The next challenge : Asia Cup

After Sri Lanka’s disappointment of not winning the T20 World Cup in the West Indies now they face another challenge at the Asia cup in Dambulla. It will be the show comprising the big guns or the giants of Asia, when they commence battle on the 15th of June. It is a fact that Bangladesh will not be a huge threat though an upset from them is not a impossibility.

However the focus is bound to be on the three major nations Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan! Pakistan in particular will be an interesting opponent to watch as they have just named a new captain in Shahid Afridi and are trying to overcome the recent probes and allegations of match fixing. India on their part is not short of issues needing to be addressed either! It is not always that you read or hear the Head Coach accusing his major players of being unfit and not committed.

Jeewantha Kulatunga

That is a problem the Indians are grappling with right now and one wonders whether the relationship between the head coach Gary Kirsten and the team is smooth and strong. It will also be interesting to follow the progress of India during the tournament itself after the allegations leveled at the players. What would be their response to all this accusations? It will make interesting reading come the Asia Cup.

On the other hand and thankfully Sri Lanka doesn’t appear to have any such problems though, it is imperative that Sri Lanka gets back to winning ways and winning big! One couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity than this as the Asia Cup is staged in our own backyard which is bound to give us the obvious home advantage.

Despite this advantage what will be tough and also interesting are the players to be selected for the tournament itself. The new selection committee comprising of highly respected gentleman headed by the former cricket legend Aravinda De Silva will not have it easy when finalizing the squad! To start with they have just a limited time frame to come up with a squad of fifteen players and they actually have to start from scratch.

In hindsight one felt that the Minister of Sports should have retained at least one selector from the previous committee to assist and advise the current committee of what the past thinking and policy was. Otherwise a completely new policy could once again derail the careers of many talented cricketers.

Dambulla Stadium

As such on performance the name of Vinothan John should have been the fifth member of the committee though one must admit that Chaminda Mendis too adapted quite well to his role as a selector and both were well respected for the manner they conducted themselves in that capacity. Though just one year in service the duo of John and Mendis were always noted to approach selection situations with a straight bat and had an excellent knowledge of local talent. Let’s not forget that they were match referees before being elevated to the higher position of National selectors and as such had the acceptance of all who mattered including the players for their uncompromising stand.

Back to the policy on selection one very strong example is the current policy on spinners! The former committee adopted a position that the left arm spinner Rangana Herat will be the first choice spinner to partner Muralitharan in Tests whilst leg spinner Malinga Bandara will be the ODI choice. Now the question is will such thinking be carried forward or will it change? If it is to be changed then again it will be the players that are bound to suffer.

Hence one hopes and believes that the new set of selectors will not make too many shifts in policy and whatever change will be gradual and with the players being notified. Another extremely important fact that the current selectors should look to adopt is to commence a dialog with players and to take note of the achievements in the Domestic Tournaments. The classic case in point is Jeewantha Kulatunga and Kaushalya Weeraratne!

Kaushalya Weeraratne

Kulatunga was exceptional in the Inter Provincial T20 whilst Weeraratne was the man of the series in the Inter provincial Limited overs Tournament. Alas none of them were seriously considered for any international tournament/games which preceded the Inter Provincial and are believed to be not part of the players centrally contacted for 2011 either. One has to accept that this was a major error and such situations should be avoided at all cost in the future when selecting squads. It is also important that the Domestic tournaments be taken more seriously too and given its due place as what other way do the players have to showcase their respective talent? This would naturally make the players commit themselves more seriously to their clubs and provinces and ensuring the proper level of competition being maintained.

Digressing further the recent controversy surrounding the selection to Zimbabwe was another very sad episode in the selection of teams. Whilst 3 selectors which formed the majority of the panel supported young Lahiru Thirimanne, it was unfortunate that the Chairman tried to stand his ground and call for another player which contradicted the earlier stand of the Captain Kumar Sangakkara. The question or the point I am making here is not concerning the player. It could be any player for that matter. But what is important is the principal and consensus which should have been reached. Unfortunately this created a mockery again, which is not healthy and makes players loose respect for the people in authority. And in this case the national selectors.

Hence the new set of selectors are not going to have it easy when they sit to pick the squad for the Asia cup as there would be many factors they will be compelled to consider! But one very strong point that emanates from the newly picked panel is that they are highly respected in their own fields and can never be expected to be pushed or pressurized to make the wrong decision. This will be a key factor which is bound to earn them the respect of the players. Also one shouldn’t forget that no human being is perfect and as such imperfect humans are bound to be that way in their work. However if a decision right or wrong could be viewed as a mere mistake or a matter of an opinion rather than favoritism I believe the said human or the group of humans would have done well. I believe the current committee appointed has all the traits of such qualities and definitely don’t posses the stubborn “I know all and I am always sure of their right attitude” which is a step in the right direction and should be viewed positively.

On the subject of the Asia cup, and on the organizing of it, Sri Lanka Cricket, despite a very peaceful atmosphere prevailing in the country, will be heavily challenged in the security aspect of it. Whilst organizing such an event is never easy, the fact that India and Pakistan are meeting each other in neutral territory should be an area that will make the security arm of Sri Lanka Cricket very nervous. Having said that the very presence of retired Major General Lawrence Fernando as the head of the security unit should be a calming factor. Fernando who is an experienced personality in his own field should be given a free hand to ensure that nothing untoward would happen during this important event. Also with the Chairman D.S. De Silva being quite alive to this reality is bound to give Fernando all the support to make this event a success and to avoid any unpleasant situations during it.

Thankfully with the ugly head of terrorism crushed in Sri Lanka and where life has returned to normalcy, a peaceful and a tournament free of security issues will only serve to enhance the already increasing confidence in the international traveler and investor. Hence one hopes with the ACC footing the bill, nothing will be compromised when the security aspect is considered as finances should never be an issue to harp about when security is a concern.

I am sure the Interim Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket will also use the Asia cup as a confidence booster for the ICC ahead of the all important World Cup in 2011, by showcasing their organizational ability.
Let’s wish for a successful Asia Cup both on and off the field!

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

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