick Vaasy despite him not having played an international match in almost two years, (ok i didn’t realise it had been that long,but still), his experience, dependability and noteworthy performances in the county circuit win him this call-up, and in conditions that he thrived on throughout his career, it can be assured than even if he doesn’t take as many wickets as he used to, he will trouble the batsmen and keep the scoring in check.

Lasith Malinga: the 2007 World Cup’s sexiest player, might have lost abit of volume in his goldi-locks mane, but his ability and effectiveness haven’t suffered from it and remain undiminished. His fast-improving batting skills, which resulted in a fantastic one-wicket victory over Australia earlier this year, give depth to the batting line-up and if he is able to stick to his line and length, will prove to be a handful for any batsman to handle.

Nuwan Kulesekara: might not be as flamboyant as some of his fellow teammates and sometimes goes unnoticed as a result of this, yet however ranked as the number 1 ODI bowler in the world not too long ago, Kulesekara succeeds in troubling the batsman with his tight line and length, and the boyish, wide-mouthed grin that is the culmination of any wicket is an absolute ‘to-die-for’.

Muttiah Muralitharan: the King of Spin, who vowed to play ODI cricket untill the 2011 World Cup, when he retired from Test cricket, may not be as effective as he once was or we would like him to be, but can still ruffle the feathers of the most unflappable of players. Like in the cases of both Vaasy and Mahela, his experience will go a long way in regaining that trophy and it only seems befitting that we bid adieu to such a great player of his stature, with another World Cup victory that he can savour and cherish.

Suraj Randiv: as the most successful spinner for Sri Lanka in the last 12 months, just edges out Ajantha Mendis, who going through a rough patch in recent months and with more and more batsmen picking him up each day, will be a gamble to play. Randiv’s fielding skills and batting abilities that may come in handy down the order, also worked in his favour.

Dilhara Fernando/Ajantha Mendis: the choice of Dilhara, will again come as a surprise to those who know me, but having worked on his ‘no-ball’ problems and improved on them greatly, the pace he offers gets him the look-in, although his inconsistency and unpredictability cast doubts and make me think twice. Ajantha too with doubts surrounding him isn’t a sure-in, but gets a look-in due to sub-continent conditions. (this final spot i really can’t seem to decide on, toyed with including both Welegedara and Maharoof too, but still not convinced, up for debate i guess).

These are the men that i would bet on to bring glory to Sri Lanka, my choices may not tally with yours nor the selectors’, but then again i’m no authority on the matter, i’m just a girl who is ardently in love with the game and the Sri Lankan players, who wants nothing more than to see Sri Lanka win. And ultimately what matters most is that, no matter who the chosen players are, no matter why they made it into the team and no matter if they really deserved their places…what matters most is that we, Sri Lanka, emerge victorious on the 2nd of April 2011!! In 2007 a divided, war-torn nation looked to 15 men to bring the country together through victory, in 2011 we look to 15 men to bring victory to a united nation. Here’s hoping with all my heart that-whoever they are-they do,fingers crossed!!!

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