Middle-order worries continue
The age old saying ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ has been a policy followed by national cricket selectors all over the world. A good example concerning Sri Lanka is the faith shown by the national selectors of the nineties to retain Marvan Atapattu as a middle-order batsman despite the horrendous start he made to Test cricket scoring just one run and five ducks in his first six innings. Atapattu ended as one of Sri Lanka’s established opening batsmen representing his country in 90 Tests (18 as captain) and 268 One-Day Internationals (63 as captain) over a period of 17 years and is presently the national team’s batting coach.

Such faith has been shown by the England selectors with fast bowling all-rounder Stuart Broad. There were calls from the English media to drop him when he struggled against Sri Lanka in the Test and ODI series - eight wickets (avg. 48.75) and 57 runs (avg. 19.00) in three Tests and two wickets for 191 runs and 15 runs (avg. 7.50) in 4 ODIs. However the English selectors ignored the calls and persisted with Broad and he has repaid their faith by helping England to go one-up in the four-Test series against India with a convincing win at Lord’s. Broad’s contribution was eye-catching taking a match bag of seven wickets and contributing an unbeaten 74 out of an unfinished 162-run seventh-wicket partnership with Matt Prior to help England recover from a hopeless 107-6 to 269-6 in the second innings. Broad was once again in the thick of things in the ongoing second Test at Trent Bridge where he counter-attacked the Indian bowling to score a fighting 64 that saw England recover from a despairing 124-8 to a respectable 221.

Whether that kind of policy will work out with Sri Lankan players like Chamara Kapugedera, Chamara Silva and Malinga Bandara who have been included in the provisional pool of 20 for next month’s Twenty20I and ODI series against Australia is a matter of conjecture. These players have had a chequered career with the national side, but they should be thankful that the selectors have not discarded them totally and still continue to keep giving them opportunities hoping they would repay the faith kept in them.
The cricket loving public and the media have been quite critical at the number of opportunities given to the two Chamaras who have yet to fulfill their full potential as middle-order batsmen as against some of the other players who have not been so fortunate.

Chairman of selectors Duleep Mendis admitted that Sri Lanka had a problem with their middle-order batting in ODIs and there was definitely a middle order slot that needs to be filled urgently.
“There is nothing wrong in having a look at Chamara Kapugedera and Chamara Silva time and again because they have scored runs for us in that position although not consistently,” said Mendis. “Just because they have been named in the pool of 20 doesn’t mean that they are automatic choices for the final squad of 15. We are looking at every possible means of plugging that gaping hole in the middle.”
During the 2011 World Cup Sri Lanka tried out Chamara Silva and Thilan Samaraweera in the middle-order position and in the recently concluded five-match ODI series in England they had Thilina Kandamby batting in that position.

During the England series however Sri Lanka found a few positives in the likes of Dinesh Chandimal, Jeevan Mendis and Suranga Lakmal.
Mendis expressed dissatisfaction at the performance of the Sri Lanka ‘A’ batsmen currently touring England. “They are our back-up team and we have given them the opportunity to score runs and prove that they are worthy of a place in the national side. But so far the top and middle order have hardly justified their selections,” said Mendis.

“They have played two first-class matches against county sides and lost them both. None of the top or middle-order batsmen have scored a century so far. The only player who is performing consistently with both bat and ball is Shaminda Eranga,” he said.
Eranga, a 25-year-old fast bowling all-rounder from Chilaw had unbeaten scores of 50 and 45 and a match bag of seven wickets against Durham and prior to that, took five wickets and scored 24 and 6 against Leicestershire. Mendis was hopeful that the batsmen will strike form in the remaining matches on the tour especially against England Lions starting at Scarborough on Tuesday.

On tour are some of Sri Lanka’s brightest batting prospects like Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kaushal Silva, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Roshen Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne for whom the doors to a long term future in the national team beckons, only if they can get some big runs behind them.
The case of leg-spinner Malinga Bandara is different. Unlike the two Chamaras he has not had so many opportunities, but whenever he has been given the chance he has performed. Perhaps the success of Jeevan Mendis as a leg-spinning all-rounder in England and the continued loss of form of Ajantha Mendis have forced the selectors hand to give Bandara another chance.