Rex Clementine, in Sunday Island, 1 April 2019, where the title is “Sri Lanka’s captaincy becomes poisoned chalice”
Sri Lanka’s fans have little hope during the ICC Cricket World Cup as infighting and disharmony are threatening to disrupt the national cricket team’s campaign in cricket’s showpiece event next month. Sunday Island learns that the team’s premier batsman Angelo Mathews has declined to take over the captaincy after it was offered to him by Chairman of Selectors Ashantha De Mel earlier this week.
Mathews, who had been groomed by Sri Lanka Cricket for leadership since 2006 when he captained the junior side, had become the overwhelming choice to take over the captaincy after Lasith Malinga failed to win a single game after 12 attempts since he was put in charge from December 2018. Mathews had expressed his reservations to take over the captaincy again having been unceremoniously dumped by Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha after the Asia Cup debacle where Sri Lanka were beaten by Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Sunday Island learns that Hathurusingha had agreed to bury the hatchet and work closely with the captain but Mathews was not willing to turn the other cheek. The 30-year-old had been vary that if things went wrong again the blame game will begin and that he will be made the scapegoat.
Dinesh Chandimal, from whom Ashantha De Mel so brusquely took the captaincy away – not once but twice – is one of the candidates for the job. He was the man destined to take the team to the World Cup but the October 26th government coup saw Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalist De Mel becoming Chairman of Selectors.
De Mel appointed Malinga without even informing Chandimal that he had been replaced. Chaminda Mendis, one of the selectors had claimed that Chandimal was removed as captain because he was Hathurusingha’s man. That must be coming straight from master tactician Nishantha Ranatunga’s book that a cricket team must be divided and ruled.
With Dimuth Karunaratne certain to make it to the side and possibly Lahiru Thirimanne getting a call up as well, Chandimal is unlikely to find a place in the squad as there would be too many players with Strike Rates of 80. If picked, Chandimal will become a candidate to lead the side. However, he had confided to the officials that he will take up the captaincy on one condition; there can be no Lasith Malinga in the World Cup squad.
Malinga and Chandimal – both southerners – one from Ratgama and the other from neighbouring Balapitiya, have a colourful history. Chandimal was the captain during the World T-20 in 2014 and Malinga is accused of deliberately slowing down the over rate in a bid to get the captain banned due to slow over rate offence. That was Malinga’s way of becoming captain and similar tactics may have been used in December 2018 as well to overthrow Chandimal. Charlie’s Angels have mastered the art of bloodless coups.
Incidentally, it was under Chandimal that Sri Lanka won their last ODI. In the fifth ODI against England in November at RPS, Chandimal hit 80 off 73 deliveries with six fours and two sixes against an attack that comprised Mark Wood, Ben Stokes, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rasheed, Moeen Ali and Sam Curran to guide Sri Lanka to a massive 219 run win.
Two weeks later, De Mel became Chairman of Selectors and declared that Chandimal was not fit to play ODI cricket. So much for his cricket acumen. De Mel argued that the team needed to post totals close to 350 in order to compete in ODI cricket these days. The charges he chose failed to bat out the 50 overs in South Africa. Incidentally, in the fifth ODI against England, Sri Lanka posted 366.
Only De Mel can correct the blunder he committed four months ago. But his ego is too big to accept that he was being unfair on Chandimal. That leaves him with Hobson’s Choice. Dimuth Karunaratne could become Sri Lanka’s ODI captain for the World Cup although he has not played an ODI for more than four years now.
De Mel had a perfect chance to retain Dimuth for ODIs in South Africa so that he could get into a groove ahead of an important event such as the World Cup. But he was naïve and immature letting emotions take precedence over reason and has compromised national interests. His cricketing risks were not as bad as his hedging risks but they have certainly made Sri Lankan cricket the laughing stock in the eyes of the world.
De Mel alone doesn’t deserve all the blame. Successive selection panels from Kapila Wijegunawardene to Sanath Jayasuriya and Graeme Labrooy have taken some very poor decisions over the last four years. How they could ignore a proven performer like Dimuth for ODI cricket since March 2015 is beyond our comprehension. After all, Dimuth had made his ODI debut 18 months before his Test debut. That’s an indication that the selectors have little clue as to what they are doing.
Sunday Island learns that Dimuth has agreed to take on the mantle for the World Cup. The man who did such a fine job during the Test series win in South Africa is seen as the only person who could bring the Mathews, Thisaras, Chandimals and even Malingas together.
If offered the job, Dimuth is expected to ask for a deputy of his choice, just to remain on the safe side of slow over rate offences.
Malinga, meanwhile, according to his confidants, has threatened to retire with immediate effect if he were not made the captain.
Meanwhile, Bhanuka Rajapaksa could get a World Cup call-up ahead of Oshada Fernando as the selectors seem to believe that the fire power he brings into the table will stand the team in good stead. However, questions about his fitness remain.
Then again, that’s how the selectors have gone about things. No planning, no reasoning and no fair play whatsoever. Instead, they are full of anger, prejudice and petty behaviour.