Sri Lanka’s embarrassing defeat to South Africa in the T20I series has made their chances of winning the upcoming World Cup a distant dream, and qualifying for it, playing against the likes of Ireland, Netherlands and Namibia, a fair challenge.
From winning the World Cup in 2014 to a home whitewash, signifies the downfall of Sri Lanka’s cricket. Sri Lanka never looked like winning a single moment during the recent 3-0 thrashing thanks to horrendous team selections and tactics from the selectors and coaching staff.
Dhananjaya de Silva, who is probably one of Sri Lanka’s best players in Test cricket, was tried out in pretty much every position across the middle order and in the third T20I he was promoted to three. The 30-year-old looked like a puppy stuck in the tigers’ den. There is no doubt about his ability in the longer format, but what is he doing in the T20 side? One of the common justifications is utilizing him as the batsman who anchors the innings. De Silva’s T20 average is 20 and strike rate is 108 – surely that cannot be your regular number three.
In fact, the modern games demands hard hitters all the way which is the key to success, and that is probably why despite being the best batsman in the world right now Joe Root can’t make the World Cup squad for England, but at this rate Sri Lanka might even pick Cheteshwar Pujara for T20Is if he was Sri Lankan.
On the other hand, Chief Selector Promodya Wickramasinghe is a World Cup winner, so he knows his cricket, which opens the floor for the other opinions about Dhananjaya de Silva’s selection. A few months ago Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) announced the player contract scheme in which de Silva and Niroshan Dickwella had been offered the most lucrative deals. Usually, the best contracts are offered to players who take part in all three formats. Dickwella had played one ODI since March 11, 2019 – so that was a laughable decision and it got even worse after his little midnight adventure alongside Danushka Gunatilake and Kusal Mendis in Durham. If Sri Lanka were to drop de Silva now that would mean the two players offered the best contracts wouldn’t be around for the most high-profile tournament of the year which certainly does not look good on SLC – especially given that this criteria of annual contracts were challenged by senior members such as Angelo Mathews and Dimuth Karunaratne based on the famous interview given by Muttiah Muralitharan to a leading television channel.
De Silva is an exceptional cricketer, but in a different format. The failures in T20Is could kill his confidence and destroy his whole cricket career.
Head Coach Mickey Arthur in a recent press conference claimed that people on social media ‘know nothing about cricket.’ That was a staggering statement – something someone would say after probably winning a World Cup. Sri Lanka had just beaten possibly India’s ‘C’ team where Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav batted at six and seven respectively. Arthur is obviously an experienced coach, but in the first T20I against South Africa, when Sri Lanka needed 64 runs in four overs, he opted to send de Silva at 6 and not Chamika Karunaratne – how could someone justify that? If Arthur was asked to pick any of the two batsmen from history to get 15 runs off one over, he would probably pick Sunil Gavaskar and Geoffrey Boycott.
Karunaratne averages nearly 35 in his brief T20 career as a batsman – 40 in ODIs. In the recently concluded South Africa series he was not out twice because he was sent in at eight or nine despite some of the batsmen who batted ahead of him hardly able to clear the 30-yard circle. Karunaratne probably ran out of patience in the third T20I when he lifted his bat after hitting a massive six in the penultimate over pointing his fingers at the bat indicating he ‘knows how to bat.’ He has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent performer in the both South Africa and India Series, but for some reason he has to bat so low and rarely given a chance with the ball.
Sri Lanka’s batting looks to be the weakest going into the World Cup. The pitches in the UAE may not turn as much as it did in Sri Lanka, but traditionally those are spin friendly conditions and of all teams Sri Lanka have become one of the worst batting units against spin bowling under batting coach Grant Flower’s tenure. Sri Lanka’s inability to play the sweep shot which South Africa perfected in the recent series has been a talking point. The likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardane, TM Dilshan and Chamara Silva were excellent players against spin because they were so good at the sweep – Russell Arnold another player who basically went on to play for Sri Lanka with one stroke, the sweep. However, the batsmen in the current squad barely play the sweep shot which is one of the reasons why they were dominated by South African spinners. Forget about Tabraiz Shamsi or Keshav Maharaj – top order batter Aiden Markram who had barely bowled in T20s before this series must have felt like he was either Saeed Ajmal or Harbhajan Singh when he left Sri Lanka in the early hours of Wednesday having taken four wickets for 25 runs bowling six overs against Sri Lanka.
Dasun Shanaka is a good cricketer and as a captain he brought the team together, but he has to score the runs and justify his place in the team very soon because as things stand Sri Lanka are not in a battle to win the T20 World Cup but to qualify. (Harsha Amarasinghe)