Two Saturdays ago we received a call from a relieved member of the Executive Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket thanking us for supporting the cause of developing the game of Cricket in Sri Lanka. He was happy because amidst all obstacles, they had managed to get the restructuring of the club tournament approved in a [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Rebuilding Lanka’s cricket: De Mel discusses plan


Two Saturdays ago we received a call from a relieved member of the Executive Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket thanking us for supporting the cause of developing the game of Cricket in Sri Lanka. He was happy because amidst all obstacles, they had managed to get the restructuring of the club tournament approved in a futuristic manner and this being the first step of the next phase of the game in the country.

As the chief selector of cricket, Asantha de Mel is co-opted to the Executive Committee of Sri Lanka cricket and is a man who thinks cricket and makes it a habit of getting involved in matters that he feels that would help him churn out better cricketing outfits for international cricketing demands.

De Mel stresses a point

Knowing his involvement with the new developments, the Musings met up with him to get his insights to the matter and his views on shaping the game in the country to face the challenges posed by ever developing international standards.Initially we asked him how come that the Lankan ‘A’ team, in spite of being the main feeder point to the Lanka main team, is on a nosedive — and recently both the main side and the ‘A’ side lost to different countries on the same day. To make things look even bad the ‘A’ team had lost to another minnow country — Ireland — very badly two days earlier.

De Mel replied: “In reality the main team losing to India on that day is nothing to get alarmed about because the team was doing some experiments with its batting. But, the losses faced by the ‘A’ team are very disturbing. Our ‘A’ team is in very bad shape. We sent them to South Africa and Zimbabwe and in those tours they did not do well at all. I think one of the main contributory factors is our domestic cricket structure does not cater to our international needs. There our footing is very weak.” At that point the Musings went one point further and asked him his comments on the recently concluded under 19 World Cup tour which was a disaster. We also asked about the accusations that the team was not properly chosen and even his own contribution as tour selector was rather questionable because the senior selectors had very little knowledge about the players.

De Mel explained: “We took over the under 19 segment just before the players went to Malaysia for the Asia Cup tournament. Previously all the selections were done by the national selectors. With the under 19 team being given to the junior selectors, there appeared a huge gap. The national selectors are totally cut off from the under 19 segment and there was no connection between the under 19 team and the main team. Under 19 is a very important segment in local cricket. So we explained matters to the executive committee.”

De Mel then explained why he became a part of that tour. “I wanted to take an interest in the under 19 players and get to know them. Till then we had not seen these players. On the contrary, the people who were involved with the Australian under 19 team were Greg Chappell (selector), Stuart Law (Representing the Centre of Excellence), Craig McDermott (Bowling coach) and the Australian captain Michael Clerk who was looking for fresh talent. On the other hand, there would not have been any one with a cricket background if I was not there. They were sending team with no feedback. Then upon my return I gave them a complete report of what took place.

“There was another allegation that we selected the team. We did not. They had a squad of thirty for the Malaysian tour. We said that we did not have any knowledge about the players and co-opted chairman of the Junior Selectors and the Under 19 coach and they selected fifteen that made the tour to Malaysia. Once they went to Malaysia and came back we were satisfied with their performances. They lost only to India in the semi-finals and there was no player who had done badly enough to be replaced. They never discussed Akila Dananjaya in the under 19 squad; they did not want him even in the Malaysian contingent. But as selectors for the main team we brought Dhananjaya into the Sri Lanka team. That is why I say that there is a huge gap when the national selectors are not selecting the under 19 squad. The Under 19 cricketers are the category that you have to give the most attention.”

At the point we questioned about his statement that there would not have been anyone with a cricketing background on a tour as important as an under 19 Cricket World Cup tour. We asked him whether the SLC did not have a set plan on matters of this nature. De Mel replied: “Yes, there are no set plans for matters of this nature at SLC. This team was totally under prepared. When they went to Australia they did not know what sort of pitches to expect. They did not even realise how cold it would be. There were preparations for the under 19 team to take part in this tour. When I spoke to the Indian coach who was there – he played for India when I was playing for Sri Lanka – he said that the Indian authorities had organised a two year camp – they chose seventeen-year-old boys put them in a camp and sent them on twelve tours mostly playing four day cricket. This was their World Cup preparation.

“What was the preparation that we had? Hardly any. When I looked at the squad of thirty and questioned the coach and the junior selectors, we found most of the players were practice bowlers. It was not the best thirty players they had chosen. They initially chose fifteen players who would make the tour and then packed the rest with practice bowlers. I have the list of players. Akila Dhananjaya whom they thought was not good enough – was also a practice bowler. The problem is that if we do not sort this under 19 problem out for which we have already met and are in the process of giving a proposal to the board, the matters will go out of hand. We are hoping to choose the players eighteen months before the next World Cup, send them through a training process in an academy, give them the same facilities as the main team and plan tours for them. They will also have the coaches, physios, the trainers, the motivators and even the nutrition part has to be looked into. All these things have to be looked into if you are going to be competitive. Had I not gone I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

At the same time, de Mel also denounced the allegation that he joined the Australia tour to see his daughter. But, he said that his daughter did not live in Australia as she had moved to England for studies. He said he became a part of the tour because the selector who was down for the job had to pull out at the eleventh hour.

Then when asked how all this is going to help the national feeder point become richer, de Mel explained: “We have already restructured the school cricket season working along with the Schools Cricket Association. In this manner we hope to swap quantity to quality. We are hoping to make the under 23 tournament an under 22 one and play it provincially. Then we will have a manageable number of quality players taking part. The inter-club tournament also has been pruned from 20 to 14 with three provincial teams also coming into the fray.  Then the ‘A’ team will have a definite programme and the team will be handled by separate coaches for batting, bowling and fielding. These coaches will be responsible for the players’ performances.  Besides, we will only handle about 40 players at a given time in this coaching system.  This way the whole process will be more manageable, responsible and will have more quality players. Still all these will have to be done with immediate effect.”

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