Cricket is just a game, yet, especially in the environ we live in does it stop at that point? The love for the game has penetrated all walks of life and often broken all social barriers based on race, cast or religion – no boundaries. The love for the game lies in every heart and [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

World Cup 2015: Pramodya relates inside story


Cricket is just a game, yet, especially in the environ we live in does it stop at that point? The love for the game has penetrated all walks of life and often broken all social barriers based on race, cast or religion – no boundaries. The love for the game lies in every heart and when the Lankan team fails a whole nation mourns.

In reality the insiders knew that the Lankan combination for the 2015 World Cup effort did not contain the right ingredients and as a result the country’s ‘pet sport’ was exposed when it reached the highway. This narration by former National Cricket Selector Pramodya Wickramasinghe comes as a message to Kapila Wijegunewardena and company – the new selectors — and also as an eye-opener to the system’s keepers who often do not bother to look beyond their given horizon.

The former Sri Lankan opening bowler ascertains that the sustenance of the game is an amalgamated effort. As selectors, they have to pick the names that are on the board or players who could fit the bill in the international arena. To achieve results the names on the board should be of good quality and they should be able to sustain themselves amid gruelling demands associated with today’s international game. Then more than the selectors it is the duty of the system to provide the selectors with quality goods from which they could pick on.

During an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times, the former National Selector explained : “When we took over two years ago, we took over the mantle with a huge responsibility at our door step. The country’s cricket stance was shifting towards the post Mahela/Sanga era and our responsibility was to select the first next generation captain. We did not have the time to settle in and go through the pros and cons, but, we ended up by selecting Angelo Mathews as captain and Dinesh Chandimal as the captain of the T-20 segment. We consulted the coaching staff and some others who were responsible for the game. In hindsight, I feel it was too much of a task for a new combination of selectors to sit and decide upon. That is why we decided to relinquish our positions with still almost another month remaining. This we did to facilitate the new selectors to take up on the next task – the Pakistan tour. At the same time they also should ascertain as to what we have been upto and what changes that they can effect.”

Coming back to their early days as selectors Pramodya said their first task was to take on Bangladesh on a home tour. He said that in consultation with the coaching department they selected their squad. By then they had taken the decision to look to the era beyond Sanga and Mahela who had by then completed their terms of captaincy also. In the kitty they already had players like Thilina Kandamby, Jehan Mubarak, Farveez Maharoof – the senior lot who were still knocking on the door and they also had the young lot like Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal and Ashan Priyanjan whom they were thinking of grooming for the next step of Sri Lanka. “We took their shelf life in cricket into consideration and took the decision to look into the future, but, I still feel we did somewhat injustice by those seniors who we decided to jump over. We thought of working with the young blood closely so that they would be ready when Dilshan and company bid adieu and yet, the seniors would also be there for immediate recall.

“Though we won the Bangladesh tour, we do not reckon it was so successful. In Galle the opposition scored a lot of runs against our bowling. But, we did well to get into the semi-final of the Champions Trophy. As selectors we were not happy. Some of the areas that we were really pinning our hopes on did not turn up as expected. For instance Kusal Janith was a failure. As a result, our focus shifted to Upul Tharanga. Upul was taken for the tri-nation in the West Indies. There we played the final against India. We lost the final only in the last over. For us the tour was satisfactory.”
Pramodya said that then the Lankan team moved to Bangladesh – a long drawn-out one. He said by then Paul Farbrace had taken the mantle as the Lankan coach and he was the selector on tour.

“What Paul told me as tour selector was, ‘he was only studying the Lankan side and he was not going to interfere in the day-to-day play in any manner’. So it was up to the local staff to carry the burden of handling the side while Paul was studying the side.”

The next challenge was the Asia Cup and this time we came out very well to end-up as the champions. Pramodya added: “Then came the T-20 ICC World Championships. It was in progress and halfway through we dropped Dinesh Chandimal and appointed Lasith Malinga as captain. As the tour selector during the Bangladesh segment, even prior to that I saw Chandimal was not getting the team support in the T-20s. I promptly sent word to Sanath Jayasuriya, who was the chairman of the selection committee about the situation at hand. Then when the change of captaincy came into effect there was a huge resurgence in the team and the result was Sri Lanka won the trophy. Yet, my argument is had we lost the trophy the changing of the captain at that stage would have become a huge issue. Besides, after we had briefed the authorities no one even bothered to inquire into why that situation arose and what we could do to avert situations of that nature in the future.”

In the run up to the T-20 title win, Pramodya said they were at the games watching the lads at work. The selectors were there while the training sessions were on, identifying players who were fudging or players who left the training sessions complaining of various aches and pains. He said some players faked injuries after doing well in one match and got paid for the entire series in such instances.

“There is a fast bowler who is among the wickets and is alleged to be faking injuries. When we found that out, we kept him out. He was out of the side for a while because of that reason. Then Sanath had a chat with him and brought him back. That is not the only instance, there have been several cases of this nature where we intervened and straightened things out.”

After winning the T-20 World Cup, the Lankan team left for England. Pramodya said once again in England Kusal Janith was batting badly. There the selectors called him and gave him the assurance that he was being considered for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. We asked him to forget all pressures and play his own game. “Still he kept on failing till we were forced to drop him and seek other alternatives,” Pramodya added.

He said that they shifted their focus to alternatives like Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardena taking the No 1 slot. But, the problem they had was that a section of the think tank felt that Tharanga too had the same problem as Kusal Janith – vulnerable outside the off stump and if Mahela is to open, we would be putting the now depleted middle order under more pressure.

After the South African and Pakistani tours there was a break in cricket, he said. By then the selectors had noted that we had a huge drop in our physical fitness and that needed immediate remedy. They were not physically fit and not mentally tough. We felt that this was the main cause for the younger brood not performing to expectations – especially Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Upul Tharanga and Kusal Janith.

“By then we had requested the coaching staff to look into the faults of these top rung players. When things were not turning out well, we asked Chandimal and Thirimanne as to what their problems were. Then they said that they needed to train under their personal coaches and Thirimanne chose Anusha Samaranayake and Chandimal chose Roger Wijesuriya – both bowling coaches in the system. At that moment what we needed was these two batsmen to perform and we told them to do as they wished. But, till now has anyone probed in and found out why these two players selected two bowling coaches when batting coaches are there?”

Pramodya then moved to the Lankan ‘A’ tour of England. In that tour, he said they selected Kusal Janith Perera, Dinesh Chandimal and Thisara Perera to be a part of it. Initially all three players turned down the offer, but, after Chief Selector Sanath Jayasuriya had a chat with them, Kusal Janith and Chandimal agreed to make the tour, but, Thisara Perera sent a medical certificate claiming “mental stress”.

“Earlier we had gone to the extent of explaining to Perera that he had some shortcomings like facing up to the short ball and also the need for him to bowl ten overs at the 2015 World Cup. We told him that during the ‘A’ tour he could adjust himself to bowl the required ten overs and even bat up in the order so that he could improve in his batting. We explained that No 8 batsman had a responsibility to bowl ten overs and we were preparing him for that slot at the World Cup. At that time he wanted to take part in the Caribbean League and we did not grant him permission with the work load we had on him. I wonder if he would have had a pressure situation had we given him permission to play in the Caribbean League.

“Yet, Thisara Perera was a vital cog in our World Cup plans, though he did not make the Sri Lanka ‘A’ tour. Chandimal, however, made good use of that tour with a string of good scores, but, Kusal Janith returned to the island soon after with an injury. Meanwhile for mental and physical training we brought in Chandrishan Perera to work with the squad for one month – during their break from international cricket”.
He said that ploy also did not work, with the administration deciding to send a team to India claiming the tour offered future financial benefits. The selectors accepted the tour yet, it was an ad-hoc arrangement that had no proper planning. The players had to leave the island especially for a tour like India with hardly any training.

Pramodya added: “What began with that Indian tour ended on March 18. From that point onwards we had engagements without a break. It was during the England tour that we were preparing for our World Cup squad. Meanwhile skipper Angelo Mathews, coach Marvan Atapattu and the selectors wanted to have a look at some of the senior players whom we had opted to leave out initially. We made use of the West Indies ‘A’ tour for that exercise. I remember for the game at Hambantota we wanted a good bouncy wicket to put the players through the mill. But, sadly the wicket prepared was a lame duck. By the time we left for New Zealand, twelve of the fifteen players earmarked for the 2015 World Cup tour had been on our list. The three remaining slots were to be decided on the basis of: who was going to open with Dilshan, who was going to fill the number seven slot and would Nuwan Kulasekera be considered as one of the fast bowlers or would it be a fast bowler of 140+.”

Even when the Lankans landed in New Zealand, the selectors were still pondering about the possibility of opening the inning with Mahela at the World Cup. “Then we had the responsibility of naming the World Cup squad by the date that the first Test match with New Zealand ended. By then we also thought of the idea of one guy sticking around while others batting around him. This thought came when we saw the movement of the ball and even players like Sangakkara failing in both innings. Then in the second inning, Dimuth Karunaratne came up with that knock that sealed our idea and he was drawn in. By then Dimuth was already in our loop for ODI cricket and he was even picked for the ODIs against England even though he did not play. He was the only batsman who showed an upward trend while playing in New Zealand by then. Truly it was I together with the Lankan skipper and head coach Marvan Atapattu who recommended to the rest of the selectors that Dimuth should open the innings for Sri Lanka. Then in the race for the number seven slot Jeewan Mendis was considered over Ashan Priyanjan because the former was a leg spinner and we already had two other off spinners in Sachithra Senanayake and T.M. Dilshan.”

Generally during a tour the selectors are the selector on tour, together with the captain and the head coach. The captain comes armed with ideas that he has discussed with the seniors and the rest of the team. The coach also has a discussion with his team. Thereafter we exchange ideas with the rest of the guys in Colombo. As the team had more confidence – it was Dimuth and Jeewan who made the final call into the squad.

Then Pramodaya commented on the quarter-final against South Africa and the selections that were still bar stool discussions. He said: “Sanath was then in Australia as tour coach. Yet, once again the selections for that game went through the same process. The tour selectors and the seniors were of the opinion that if Kusal opens and Thirimanne is shifted to the middle – the problem of middle order which had already depleted after the injury of Chandimal would be solved. Kusal was expected to get some quick runs at the top and Thirimanne was to beef-up the middle, while Tharindu Kaushal who was among the wickets in Sri Lanka would be a better bet than under pressure Sachitra Senanayake who was not bowling well. In fact we did try to coax Herath to play, but, by then the report had come that he was unfit.

“However that day, our top order failed. But, had they performed and Kusal Janith got some runs, it would have been a different story today,” Pramodya said in conclusion.

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