De Mel’s decisions a major setback to World Cup preparations

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Chief selector Ashantha De Mel has many theories on how to fix Sri Lanka’s cricket woes. But his actions continue to defy all logic. In his most recent interview, De Mel rightfully emphasizes the need to give players the freedom and confidence to play without mental pressure and the importance of team unity. However, most of his actions since returning as chief selector seem to have the exact opposite impact on the team, players, captains and coaching staff.

In one of his very first interviews since taking over the job as chief selector, De Mel publicly criticized Dinesh Chandimal, his own selection as captain to New Zealand. Not only did he do this publicly, but in the middle of a tour. De Mel stated that Chandimal is incapable of making decisions as a captain and implied that Dimuth Karunarathne had been appointed vice-captain not just to provide support to the captain, but to possibly take over from him. Imagine the impact this would have had on Chandimal’s confidence, mental status and the tension it would have created between Chandimal and Karunarathne. In addition to criticizing the captain, De Mel also threw a few punches at the head coach. A professional who holds SLC’s interest at heart would have addressed these differences through direct conversations with the captain and the coach, not publicly. If the chief selector publicly criticizing the captain was not bad enough for the Test team’s morale, De Mel announced that Chandimal has been stripped of his ODI captaincy, even before the first Test had begun, and more than 15 days ahead of the ODI series. This was the last thing that the team, players and management needed when they have already had enough divisions and disunity to overcome.

For someone who emphasizes the importance of team unity, De Mel’s choice of captain for the ODI team was shocking to say the least. It is an understatement to say that Lasith Malinga has been the most controversial Sri Lankan player in the last decade. He has had many run-ins with the media, team members, captains, coaches, SLC officials, selectors and even with the sports minister. It is a well-known secret that Malinga deliberately slowed his over-rate to get captain Chandimal banned during the 2014 World T20 event. Many administrations, selection committees and former greats like Arjuna Ranatunga have questioned his commitment to Sri Lanka cricket. Malinga only resumed playing domestic 50-overs cricket after he was discarded by the IPL as a player past his prime. If there was one thing even Geoff Boycott’s grandmother would have known about Malinga, it is to NEVER MAKE HIM CAPTAIN! Yet De Mel made him captain, with the World Cup only months away! “Malinga is a fighter. We need someone like him to take the team forward, to lead from the front. As selectors we thought he is the best to take the team to the World Cup. On the other hand, he has repeatedly said he would retire after the World Cup. This will give him the added motivation to do better. He would like to finish off with a bang and given his experience and cricketing intelligence, we are confident he would do the best to the team as skipper”, said De Mel at the time. Now after Malinga had failed to win a single ODI out of the eight he captained, not even a dead rubber, not even after the coach’s selection rights were stripped and influence on the captain almost non-existent, and with the world cup squad announcement just weeks away, De Mel has made a U-turn on Malinga “The other important thing is the unity in the team. If this means changing the captaincy to bring the players together, we will do it. Because this is very important”. He also goes on to say that “Malinga does not seem to be able to get the team together”. Why De Mel did not consider Malinga’s past and the importance of team unity before appointing him as captain defies all logic and brings to question De Mel’s suitability for the post of chief selector. This type of irrational and illogical actions are not what an already struggling team needed just months before a World Cup.

De Mel’s assessment of Angelo Mathews, both as an ODI player and captain, also provides an interesting insight into how his mind works. De Mel has stated that Mathews is one of his choices for World Cup captain. It is interesting to note that right after taking over his role, De Mel said of Mathews’s fitness “Well we know that he has passed his fitness tests. I have no concerns whatsoever. As far as his running between the wickets is concerned, you have to remember that there are two people running and both have to be alert and you cannot blame one guy alone. I am not prepared to buy that kind of story”. De Mel said this after the former selectors pointed out that while he could pass a fitness test, Mathews is prone to injury when performing in the high-intensity ODI format and his lack of fitness was impacting his running between the wickets. However, once Mathews got injured again in New Zealand, De Mel had this to say “I couldn’t imagine that you can pull a muscle running at that speed. He was basically just trotting. Just to trot and to pull a second degree hamstring there must be something literally wrong. They should send him to Australia or somewhere and get his injury sorted out. He has to be fit. We can’t be molly-coddling players. If he can’t run and field it will be difficult for him to play one-day cricket. Test cricket you can hide but in ODI cricket you can’t run singles slowly. He will have to really get himself fit if he wants to play one-day cricket otherwise it is impossible for him to play. How can you pick a player who cannot field in the outfield and who can’t run between the wickets fast”. But now, within just weeks of asking how one could play ODI cricket if they can’t run fast between wickets, De Mel deems that same player fit for World Cup captaincy! This is from a selector who himself rightfully said there is no room for half-fit players on his team. Again a case of De Mel’s theories and actions not adding up. This also brings to question De Mel’s ability to review player history, medical and fitness records and feedback from his predecessors to make good judgement.

De Mel suggests that the head coach was removed as a selector due to “his type of thinking” being flawed. But for a selector who does acknowledge the need for giving players confidence and freedom to play their natural game, De Mel’s actions have been far from conducive to creating that level of player confidence and mental freedom. It was De Mel who infamously tried to drop Suranga Lakmal and Kusal Mendis from the second Test in South Africa when the team was playing for a historic series win. It is widely believed to have been an attempt to take revenge from two players who have been supportive of the coach. Before the leaked video showed Lakmal expressing support for the coach, this was De Mel’s opinion on Lakmal as a World Cup option “We are of the opinion that he is also good for the World Cup because at the top he can get wickets. The coach Hathurusingha is not keen to play him in ODIs because he thinks he doesn’t bowl well in the death overs. What we feel is that if he bowls the first overs well and can get some early wickets then you can put pressure on the opposition”. And this is De Mel’s view on Lakmal’s ODI credentials since the leaked video “Whether Suranga Lamkal can bowl that five overs upfront…but we are not sure whether he is the best finisher. From what we have gathered, he has given a lot of runs towards the end”. Again a case of De Mel logic flip flopping and in this instance, there seems to be more than cricket reasons influencing his decision making as chief selector.

In this most recent interview, De Mel also states that if not for him “Kusal Janith would have never played Test cricket”, implying that the coach did not want him to play Tests in Australia. For someone who claims to use a lot of data in the selection process, De Mel seems to have forgotten that it was this coach who brought Kusal Perera back into the test side during the 2018 West Indies tour, after not having played test cricket since 2016. Unfortunately Kusal Perera was injured after the West Indies series and missed out on South Africa and England Tests. He was then forced to fight back for his place as Roshen Silva and Dhananjaya De Silva were given opportunities in his absence.

Prior to De Mel, Labrooy’s selection committee tried 26 players across 17 ODI’s in 2018. In eight ODI’s, De Mel has tried 23 players! De Mel keeps reiterating the importance of experience at the World Cup. Yet, for South Africa ODI’s he picked several inexperienced batsman who stood little or no chance of making it into the world cup squad. He also brought back Upul Tharanga, who was given an extended run during 2018 by Labrooy, before he was dropped after failing to impress. In the process, De Mel denied several genuine World Cup contenders like Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dasun Shanaka, Asela Gunerathne, Dinesh Chandimal and even Dimuth Karunarathne, the opportunity to gain form and confidence ahead of the World Cup.

Due to De Mel’s illogical and irrational decisions, Sri Lanka has gone from trying to sort out five to six vacant World Cup spots to having to rely on a harshly arranged domestic event to find their 15 players, including a captain. In his recent interview, De Mel states “The Head Coach thinks we are against him, but we are not”. If only De Mel can try to make sense of his own decisions, perhaps he wouldn’t have to try so hard to understand the head coach’s concerns.

Disclaimer: The original version of this article appeared on Island.lk. This revised version is intended for the purpose of providing readers the links and quotes of the original content sent by the writer to the Island editor.

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  1. Extended run in 2018 for world’s 3rd best run make in 2017 (1k+ @ near 50 av)Tharanga ? Are you joking? Do you think giving 13 innings & chopping (despite scoring 148 runs @ 37 average becoming SL’s only series winning man of the match in triangular series decider final in 2018)…. due to a 8 inning lapse without a 50 + score since that match winning vital 50+ is an extended run for Upul? Hopeless SL batting units, best run making top order batter in previous 2 years is an extended run?
    This is called nose-length blind vision.

      • UT’s repeatedly disrupted last 11 innings, Since his series winning 50+ score in BD Jan 2018 – 56, (6 months without any internationals) 10, 9, 19, 36, 19, 27, 36, 0, (axed for 5 months without matches) 9, (axed for 2 matches) 4 = 225 runs @ 20.45 Average.

        Tharanga’s 11 undistributed innings just prior to that : 112*, 61, 0, 8, 49, 7, 95, 11, 25, 17, 39* = 424 runs @ 47.11 Average

        So you blindly think that lean patch of 8 inning without a 50 + score since his match winning vital 50+ is an EXTENDED RUN for Upul who scored 424 @ 47 Av in 11 innings prior to that ?

        Because of selectively blind fans like you failing /reluctant to look at the whole picture to understand the despicable behind the scene agendas, makes it easy for those deliberate wrongdoers at the helm to ruin SL cricket.! Here are the proceedings of that agenda:

        During that period the culprits behind the scene did not not allow Upul any chance to pick up his usual rhythm, while constantly failed Mendis, Dhana etc were allowed extended run of matches in both formats . In past 15 MONTHS Upul was wickedly forced to undergo a total of 11 MONTHS of LAYOFF TIME WITHOUT GIVING A SINGLE INTERNATIONAL MATCH> ( Jan – Jul 2018 = 6 months & Oct 2018 – March 2019 = 5 months) TWO AXING episodes (one axing was just after 1st international given after 5 months layoff in SA) imposed during those 15 innings !!!

        Don’t you know current form cannot be measured after subjected to such systematic embarrassments?

        just jotting down figures ran over past 15 months since 2018 to date, without any consideration to what kind of rhythm shattering, confidence busting despicable treatment Upul Tharanga has been subjected to shows the lack of in depth view to understand what can bring down any man (even if made out of steel) who dictated terms to the same bowlers in Cape Town SA, blasting them away to all corners of the park making a 90 ball 119 @ 132 SR with 11 x 4s & 7 x 6 (near 40 Av in 2017 series Vs SA) was reduced to ashes (3 interrupted innings after straight 5 months layoff – 15 runs @ 5 Av in 2019- SA) by repeated unsettling, demeaning mental torture & repeated rhythm shattering axing acts of Snakes & Vipers behind the scene.

        Read my blog for further analysis on the subject:

        https://www.islandcricket.lk/blogs/having-sight-without-vision-is-the-only-thing-worse-than-blindness/

  2. Dear Sanjeewa
    May i start by saying I am no fan of De Mel neither i back anyone or any party if he or they are is in correct, Please correct me did you do the same kind of observation on the Previous two Chief Selectors M/s Jayasuriya, Labrooy when they were in office ( cause they made bigger stupid blunders), as far as a regular visitor to the Island page I did not see may be i missed if so sorry. .Both were given free passage more than De Mel it’s too early my freind to go after the current man.
    When De Mel took over our Cricket was in a absolutely pathetic situation so with SLC officials not doing there job, responsibilites, Head Coach failer, cricketers under performing ,no Team unity and it was looks like we are at sea it’s not easy my freind to do as you say. As per your long long comments about him its looks like you want a new Cheif Selector do you think its the right way of thinking at this vital moment just before the WC.You needs to be fair my Dear friend please give him time you have failed to understand the massive issues which is effecting cricketers performance so for godsake just wait till WC is over yeah let him do it . If he does not do as you say then you go at him but NOT NOW MATE.

    • Anura, thank you for the comment and feedback. I cant agree more with you. Previous selectors, specially Sanath did more damage than any good. Sanath famously picked 40 some players in one year, didn’t he?
      My issue with De Mel is that he took over the job at a time we were on the last leg of World Cup preparations and the team struggling to show any consistency with all the injuries, suspensions and batsman continuing to struggle with building a long innings and even worse, MANY DIVISIONS within the team.
      Yet, the first thing De Mel did was to publicly criticize the captain Chandimal and say he is a weak leader and Dimuth was better. How does that help with morale? Unity? If that was what De Mel believed, he should have straight away appointed Dimuth. Or at least spoken to Chandimal in private than to thrash him in public. Just was not professional.
      Then at a time team unity was of the highest interest, he appoints a well known divider, Malinga, as captain. We all saw how this has gone. Now even De Mel acknowledges he has failed to get the team together.
      We had a great opportunity to fine tune the team ahead of a WC, by sending the WC probables to SA. Yet, De Mel sent basically an A team batting to SA and kept WC probables at home. Would either of Avishka, Priyamal, Angelo have a chance of going to the WC? NO!!!! Then why waste the opportunity to have given the likely candidates the chance in SA?

      I might be wrong. But I saw De Mel’s actions as disruptive to our WC plans. I do respect your opinion though! Thanks again for the feedback.

  3. Thanks for this excellent write-off sanjeewa.
    Let’s forget about Santh’s stint as the head of the selection committee, as no point of talking of his selections. When it comes to Labrooy, he has his weaknesses. But once he blent with Hathurusinghe, they had a good understanding between them. We all know that Hathurusinghe had an official authority in team selection and unofficial influence in squad selection. One can see it as his power hunger. But in another point of view, when you have given an utmost challenge to build up a team which was messed up by administrators and selectors, he may need some amount of control under him to conquer his task. As we see now, he has been the final responsible person for teams poor performances and is to be sacked. With labrooy, Hathurusinghe followed a clear method in selections. It was all about giving continuous opportunities to young players who have been identified as key players for WC so that gaining confidence and experiences. On the other hand, challenging and focusing on being rhythm and fit were what was expected from experienced players like Upul, Angie and Thisara. When they were not there, they were asked to get it and come back to resettle in the team.
    It is all about coming into the rhythm and form just ahead of the WC. In 2014, SL was in a good rhythm and it was not when we were ahead of the WC 2015. If Hatu-Labrooy formula could continue, SL would have a mix of experienced players and young group of players who have gained some amount of experience and confidence. The only problem is this has to achieve over a string of defeats. The prime example of this sort of team building process is Australia. After a string of failures and disappointments, just ahead of WC, they beat India in India and in a good rhythm.
    What happened when Asantha came to the scene. First, he wanted his power back in team selection from Hathurusinghe and he got it. Hathrusinghe had no more influence in the squad or team selection. Then he criticized and dropped chandimal, who was the only man who showed some amount of leadership qualities among those captaincy nominees, bringing back least suitable person for the leadership. Then he messed up team selection. Three debutants and a few young players brought to the ODI side, knowing that they have no chance in WC and team combination changed a game by game in different positions. Dickwella, who was the regular keeper and VC in the side who had scored 3 fifties, two more thirty plus runs in last 9 games dropped after three games. Akila Dhanajaya who was once the prime wicket taker of the team came back after remodeling his off-spin. His performances after the return were not impressive, but we do not know whether it is due to his remodeling of action or not being in the international game for a few months. instead of giving him a continuous go to assess the situation or to gain his rhythm, he dropped and called and dropped.
    He should be given the credits for bringing Isuru Udana back to the team. Osada is promising, yes. But overall Asantha spoiled SL preparations for WC in big time.

    • Thank you for the feedback. I must acknowledge that Asantha deserves credit for picking Oshada out of nowhere. He had only played one A match and was not even in the A team picture. Yes, he also picked Vishva and Embul for Tests. But these two had been in the system as back-up and with so many injuries, they were always likely to be picked as replacements.

      My issue with De Mel is his public criticizing of Chandimal, appointment of Malinga who is a notorious divisor and then the wholesale experimenting with the ODI side on the last opportunity we had to get the team right.

      Then there is the whole issue with Lakmal too.

  4. The purpose of this article published in the Island is intriguing at this juncture. True I would agree with De Mel’s public criticism of Chandimal. But he might have got aware of Chandimal’s inept stance with Hathru. Whatever, leave his shortcomings aside, since De Mel came he has taken quite a No of bold & prompt decisions , majority of which wonderful. Among them, immediately brought Rixon & Jon ( who is from Durham & with the WC in UK, a masterful stroke) in to repair we were faltering. Without fear sack Chandimal from the captaincy & see the results in SA, a historic series win.Sacked Dilruwan. Hathru wanted both of them in his team. DeMel has told Hathru objected to Kusal Perera playing in the Test team! See he played the best ever Test innings. On these accounts alone, to hell with the WC, we should keep him in his post bringing so much fame & credit to the country through his bold selections.He brought future stars in Oshada,Embul & Vishwa Kamindu etc. I don’t agree bringing in Tharanga but he could not resist because of his domestic form.He gave another chance to loose canon Dickwella giving him responsibility with VC but after learning Dickwella’s poor form dropped him without favour,absolutely right! He appointed Malinga rightly as Captain, who else was there to take captaincy? Thisara. But Malinga with his shrewd brain was a much better choice. Who can De Mel predict the wives interferences later & dressing room issues? It is unfortunate MalingaThisara duel is going on, I don’t think Thisara should play if Malinga captains, he purposely does not contribute taking revenge,what did Thisara do in the 5 matches so far? No one can be perfect but DeMel has done a very good job so far even taking on the coach.There are a lot of allegations on Hathuru on born again stuff too on social media & parliament,have you noticed he avoids sending off functions,if he has come with other agenda’s other than cricket,should be banished rightaway.I hope Dimuth will do well in the provincial cup & will lead the WC, he is the best bet under the circumstances & people/fans would not try to rock the boat unnecessarily for their own personal preferences rather than country at heat.

    • It is highly ludicrous & ridiculous to believe ODI format unworthy, non-credentialed, unproven, undeserved, unearned…. notorious last moment creeper (ruined 2015 WC as well) Dimuth Karunarathne will make a miracle impact in WC, instead of becoming an unbearable heavy log of rotten wood to the already gasping team (as proved in 2015 WC flop),! That time the jokers behind his gratis entry move, hilariously based it on a solitary Test inning in NZ & this time they base it on a Test series win in SA , crediting the lucky lottery on non-contributed skipper never lead the side from front as Opener in the series ( collecting just 86 runs @ 21 Av from all 4 innings in the series vs SA).

      Dimuth’s Test form in most recent 11 innings is even worse with 17 Average .! –
      Dimuth Karunarathne – 197 Test runs @ 17 Av – 1 x 50+ in his most recent 11 innings!

      Lame Justification for creeping him in is all baseless bull s**t expectations induced by the same spoon handling culprits behind this insane move, for our gullible fans live by the day to swallow.

      Genuine ODI Opener Upul Tharanga was AXED TWICE to halt gaining his rhythm, imposing a straight FIVE MONTH axing without allowing any matches for Tharanga since Oct 2018 & another axing after the 1st match given in 5 months.- This tretment was rendered just because of a brief dip in form SIMILAR to Dimuth Karunarathne’s at present . At that time UT’s most recent 11 odi innings – 217 runs @ 21 Average (much better than Dimuth’s current state )- but Ut was AXED for 5 months despite the lean patch included even an ODI triangular series winning vital 50+ inning in a final, which won him the MoM award as well .

      His 11 innings prior to that: from Sep ’17 to Feb 2018 – 112*, 61, 0, 8, 49, 7, 95, 11, 25, 17, 39* = 424 runs @ 47.11 Average, but the next 11 ing brief dip in form was enough to eliminate him with such treatment.

      This is the insane LOGIC of SL cricket endorsed by some north-south polarity screwed pundits among our fans . So no wonder why we are in this pathetic state today becoming a real laughing stock to the entire world… Next time we can participate in a WC among associate members of ICC like Holland, Canada, Nepal, etc. 😀

    • No problem in taking bold decisions…In fact it is what we need badly at the moment. But those bold decisions should serve a purpose. I can not understand how inclusion of a player like Priyamal perera in to the team in the last two ODI would serve apurpose. Here, ahead the WC, I think we have to decide one thing and have to take a bold decision. Either we have to go and try at least to save our pride of cannot win the trophy..or we have to forget it and try to build a team for future.In latter case we have to drop all players who cannot feature in next WC and all players involve in troubles within the team..And go with a young team. But asantha’s moves do not show anything..

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