Making kottu and team selections

It was not the ideal performance for a follow up game! Especially after a grand victory chasing 300 plus in the 2nd ODI and before that after a 400 plus chase! Sri Lanka definitely had the game in the bag and how they lost it from a 165/1, is just inexplicable! Grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory!

It is now clear that the T20 game has had a positive rub off on the batting in other forms of cricket and as such anything less than a run a ball target is a walk in the park. And in that context to defend a scoring rate of less than 5 runs per over was simply a no contest.

For starters I felt that the Sri Lankan combination wasn’t the best for the game and when the Indian spinners and particularly young Ravindra Jadeja was causing the batsmen some problem with his left arm spin, the worst fears were simply confirmed.

Virat Kohli (L) and Gautam Gambhir take a short run during the fourth (ODI) cricket match against India at Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata on December 24, 2009. India won the match by 7 wickets and bagged the five match series by 3-1. AFP

Whilst Suraj Randiv was able to contain the batsmen, mystery spinner Mendis struggled! The fact that the heavy dew made the ball slip when gripping and delivering was not helping Mendis either and he whilst bowling some good deliveries also gave away the odd full toss which was punished.

On the subject of spin, it was also felt that the spin bowling looked one dimensional with two off spinners and only the off spin of Dilshan as a spare. On that score Sri Lanka should have definitely considered the spin bowling of Jayasuriya as he is now more an all rounder in the side than a specialist batsman who would bowl if needed.

The option of Jayasuriya would have for sure been handy as the batting of Sri Lanka is thin with only 6 specialist batsman and five bowlers and further he would have been able to spin the ball away from the right hander which is always a threat if there is any help in a track.

On the subject of batting, it was only the other day that I was speaking to a respected sports editor with regards to the Sri Lankan middle order, where I commented that the “Sri Lankan batting was thin beyond number six” and pat came his reply: “Sri Lanka has no batting after three” certainly very harsh words when you consider the available batsmen and their experience and record. But unfortunately that appears to be the reality in the ODI series. If you take the batting with the exception of Dilshan, Tharanga and Sangakkara and isolate the rest from them the picture unfortunately is not pretty. And that is the biggest challenge the Lankans are faced with in India which makes people to pose questions however logical they may be.

Getting back to the Sri Lankan side, in the 3rd game, there could have been no holes to pick if the top six batsmen picked were in prime form and firing. In that situation a team can take the luxury of using specialist bowlers. But if that is not the case then the question of all rounders or the bits and pieces of cricketers come in to play. Of course one shouldn’t take anything away from such players as a genuine all-rounder can be a match winner or the bits and pieces cricketer who is considered the ODI specialist have definitely had their day in the sun and as such should be a first choice selection if you have such category in your line-up.

But the situation surrounding the Sri Lankan cricket team at present is something different. Hence as the batting unfortunately has been the real failure, for the sake of a winning combination quality bowlers may be forced to sit out. And back to the 3rd ODI, if Jayasuriya and even the other all-rounder Muthumudalige Pushpakumara another off spinner making it 3 on tour, was to play then obviously the selection committee would have taken a hard look at the bowling options and left out two bowlers for no fault of theirs! But that is how the game is played and there should be no problem with it.

Desperate times calls for desperate measures. And in such a situation leaving out quality bowlers to balance the team and to win could be justified. Whilst Sri Lanka hasn’t still reached desperation at least by the end of the 3rd ODI, with 2 games to go they could breathe a bit easier. Having said that I am sure it will only be a matter of time before emotions get thrown out of the window when selecting teams as the priority for Sri Lanka is to win and win consistently at all times.

At many an awards presentation and post match press conferences the common view expressed by most captains including our own is the need to improve and to do it consistently. Whilst it will be inhuman to expect players to achieve the heights which would satisfy the super purists, as they are bound to make mistakes as they go along. However what we need to witness is some effort to improve. To have a better innings than the last one or a better game than the previous one and to keep climbing however small the climb may be, which should be the objective of every player selected. Or at least to justify his inclusion! Taking a closer look at some of the players over the last two to three years one feels that they have had a very easy ride. The selectors have been patient. But let’s not forget that this can’t go on forever as no man however big or small is indispensable and if they are found wanting over a period of time, they should be replaced with better talent who are brimming with confidence and wanting to perform.

After all the game of cricket is bigger than any player or an individual and it is also not the private property of any single person or persons. Cricket is a game that has given Sri Lanka a place in the world map for all the good reasons and is adored by its millions of people. Hence it’s important that such things are remembered when important decisions are made whether they are on the field or off it. This we all agree will make the Sri Lankan cricket team better than it is right now.

* Roshan Abeysinghe is a leading cricket promoter and an international cricket commentator

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