Ever since that hundred against India almost three years ago and the famous century against the English at Lord’s (coincidentally both games were won by the same margin – 6 wickets and 10 balls remaining) , there was always a feeling the Dinesh Chandimal would be the next big thing in Sri Lankan cricket – at least as far as the batting front is concerned. To a certain extent the boy has delivered. Along with Lahiru Thirimanna, Chandimal produced some fighting innings in the Australian Tri-series of 2011/12 – clearly he has struggled on the slower pitches at home, but he seems the ideal batsman to shoulder the team in years to come. Today that talented young batsman has been elevated to the level of a captain. This is a very good move, many will say – Graeme Smith, Stephen Fleming all were thrust into the role of captaincy at a very young age and both of them became great leaders, but the problem in the case of Chandimal is that he has been made captain in a format that he has least excelled in. A comparison of his T20 and ODI stats will suggest a solid batsman ill-at ease in the shortest format of the game, with an average below 20 and a very middling Strike rate.
Chandimal and Thirimanna both are in the Sangakkara mould of batsmen. They take their time get a hang of the conditions and then launch the attack. Unfortunately in T20 the most successful are the audacious stroke players. With all due respect even Sangakkara is not cut out to be a T20 player. By thrusting Chandimal into the captaincy of T20, he will be demanded to perform – he will have to change his style to adapt to the hectic pace of T20 and as a result it is likely that his batting will be adversely affected. At the same time he is not captaining a team like Australia, where the T20 team is constantly chopped and changed. The Sri Lankan T20 outfit is by far the most well drilled T20 team in the world, made up of Veteran T20 players, who have played all around the globe and mastered the shortest format, and the Sri Lankan public takes their T20 seriously. It is no secret that we, who frequent the pages of Island Cricket, are but a minority of fans who take great pleasure in Test cricket – the masses prefer T20 cricket. This will once again add more pressure to the young captain as the performance of the T20 team will be scrutinized by millions of people.
It was a good decision to make Chandimal the understudy to Matthews -in the Test and ODI formats. Given Matthew’s tendency to pick up injuries Chandimal will have probably captained a test or two by this time next year. But somehow T20 doesn’t seem to be up his alley. Matthews looked good in the 3 games he was in charge, plus being an all-rounder he seems more of a natural T20 cricketer.
As a fan of Chandimal I only hope he rises to the challenge and proves my pessimism wrong.