After those uncharacteristically reckless and irresponsible shots in Australia, everyone insisted that Thilan Samaraweera should never play for Sri Lanka again. Within a matter of few weeks, his resignation was not accepted by Sri Lanka cricket and his retirement, a decision he handled with such class, has become a topic important enough to be taken up in parliament.
The new selectors lead by Sanath Jayasuriya had done little wrong on their first assignment of picking new captains and selecting a team for the Bangladesh tour, it seemed. However, given the recent developments surrounding Samaraweera’s retirement, selectors seem to have made a mess of what should have been an acceptable straightforward decision, had they planned and executed it well.
Selectors have now indicated that they wanted Samaraweera’s experience for the tests against Pakistan. If that was the case, then as Samaraweera correctly pointed out, to expect him to be ready to face up to one of the best bowling attacks in the world without any international exposure for almost a year is poor planning to put it politely. If indeed his experience was required against Pakistan, selectors should have rotated out either Sangakara or Dilshan who will not be short of international exposure during the year. That would have allowed Samaraweera the test specialist to prepare for and focus on the final mission assigned to him by selectors, Pakistan.
In admitting to their desire to include Samaraweera for Pakistan tests, the selectors have also shown lack of faith in the future latent. By their own admission, the selectors seem to have wanted all four senior batsmen to play against Pakistan. With the second opener, captain and wicket keeper, such a team would not have room for even someone like Chandimal, let alone Thirimanne, if indeed the selectors believe Jayawardena’s experience with gloves is also required for Pakistan. For someone like Thirimanne to still not have an opportunity to establish himself against a quality opposition like Pakistan even nearly a year from now certainly is not the right way to plan for the future.
The initial decision to drop Samaraweera was the correct cricket decision. Where selectors went wrong with their judgment and planning is with not clearly recognizing the fact that it was time to move on and look to the future and not expect Samaraweera to hang around for Pakistan. Samaraweera no doubt had been one of the greatest servants of Sri Lanka cricket. However, the time had come for Sri Lanka to start transitioning from the big four. The decision to pick Samaraweera as the first of the four to transition out of the test team can be debated for months. However, the same people who are now crying for Samaraweera were calling for his head even before the Sydney test was over. Unfortunately for Samaraweera, mistakenly or not, during the Australian tour, he was the one who batted like he couldn’t wait to start a new chapter in life after cricket.
Selectors should learn from this mistake and use the experience to better plan for and handle impending retirements of the remaining big three and that of keeper Jayawardena. By offering Jayawardena a contract, selectors have indicated that they believe he will be needed to face Pakistan. The problem there again is that a test specialist is now left out in the cold for months with the expectation of him being able to performing at his best against a quality opposition immediately on return. In addition, it also does not allow his replacement for the next three tests to focus on building his confidence without the pressure of having to possibly make way for Jayawardena after just three tests.
Thanks to the great humility and character of Samaraweera, the Samaraweera blunder has now been corrected without further damage. A lessor person would have made this a huge political drama and added further misery to the challenges ahead for the team. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe offer a great opportunity for the selectors to give someone like Thirimanne the chance to prepare for a stronger opponent later in the year. Samaraweera in his own right is a legend of Sri Lanka cricket and Thirimanne will have to capitalize on all the chances he will get in the next three tests to fill even half the void left by one of the all-round greats of Sri Lanka cricket!