Dimuth Karunaratne has done an exceptionally good job since taking over as captain of the ODI side. He was tasked with the responsibility of filling two key roles. First was to help stabilize the top order that often crumbled within the first 15 overs. Sri Lanka experimented with playing three to four “dashers” at the top, only to be five down before the 20th over. This is where Dimuth’s top-order batting strength was most needed and he did a credible job in that regard. His second responsibility was to provide stability and unity as a leader. He managed to bring some level of drama-less unity to a team that was supposedly and unfortunately divided by those who were expected to uplift it, the seniors; Mathews, Chandimal, Thishara and Malinga.
There is no two things about it, Dimuth helped save Sri Lanka from further embarrassment at a time the team was almost in a free fall. He stabilized the ship. But a couple of years later, it is now time for us to start planning on how we can ascend, not stay where we are. To become a force in modern day ODI cricket, we need positive intent at the top, a strong middle order and a powerful late order. This is where sticking with Dimuth has become counter-productive to our future plans. He will not be the one to lay the platform for a 330 score, which seems the par these days on good wickets. Kusal Perera, Avishka and Danushka may average less than Dimuth, but on their day, each of them can help us win a big match. While Dimuth has been reliable and steady, his best efforts have helped us be competitive, at best. To move forward and become a force in ODI cricket, we can no longer afford to carry a weak-link at the top.
Yes, we tried packing the top order with dashers and failed three years ago and had to go begging for Dimuth’s help. The thought process now seems to be that the trio of Avishka, Danushka and Kusal are more mature batsman now, and better understand the balance between aggression and defense. The positive progress shown lately by Oshada, Dhananjaya, Nissanka, Bandara, Hasaranga and the proven talent of Mendis must also give selectors the confidence that it is time to groom a fresh middle order that is free of senior-dividers who could disrupt the growth of these youngsters.
Recent white-ball performances of senior fast bowlers have certainly not changed our fortunes, and plans to look to the future in that aspect also makes sense. Lakmal has always been our best red-ball bowler and prolonging his Test career will bring more benefits to SLC than trying to squeeze something out of him in ODI cricket. With the limited cricket he gets to play due to recurring injuries, Pradeep struggles for any consistency.
Ideally, the team would benefit from the presence of an experienced senior. Cricket pundits universally agree on the value of having a mentor, someone younger players can draw inspiration from, learn from, and count on during tough situations. In Mathews, we have someone who has helped the team win many matches, both with bat and ball. He understands what it is like to be on a winning team. What a winning culture and environment looks like. If he can maintain consistent fitness levels, and more importantly, is ready to accept a mentoring role and support a new leadership and the team, I feel he still has a lot of value to add to the ODI team, even if he isn’t expected to play every match.
As for a new captain, the automatic choice should have been Danushka, had it not been for his off the field troubles. Given his experience in all formats of the game, Kusal Perera rightly deserves a chance to prove himself as captain. He will however need to maintain consistent fitness levels. With Dickwella showing a lot of consistency with the Test team, perhaps Kusal and SLC will be better served if Kusal is left to fully focus on the short formats and his fitness. The captain must always warrant an automatic place in the side. Once they solidify their place in the side, the likes of Dhananjaya, Kusal Mednis and Hasaranga could emerge as potential leaders in the next two to three years.