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Some are too big to fail

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Jayasuriya as chief selector may push seniors to perform better
By Shanaka Amarasinghe | February 13, 2013

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Sanath Jayasuriya has said that his omission from the 2011 World Cup side won’t impact his decisions as chief selector. © AFP

The Sanath Jayasuriya-led selection committee raised many an eyebrow when it was appointed. Several people – fans, administrators and cricketers themselves – said that it was going to be a disaster, given Jayasuriya’s recent political and social history. Several other quarters have also screamed ‘conflict of interest’.

Conflict of interest has been a phrase bandied about in Sri Lanka quite fashionably recently without much of a clue as to what it means. A conflict of interest, essentially, is when someone’s involvement in one activity, will have a direct bearing on one’s involvement in another activity. For instance, if Jayasuriya was a player agent, then he cannot be a selector. Being a parliamentarian, however, does not preclude him from being a selector, unless of course one of his MP buddies is available for selection. The fact that he dances on Indian television is a matter of taste, and not an issue that should impede the quality of his selections. So, as far as I’m concerned, there is no conflict of interest in his appointment.

This may not be the case if I was a constituent who voted for Jayasuriya though. It is perfectly reasonable for someone in the Matara district to wonder how his MP proposes to serve them while having to go around watching national, club, school and international cricket. It is a valid question, but not really our problem in this context.

It’s unfortunate that Jayasuriya has sullied the memories of his ‘master blaster’ glory days with some recent shenanigans, but what those shenanigans tell us is that Jayasuriya enjoys remaining in the limelight, and what better way to win the positive accolades than have the team win matches and tournaments. This is a classic case of putting someone’s ego into a place where it can be made the best use of. As a batsman, he refused to believe his time was up, which it was, but that is not something that is unique to him. Many athletes before him have refused to quit at the top of their game, Asians especially. But now, in this new role, he might just have found the spot he so covets in the cricketing pantheon.

Clearly, in Sri Lanka, everyone – myself included – has an opinion on who should be selected, and Jayasuriya is not naive enough to think his every decision is not going to be scrutinised. He will want to pick a winning team, as that is his passport to the adulation. To be quite honest, I do think the man has a very good cricket brain. Although many have ridiculed his cricket commentary for the gaffes, they don’t realise that in between the hilarity, there is a fair amount of cricketing wisdom that doesn’t get articulated as well as it needs be. The levels of articulation required for a selection meeting are entirely different. Therefore, let us see what cards he plays, without writing off the entire appointment as a sham.

What is slightly concerning though is the resignation of Hemantha Wickramaratne. He was the only surviving member of the previous panel, and by all accounts respected among the cricketers and a selector who actually watched games. My limited interactions with Wickramaratne suggested that he was on the ball with regard to injured players, rationale for selection and such, so his unwillingness to come on board – although it may be entirely a bona fide reason – smacks of some discord, which is unfortunate.

Perhaps I am wilfully blinding myself to the obvious. Maybe I am so frustrated, that I feel that petty politics must give way to some sanity at some point. Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m going to believe this until Jayasuriya gives me reason not to.

In his maiden press conference as chief selector, Jayasuriya stated that his brief was not to drop certain players from the team. The likes of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene will be taking that news with a pinch of salt for sure, but that’s not a bad thing. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that both Sangakkara and Jayasuriya appear to have lost a little of that hunger. Hopefully, their sporting egos will take over and they will want to retire on their own terms, without being shown the door by a man with whom the duo have lost no love. This could, and should, galvanise them into scoring runs, and runs from Sangakkara and Jayawardene will definitely give the new captain and the team the impetus they need. In this regard, the appointment could be a master stroke if our two senior stars respond to it in the way I hope they do.

The current spate of sackings is also a little unfortunate. Mario Villavarayan, Champaka Ramanayake, Charith Senanayake and some lesser-known mortals have been shown the door. Senanayake’s sacking is a surprise, as he seemed popular with the players, and Villavarayan had been achieving results as well. More than their sackings, it’s the apparent lack of professionalism in the manner it was handled that is noteworthy. Nobody should have to find out that they are being sacked from the newspapers. Ramanayake’s demotion is understandable. He had done well for a while, and it looked like there was some stagnation. There is nothing to suggest that this was spearheaded by Jayasuriya, although the timing is slightly suspect. But let’s see. Michael de Zoysa and Darshan Weerasinghe are able successors, and have been in the system for a while. It’s not as if coconut pluckers from Matara have been appointed as manager and trainer.

Let’s give this a chance. Some people are too big to fail.

Shanaka Amarasinghe is a lawyer by profession and the host of the sports talkshow ‘The Score’ on the Sri Lankan radio station YES FM.

© Island Cricket

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