Cricketing Sense from Ashantha De Mel’s Selection Team

Michael Roberts

Champika Fernando has served Sri Lanka’s cricketing world well by conducting a revealing interview with Ashantha De Mel, the Chief Selector for Sri Lanka Cricket, for the Daily Mirror. Ashantha not only represented Sri Lanka at cricket, but also was a leading bridge player in competitive tournaments. His acumen shines through in the analysis he has provided. While I have met him in passing in the distant past, I have had limited interaction with him: those brief occasions indicated to me that he is a no-nonsense person and would not suffer fools gladly.

Likewise, my brief conversation with Hemantha Wickremeratne on tour in Adelaide about 25 years back left me with the impression that he is a forceful personality and would brook no nonsense. My single meeting with Brendon Kuruppu was recent and convivial – involving his lucid clarification of the attacks on the team bus in Lahore in March 2009.

So, in sum it does not surprise me that the three of them and Chaminda Mendis have acted forcefully and made some major calls in recent months: viz.

  • Displacing Hathurusinghe from the Selection Committee [as distinct from the selection process insofar as his preferences would be in the kitty];
  • Displacing Chandimal from the captaincy (and the squad) for the tour of South Africa and placing Dimuth Karunaratne in charge of the Test team and Malinga as skipper for the short-form games;
  • Inserting several new players into the Test and short-form squads in South Africa.

However, it is Champika Fernando’s useful presentation of De Mel’s information and perceptions that I wish to focus upon in this article. We learn that Angelo Mathews and Hathurusinghe did not see eye to eye during recent series. But De Mel and Co. clearly envision a role for Mathews in the World Cup. In fact, it seems that they have Malinga, Karunaratne, Tharanga and Mathews in view for the captaincy in England because these four will skipper the sides in the local Provincial Tournament that is going to be the final testing ground. The sidelining of Chandimal is significant: it suggests that his leadership was flawed and may even have generated internal problems in New Zealand and Australia. However, that that does not mean he is not in the frame as a player.

While Karunaratne is now in view as a potential captain, De Mel made it clear that he has to secure a place in the team on performance before being considered for that role: “We will never appoint the Captain first and then decide the team. We will appoint the team and then decide the Captain out of the 15-man squad.” Sensible this.

De Mel and Co. have also analysed recent trends in 50-over ODIs and noted that scores of 300-340 are not infrequent; and that 180 runs may be scored in the course of the last 20 overs. It is, in my insertion, probably because of this consideration that Upul Tharanga has been brought into the De Mel Committee’s plans in a big way: he has a history of big scores once he is set [but his recent showing in South Africa, alas, was dismal].

De Mel’s central criticism here was that our batsmen in recent times “throw their wickets away after getting [a] start.  They had not learnt to consolidate their innings and tended to go after every ball they receive. Ah! Dickwella! Dickwella! One thinks.…. And now Fernando! Fernando! … maybe Perera! Perera! …. Mendis! Mendis!  Yes, there is a widespread problem.

De Mel’s committee has also noticed that Akila Dananjaya seems to have lost his bowling sting after being forced to remodel his action. Though he did not say so, it seems that Kamindu Mendis and Dananjaya de Silva are in view as two “half-bowlers” who can slot in and hold the fort for ten overs at suitable moments, while 40 overs are served up by mainline bowlers.

There is a gap here in the coverage: no review of any role for a wrist spinner of the Vandersay or Sandakan variety and/or continued faith in Akila Dananjaya.

Bowlers at the death featured prominently in De Mel’s review – quite validly. Malinga is presented as one expert in this realm and Isuru Udana had been selected experimentally for this role because he had more experience than Rajitha or Vishwa Fernando.

Sri Lanka’s Isuru Udana plays a shot during the second Twenty20 international (T20I) cricket match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at SuperSport Park Stadium, on March 22, 2019, in Pretoria. (Photo by Christiaan Kotze / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHRISTIAAN KOTZE/AFP/Getty Images)

De Mel alas, is no Nostradamus; he could not know that Udana surprised everyone with his batting pyrotechnics and six-hitting. Man o’ man! He did. …  and his death-bowling was not too bad – mixed results yes, but that is par for the course for most pacemen at the death –not everyone is bumrah. Isuru Udana has been a distinct positive to emerge from the new Selection Committee’s deliberations.

Last but not least: De Mel inserted a longer-term consideration when he contended: “we need a strong backup team.” This focus is eminently sensible. More A Team matches and tours have to be slotted in so that Sri Lanka can nurture new prospects or provide oldies with a new lease of life.

LIMITED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Champika Fernando: Ashantha’s Incisive Exposition of Sri Lankan Cricket Team’s Problems and Immediate Goals,”  23 March 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/ashanthas-incisive-exposition-of-sri-lankan-cricket-teams-problems-and-immediate-goals/#more-34650

Andrew Fernando: “Andrew Fernando’s Reading of the Close Encounter at Cape Town,” March 21, 2019 https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2019/03/21/andrew-fernandos-reading-of-the-close-encounter-at-capetown/#more-11926

Michael Roberts: “Riveting and Bungling T20 at Cape Town on 19th March 2019,” 21 March 2019,  https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2019/03/21/riveting-and-bungling-t20-at-cape-town-on-19th-march-2019/#more-11916

Michael Roberts: “Premature Thoughts on Sri Lanka’s World Cup Squad: The Fifteen,” 24 March 2019, …………………………………………………………

https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/premature-thoughts-on-sri-lankas-worldcupsquad-the-fifteeen/

Rohit Pawar: “Selection blunders continue to haunt Sri Lanka in South Africa ODIs, T20s,” 25 March 2019, https://www.cricketage.in/2019/03/25/selection-blunders-continue-to-haunt-sri-lanka-in-south-africa-odis-t20is/

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Filed under cricket for amity, cultural transmission, historical interpretation, life stories, performance, Sri Lankan cricket, unusual people

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