In keeping with the promise he made when he took over the Lankan cricket reins for the second time a year ago, Mahela Jayawardena has decided to abdicate after the gruelling Australian tour. We salute him for that. Without pushing a new captain at the deep end — like the way Dilshan had to wade [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Fantastic four and what next?


In keeping with the promise he made when he took over the Lankan cricket reins for the second time a year ago, Mahela Jayawardena has decided to abdicate after the gruelling Australian tour. We salute him for that.

It was a good inning chum, but we have to keep batting for some time more, said Sangakkara to Mahela.

Without pushing a new captain at the deep end — like the way Dilshan had to wade through the quagmire in England –Mahela has stayed on to take on the tough Kangaroos on their own backyard and then hand over the captaincy to whoever takes it from the two Test series at home against Bangladesh – a series that will begin upon their return to the island

Allrounder Mathews was appointed the captain of the T-20 team and he took the Lankans through the New Zealand segment of it – but it was only in one match. Now it looks like he is to be handed over the full mantle and take the Lankan cricket to its future destiny.
The manner in which Mathews is being groomed is fine. Even before the first Test, the team management, which includes the incumbent skipper Mahela Jayawardena, gave the opportunity to Mathews to speak to the media prior to the encounter. But, what we are looking with crossed fingers is the avenue that Mathews would have to drive through once the awesome foursome of Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillekeratne Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera call it a day. At present these four cricketers are the subject of any opponent whom would like to fathom and take stock of before a series. Yet, ironically these four along with wicket keeper Prasanna Jayawardena are on the wrong side of the hourglass.

At the same time what is more frightening is the replacements for the four slots are only guesswork rather than a queue of ‘next-in-lines’. In reality we could talk of Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne and Dimuth Karunaratne. Yet, still we are one short if the sky decides to fall down tomorrow. On the first day of the Test at Hobart we heard an Australian commentator lamenting about the lack of world class cricketers produced by Sri Lanka in the past few years. In reality, out of the top thirty contracted cricketers there are only 11 specialist batsmen and four of the slots are taken by the top four. Besides that there are Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera and Jeewan Mendis who are in the fold as allrounders. The rest are bowlers.

Yes, Tharanga Paranavithana (30) and Upul Tharanga (27) have a good five years or more of cricket in front of them. That may come as a sigh of relief for the decision makers of Sri Lanka cricket. Yet, in reality we are sure to fall short in the quality performances that came through the bats of their predecessors in their early days of international cricket. I mean in sheer class.
One must also remember the now Lankan leading spinner Rangana Heart at 34 is not getting any younger either.
The Lankan chief selector, Asantha de Mel, too acknowledged that Mahela’s timing of abdication was good. He said: “Right at this moment it is not right for us talk about the next captain because there is a series going on with a captain in place. It is not very diplomatic to talk about whom we are going to appoint thereafter. Mahela did have a chat with me the other day and made it clear that he took over for the second time for only one year and he now has decided to hand over the reins to the next-in-line.

“However he is doing this with the idea of helping out the new captain during the initial stages. Mahela also made it clear that he does not want to play continuously. If he is the captain he has to be a member of the playing XI in all games, but he made it clear to us that in future he would be a bit more selective.”

The Lankan chief selector said that as selectors Mahela’s decision would give them a breathing space. With the seniors being more selective, he said the selectors would have the chance to expose the next-in-line.

“Give them the necessary breaks and do it while the seniors are still around. I genuinely feel that the next Bangladesh two Test series is a great opportunity. Here we are hoping to speak to the seniors and give some exposure to some of the budding young players,” de Mel said.

At the same time the selectors have another task at hand. Once Mathews is officially appointed as captain, who is going to be his deputy?

In answer to that question de Mel said “As for the limited overs segment we can appoint Lasith Malinga; he has the seniority and the necessary skills that go with the task. But, we are stumped about the Test segment. There is no point in appointing someone like Thilan Samaraweera or Prasanna Jayawardena because the age is not on their side. Then the other youngsters still cannot command a permanent place in the final XI, with the seniors still occupying their slots. So in all probabilities it is going to be a match by match appointment. However, whoever we are going to appoint as vice captain should be someone whom we have in mind for the future.
It is a catch-22 situation. Now the ominous signs of batting voids are becoming evident. There is no one in the horizon who could match the skills that Jayawardena or Sangakkara had even in their early days in Test cricket. Once again what I mean is class.
Sidath Wettimuny during my recent chat with him was explaining about the dedication of the ‘would be’ international players. This was in reply to my question that from the school arena in the recent past there were cricketers like Sachith Pathirana, Bhanuka Rajapakse who more than shone when they were at school level. But, once they transformed into the club arena they have not produced as expected. There was a time when a certain cricketer was playing for his school, people knew that he was potential material and as expected they moved into the international arena. But, this does not happen anymore.

Wettimuny explained, “There are many reason for this. There is a slump in after-school cricket. When you’re in school and if you are the top player you bat all five days about half an hour to forty five minutes at the nets. You actually hit may be couple of hundred balls a day. But when you leave school and go to play club cricket you do one third of the batting that you did at the school nets. It is the responsibility of that player to understand and do a lot more on his own.

“Recently I asked a young player how many hours do you bat a week. He replied three hours. Then you have to ask this question – can a professional cricketer, a person who wants to play for his country, do what he is supposed to do with three hours of batting at the nets for a week and be at international class? This is not even thirty minutes a day. That is not enough. It is the responsibility of the player and the coaches that guide the player to show where they have gone wrong.”

Then Wettimuny explained that Sangakkara after his net session gets to side and then plays about a thousand balls. So was Sanath Jayasuriya in his hey days. He said that Sanath would get people to throw the ball at him for hours on end. He pointed out that as a result of their dedication they scored runs in abundance.

PS: Dear Prince-in-waiting – you will not be able to lead by example with catching like that.

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