By Michael Roberts | March 19, 2016
Sri Lanka's chaotic start to the WT20 began with Angelo Mathews taking over as captain after Lasith Malinga's last-minute resignation. © AFP PHOTO
From way back it was widely recognised that the retirement of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara would probably weaken Sri Lanka considerably. However, planning for the future from 2014 has not been assisted by the musical chairs in coaches and selection committees.
The present coach is the third (or is it the fourth?) since mid-2014, while the present lot of selectors is the third — with no continuity via the retention of at least one or two selectors in order to sustain trajectories held in view by the previous committee. Note that the committee prior to that headed by Kapila Wijegunawardene was headed by Sanath Jayasuriya.
That said, I underline the impact of bad luck in the roll of the island's cricketing dice. The biggest blow has been the doping ban received by Kusal Janith Perera. I do not have the inside story or stories, so I do not know whether this was self-inflicted by Perera and his mentors or the result of some curious happenchance or error. However, he had been groomed as an explosive opening batsmen and gradually accumulated experience in this role. His present T20 stats read: 22 innings, 596 runs, a highest score of 84, at an average of 27.09, with a strike rate of 133.03; including five 50s. These are better than those for AB de Villiers and Steven Smith.
Given the fact that Perera is also a wicket-keeper, one can see how his 'demise' has driven a huge hole in the Sri Lankan squad and reduced its flexibility. Yes, Dinesh Chandimal can keep too, but there are issues as to whether he (or anyone) can keep while captaining a fast-moving T20 game. The Wijegunawardene selection panel attempted to resolve this issue by selecting Niroshan Dickwella, a super-keeper in Ranjit Fernando's estimate, but Dickwella's sorties on two ventures in the opener position were as ridiculous as ambitious — his international average is now 02.50.
In my reasoning, Sri Lanka's run of bad luck began way back — during the New Zealand leg of the tour in 2014/15 and its flow on into the ODI World Cup that followed. A spate of injuries interfered with selection possibilities in ways that even debilitated the World Cup performances: Dhammika Prasad, Rangana Herath (split finger), Dimuth Karunaratne and then crucially Chandimal's pulled muscle in the middle of a blazing innings. These blows dented Sri Lanka's prospects of reaching the quarter-finals.
The other pieces of misfortune are the injuries that have plagued Lasith Malinga and, to lesser degree, Angelo Mathews. Malinga's fitness, with age and weight-gain, have compounded his recovery problems. I wonder whether these issues were considered by the selectors who opted to reduce the burden on Mathews by selecting Malinga as captain. I have no inside information on Malinga's acumen as a captain. While his seeming calmness on field is a laudable trait, one wonders if he is sufficiently pro-active and decisive in the changes he makes in dire circumstances, of the type that often occur in T20 cricket.
The moral of this tale is that one should not select a player with an injury problem as one's captain during a short series (or maybe even a longer venture). This was no doubt an unforeseen 'mistake' by the Wijegunawardene committee; but the knee-jerk reactions of interfering administrators and selectors appears to have led to the XI having three different captains in four Asia Cup matches — an outcome that coach Graham Ford has quite rightly complained about.
In brief, we Sri Lankans see a squad that is at sixes and sevens entering the 2016 World Twenty20 — aggravated still further by the conspiracies and recriminations among the administrators and selectors. Mathews's all-round fitness adds to one's concerns. If he cannot trust himself to bowl four overs, the balance of the side is affected. If he is liable to break down, well, we are further down the pallang … maybe even entering a catatonic state of kota uda. It is perhaps because of this concern that Wijegunawardene and his team of selectors opted for Chandimal as captain. But he is, at present, first choice keeper.
This raises a highly intriguing issue: Can a wicket-keeper captain a T20 side efficiently?
The captain has to make constant field adjustments, especially when there is a right and left-handed batting combination in the middle or when one batsman is piling on the runs. During the recent series in Bangladesh, Chandimal was about 10-15 yards back behind the stumps and was signaling changes in the field for one of the pacemen who was about 20 yards from the bowling crease. These were the type of moments requiring consultation. There were occasions when he pelted down the pitch to speak to the bowler. All that is cumbersome. One method would be to have a series of signals memorised by all team members. Intricate, what? … and liable to generate miscommunication. So the issue of consultation between captain and bowler demands another solution. Rather than periodic 40 yard dashes, what is called for is a captain located at mid-off, wide extra-cover or mid-on. Ergo, Chandimal should not captain and keep at the same time. In my surmise it may have been this logic that prompted the previous selectors to insert Dickwella into the squad.
The method adopted by de Silva's panel has been to make Mathews — perhaps press Mathews — to take on this role, thereby enabling them to insert a more experienced batsman into the squad. This has been Lahiru Thirimanne.
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