By Shehan Daniel
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) yesterday defended the controversial decision to drop one of the country’s best junior batsmen after just one match of the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand.
Opener Hasitha Boyagoda, who had top scored with a half century in Sri Lanka’s only completed warm-up game ahead of the World Cup, failed to score in the team’s tournament opener, and was dropped for the next two matches, which Sri Lanka lost to Afghanistan and Pakistan, ending the title chances.
After the team’s return to the island, Chief Selector Graeme Labrooy said that in considering the condition of the wicket for the second and third games, which offered extra bounce, a decision was taken to drop the top order batsman and replace him with a fast bowler.
"We played Hasitha (Boyagoda) in the first game and he failed and then we decided to drop him. The reason was because the wickets for the second and third game had some grass and extra bounce so we decided to play an extra fast bowler,” Labrooy said.
Boyagoda was replaced by Santhush Gunathilaka, who was interestingly considered as a third opening option but made his way into the playing XI as a fast-bowler.
“The day before the match Kalana (Perera) suffered an injury and we had to leave him out, and since we already had seven batsmen, we decided to play Santhush (Gunathilaka) as a fast bowler (for the next two games),” Labrooy also said.
By SLC CEO Ashely de Silva’s own admission, this Under-19 Team was better prepared and equipped that any of their predecessors, with the think-tank implementing a programme in preparation for the World Cup as far back as 2016.
This included multiple tours, home and away against top junior international teams, and a 10-day residential training camp in Pallekele ahead of the tournament to acclimatize the cricketers to conditions they may face in New Zealand.
The majority of the squad had played together over this period, most having played at least 20 Youth ODIs, and had performed exceptionally well on tours of England and South Africa – countries the senior National team has traditionally struggled in.
With such great lengths being taken by the SLC it would go without saying that a Plate Trophy, for a ninth-place finish was far below what was expected from the junior cricketers, a point that SLC CEO Ashely de Silva accepted.
“We didn’t make all these plans and preparations to finish ninth, we wanted to win the World Cup,” de Silva said.
He defended the selection decisions that were made however saying, “ when it comes to selections, while we all have our own preferences, we must accept the decision made by those who are there (on tour) because they are the ones who know what the conditions will be, and which XI will be the best to play.”
Whether this disappointing finish was directly because of the players’ ineptitude to match up to their international peers – and victories in South Africa and England may prove otherwise – or because of the arbitrary decision making of the selectors and coach, is yet to be known.
But with this being effectively the final step for these young cricketers before they turn professional
cricketers it is the prerogative of the Sports Minister and warrants an investigation as to who is responsible for the poor return.
De Silva also said that Roy Dias’ tenure as Under-19 Coach was over, though his contract with the SLC went beyond the World Cup.
“Usually we contract coaches till a World Cup. The Executive Committee is yet to decide who will take over as coach,” de Silva added.
While a decision on the next coach was yet to be made, Daily Mirror learns that Malinda Warnapura is the leading candidate to take over.
After Sri Lanka Under-19 lost their second and third matches, Boyagoda returned to the playing XI and his immediate response was a world record score of 191 against Kenya – the highest individual score in a Youth ODI – before scoring another century in the Plate final against West Indies.
Gunathilaka’s inclusion into the World Cup Squad had itself been a point of contention ahead of the World Cup as it came at the expense of Ayana Siriwardana, the only cricketer in the junior pool who had some level of First-Class experience.
Following Siriwardana’s omission, an appeal was lodged by Isipathana College on behalf of Siriwardana to the Minister of Sports, which delayed the release of the final squad.
Ultimately, the Minister sided with the SLC and rejected the appeal, paving the way for Gunathilaka, who according to a former junior National Selector had not performed consistently in the trial matches, to secure a place in the World Cup Squad.