Ashantha de Mel, Chairman of Cricket Selectors, thinks Sri Lanka should focus on training that is specific to the shortest format, as they prepare for next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
“This is a different format,” said de Mel. “I think we need to focus on training specific to the T20 game.”
Training specific to the T20 format that refers to are power-hitting (a skill missing from the Sri Lankan side), boosting the speed with which they play their shots, improving running between wickets and also honing the skill levels of bowlers to take wickets and lockdown the scoring.
After a successful series win against Bangladesh in the ODI format, Sri Lanka will host New Zealand for two Tests as part of the World Test Championships and three T20s. De Mel says they will begin their World Cup preparations from the New Zealand series onward.
But given the instability surrounding the Board and it’s employees, whether de Mel will remain in the same position in the foreseeable future is anybody’s guess. Players, coaches and selectors have been changed at a rate, leaving little room for them to implement a long-term strategy.
Sri Lanka, the 2014 champions, failed to enter the Super 12s stage which features only the top eight in the rankings as direct qualifiers. They will now play in the qualifying round to advance to the Super 12s, a huge embarrassment for the three-time finalists.
“These are some of the key areas we need to improve going forward,” de Mel elaborated.
“If you look at the recent series, our fielding was much better and they need to keep improving. But in T20 cricket, we need to have those power-hitters, batsmen who can clear the ropes with ease. They need to practice on center wickets and try and hit the ball out of the park.”
For this, de Mel believes, they need a young squad. This means those in the mid-30s may not find a place in the shortest format. “So we are in the process of identifying a squad of players, may be around 20, who could be used in the lead up to the World T20,” he said.
“They will be consistently exposed during the next 15 months to identify the best possible combinations. Just as we identify the playing XI, it’s also important choose a group of players who can shadow them, who can replace come into the side when needed. This way, we can put pressure on the first XI players to perform better.”
De Mel was non-committal when asked whether they would retain Lasith Malinga as captain.
“We will have to get the best person to lead the team,” he said.
Of course, Malinga can offer a lot when it comes to T20 cricket, given his vast experience of playing in various leagues across the globe but we have to decide whether he is the man to lead the side.”
But Malinga, addressing media after his last ODI game in Colombo, said he aims to take Sri Lanka to the T20 World Cup. He was appointed Sri Lanka’s white-ball skipper for the New Zealand series early this year but was removed from the ODI captaincy ahead of the World Cup. Technically, he has not been ditched as T20 skipper.
“If you see, the dressing room is now a more comfortable place for the players, something we didn’t have it few months back,” de Mel reflected.
“I think Dimuth Karunaratne is doing a fantastic job as captain and he has the support of the entire team. This can do wonders. The players are responding well to him and we need someone of that calibre for the T20s as well.”
Commenting on the concluded series, de Mel said there had been a marked improvement in all aspects but warns against complacency.
“If you look at the top six batsmen, they all got runs,” he said.
“That was missing for a while and when they get going we can definitely set a winning score that the bowlers can defend. It was really encouraging to see how they went about their business. So, what we must do now is to have a set of back-up players.”
“In the last ODI, we tried four new faces and they all did well and this will make a healthy competition within the team,” he said.
“There could be some changes depending on injuries and form but we should stick to the same bunch of players and give them time to establish themselves in the side.”