By Nandasiri Wanninayaka
Sri Lanka cricket team doesn’t perform that well for some time now. They are not that bad as well. They became runners up in two consecutive World Cups and two Twenty20 World Cups. More than the talents of the players, there is a problem with the way the team is selected.
Many including me believed that with Sanath Jayasuriya at the helm of the Selection Committee things would go right. But it is not to be. His committee makes ridiculous decisions that none of the former committees made.
Take a look at the way the senior cricketers are being “rested.” They rested Mahela, Dilshan, Kumar, Rangana, Lasith, etc. who were performing well while almost all the newcomers failed to make an impression barring, maybe Thisara Perera at times, but not that consistently. This affected the team’s overall results during the ODI and T20 series just concluded against South Africa. There is no argument that young blood should be infused to the national team. But there is an accepted way to do that. Usually other countries provide opportunities for young players during practice matches and A team matches and through domestic tournaments. Once a cricketer is well-seasoned only he is taken to the national team, that too is when a senior player is retired, injured or omitted due to lack of performance.
Here in Sri Lanka, the best performers are rested and young players are drawn into the national team in a surprising haste damaging the very careers of those young players as they have failed in the big leagues after being drafted to national team.
Sri Lanka has this crazy idea of playing underperforming youngsters just after a series victory. Other national teams don’t do it and when they are 3-0 in the series they want to make it 5-0, not 3-2. But our decision makers have a yearning for playing youngsters and losing remaining matches. A win means a lot in international cricket. Teams are seeded due to wins and losses, not according to series victories. Other teams don’t “test” their young players at a cost of a match. They have other stages where they are tested as mentioned above. But we have an idiotic system to risk victories to make way for so called young players. This is why Sri Lanka cricket team goes deep down and suddenly reemerges again thanks to individual talents of some players, not winning as a team. A team’s composition shouldn’t be shaken much. The core of the team should be consistent and when there is a vacancy, a young man who does well can be drafted in. Young players have to sharpen themselves till they get an opportunity.
But what the Selection Committee did was to risk victories by resting senior players who did well at a time younger players were not living up to expectations. This is not fair by those senior players’ perspectives. While winning matches for the country, those players too should be allowed to go for personal milestones as well. A sudden resting while performing well can hamper all his form. Sri Lanka had to pay dearly in the T20 series with South Africa’s lead of 2-1 which could have turned the other way round if the senior players played. It was the senior players who made a difference throughout the series, not young players.
We have also a very funny way of grooming captains. Today the captains are the players who were struggling to cement their places in the team few months ago, let alone captaining it. What is the message given to them by appointing them captains while still trying to make it to the team? They take it for granted and start playing irresponsibly. See the way both Angelo and Dinesh playing. None of them is performing impressively. They should have been kept at bay till they become consistent performers before making them captains. If their cricketing lives are to end prematurely due to unexpected appointments as captains, the selection committee has to take the responsibility.
Both Kumar and Mahela cannot say that they can’t lead the national team. They are the seasoned ones and should have been captains till the end of their careers. This is how they do it in Australia and England. They find new captains only when the older captains reach retirement age or fail miserably. Both Kumar and Mahela resigned after taking the team to World Cup finals. They should have been retained as captains for the country’s sake. If they say no, that is totally snubbing their employer, Sri Lanka Cricket. Actions should have been taken for snubbing. (But there are these gossips that they were forced to resign also.) They were decent captains and their performances were never affected by the weight of the captaincy as both of them were seasoned enough by the time they became captains.
I’m not too sure about the common opinion that Jayasuriya is avenging the seniors who were against the former’s inclusion in the national side at a time he was not performing. This could perhaps be true. But what Jayasuriya has to understand is that none of the present day seniors opposed him due to his age. They opposed him because he didn’t perform and he was in the team as an MP and enjoyed extra privileges and used his political links to make it to the team. But Jayasuriya has no ethical right to “rest” the seniors for the simple reason that they opposed him at the earlier team selections.
I would advise Jayasuriya to pay attention to his political aspirations than messing up national cricket anymore. He has done enough as a player for cricket and we don’t need his service as a selector anymore.