De Silva gets down to business

It takes a hard task- master to make bold decisions and former World Cup winning vice-captain Aravinda de Silva showed those capabilities in his first attempt as chief cricket selector by dropping veteran opener Sanath Jayasuriya and spinner Ajantha Mendis from the Sri Lanka Asia Cup squad.

By making such a move De Silva showed that if he is allowed to work without any outside hindrance he is capable of delivering the goods. He showed his capable hands when he handled the Sri Lanka under 19 World Cup team as consultant coach. In the short space of time he had to work with De Silva managed to extract as much as he possibly could to take Sri Lanka upto the semi-final stage. Had he been given the position a few months earlier we could have seen a different result.

Nevertheless the form and age of Jayasuriya has in the past few months become a rather complex issue with the cricket loving public and the media. The issue was further compounded by Jayasuriya’s poor form displayed in the recently concluded ICC Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies where he managed to scrape only 15 runs in six innings (avg. 3.75). He was merely a shadow of his former self and struggled to hit the ball out of the square. He was a man living on his past glories and his sacking from the team comes as no surprise considering his present form. But as De Silva revealed during his press conference following the team selection, the doors are not closed for cricketers like Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas, another retired Test cricketer trying to extend his international career in the shorter versions (50-over and Twenty20). They need to show consistent form to attract selection because today we have quite a number of youngsters knocking on the door for recognition at the top, players in the caliber of Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Thissara Perera and Jeevan Mendis.

Consistency is the name of the game whether you are a veteran or a youngster. If you don’t score runs and take wickets on a regular basis then the chances of you getting dropped from the national squad is greater unless you are exceptionally talented and the selectors see you as a potential future player. This is the case of Chamara Kapugedera, whom De Silva feels has the talent to get right up there but the development process is slow. In the case of a cricketer like Angelo Mathews it is different. He has improved in leaps and bounds within the space of one year that he has become a vital cog in the national side not only as a batting all-rounder, but now being thought of filling the no. 5 batting slot after the top four – Dilshan, Tharanga, Sangakkara and Jayawardene.

The exclusion of Mendis is interesting. For the first time maybe in the history of national cricket selectors in this country a selector went to the extent to explain why a bowler of Mendis’ caliber was left out. Rarely do selectors’ divulge such decisions to the media, but De Silva from the time he took over had stated that he would be transparent on issues of selection. True to his word he kept the promise and said that Mendis was excluded ‘for tactical reasons’.

“There are certain decisions we took for tactical reasons. Those areas I wouldn’t want the opposition or any other team to know. It was discussed among the captain and the team management. I will talk to the players individually and explain to them so that they know why we have taken such a decision,” said De Silva.
It was at the last Asia Cup two years ago in Karachi that Mendis burst into the limelight scalping six Indian batsmen for a mere 13 runs in eight overs to win the final for Sri Lanka by 100 runs. Since that heady entry into international cricket the opposition (especially teams in the subcontinent) with the availability of modern technology have worked out ways and means of tackling his ‘mystery’ deliveries that Mendis is no longer the same bowler he was two years ago. With the Asia Cup comprising teams from Asia it is a wise move on the part of the selectors to keep Mendis out and give the opposition something else to think and work over by bringing in a left-arm spinner Rangana Herath. Herath in the past one year has become Sri Lanka’s leading spinner in the absence of Muthiah Muralitharan and he’s found new confidence in his bowling knowing that he is no longer an ‘also ran’ for a national team spot.