Since last year’s away-win in England, it has been a case of the Lankans getting ready for the day of reckoning. It is like the dusk falling upon a bright and sunny day, at the end of a good day’s cricket. The innings of local cricket icons Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara have come to [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Padding up for the next inning


Since last year’s away-win in England, it has been a case of the Lankans getting ready for the day of reckoning. It is like the dusk falling upon a bright and sunny day, at the end of a good day’s cricket. The innings of local cricket icons Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara have come to an end.First to hang the crested cap in the closet was Mahela. He shelved the white kit and stayed in pyjamas till the end of the World Cup. Kumar was a bit tentative, but, soon he too let the world know that he would not stick around the dressing room after the Indian tour of Sri Lanka. Now the emotional farewells are done and dusted, it is time to pack the remainder and start our journey to the unknown.

For us – the mundane people it is a definite wait and see. But, for the band of Lankan selectors led by Kapila Wijegunawardene, it is a matter of getting on to the wagon and riding the horse till they reach the oasis of the next Lankan cricket combination that would take us to the future.

The Musings met the former lanky fast bowler to inquire about how they were planning to accomplish the job at hand. Wijegunawardene initially explained that Sri Lanka had an extremely successful run in cricket for the past 8-10 years. “Barring the occasional glitch, with players in the calibre of Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara Sri Lanka has performed exceptionally well in the international arena.”

Then the musings asked him about how Sri Lanka had depended upon combination of players like Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas and finally the combination of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena to keep the Lankan aspiration high in the international arena, but now in the present outfit we cannot point at any such combination.

The Lankan chief selector very philosophically analysed the status quo: “Talent is one thing but, performance at this level and being accepted internationally is the right measure of being world class. In all fairness, when Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara were in the equation, everyone else lived in their shadows. These two players were the icons. They say a fig could not grow into a huge tree if there is no proper sunlight. Now with the departure of these two players, the sunlight has begun to filter to the bottom of the forest. Now it is the turn of the little trees, which began their lives under the shade of the two huge tress, to blossom out and fill the created void. That is how I would like to look at the present status quo.

“Every time when there were stalwarts moving out, there were apprehensions and the cricket loving public of this country kept asking who is going to take over. Yet, always there were players to come out and takeover. We are confident with the talent that we have seen, including the ‘A’ team, the emerging and the under 19 level, we as a country we have a wealth of talent; that much I can tell you with conviction.”

Explaining about their short-term plans, Wijegunawardene said they had looked at infusing some experienced players, especially those who have international exposure. He said the selectors looking at their domestic performances were of the view that the players had matured enough to take on the responsibility in the short term. But the selectors were also forthright in telling these seniors that they were being considered in the short-term and everything would depend on their performances.

The second short term objective was the defending of the ICC T-20 title. Wijegunawardene explained: “The ICC T-20 World Cup is six months down the road and defending that title is one of our primary objectives. We have experimented in finding out the right combinations of players for that particular format. I know some of our decisions have been debated widely. We have taken those decisions because we have ten games prior to the T-20 World Cup; we have taken a conscious decision to make use of those ten games to identify the players so that we field the best combination at the championship. It is because ICC events take pride of place. Then three years down the road it would be the ICC 50 over World Cup. There again we have to work with the youth and combinations to meet our challenges three years down the road.”

He also explained in Test cricket, they would have to ascertain who is going to fill the void created by the departure of Jayawardena and Sangakkara. He also added that nevertheless they as selectors are very happy about the talent at hand. “Obviously it has to be propelled and nurtured into the next level, but, we do have the necessary ingredients to take us forward”.
Talking of Dinesh Chandimal being squared up as a wicket-keeper batsman and if it is fair by the player, the Lankan chief selector said: “In one inning, Chandimal showed the entire cricket world what he is capable of. I am sure that he is going to serve Sri Lanka Cricket in a meaningful manner. Once again I reiterate – small trees take time to grow under huge trees.”

In the same vein talking of Lahiru Thirimanne, he was of the view that almost every cricketer in the world goes through a bad patch even once in his life. Thirimanne in spite of his vast talent is experiencing a bad patch and it is only a matter of time that he overcomes that glitch. “He is a young player; he has a lot to give Sri Lanka cricket and I am sure he would come out of this situation soon and do well for Sri Lanka cricket”.

Talking about the bowlers, the former Lankan opening bowler said: “We have a good set of young fast bowlers who could take us along — and in the recent past, especially in Test cricket, our bowlers have performed quite well. Rangana Herath did have a sort slump against Pakistan but in the first two Tests against India, he has performed well within himself. Tharindu Kaushal has proven to everybody his wicket taking abilities. He has a very impressive strike rate. Yet, we need to unearth more talent from our system, and that is what we have been doing from day one since we took over the responsibility”.

“We focus mainly on the ‘A’ team and the development squads. We went through all formats and we discovered a lot of striking young players coming through the system. At the same time we also have experimented with some wild card players in our practice games and our identification has been justified with some young players showcasing their talent. Players like leg spinner Jeffrey Vandersay and fast bowler Kasun Rajitha are two players whom we have unearthed in this manner.”

He said what was lacking in our youngsters was not talent. It was lack of exposure in the international arena. He said the present executive committee is focusing closely and arrived at a policy of having four ‘A’ team tours and four Emerging tours – two outbound and two inbound – every year.

“It is very important to give these players the exposure that you get in international cricket like good wickets with pace and bounce, good oppositions, good fast bowlers and minimal assistance to the bowlers from the tracks. We have created those conditions and saw during the Pakistan ‘A’ tour and the South African Emerging series how our players began to lift the bar. Initially they struggled because the conditions were alien to them. They had to work towards skills and if they were able to up their game to reach the target, they did well. If we continue with this planned programme facilitating international competitions to these lads you will suddenly find a pool of about fifty players who have the necessary skills and competence developed to be able to take the next step into the national arena. That is roughly what we are trying to do,” said Wijegunawardene.

Then came the blind-side move – we asked: “At present this is a case of cricket being governed by an Interim Committee and you are a part of that. Very soon there may be another Sports Minister who would opt to go in for immediate elections. Then what would be the position?”

Chief selector Wijegunawardene’s answer came in this manner: “I accepted this position with an open heart. Whatever I have achieved in life has been because of cricket. During my playing days there were cricket loving officials who helped us better our game. Now it is our turn to give something back to the game that has moulded our lives”.

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