Mutual respect, confidence and continuity are the key words of former Lankan fast bowler Graeme Labrooy who has taken upon the unlikely challenge of Chief Selector of Sri Lanka Cricket, at a time when national cricket is going through turbulent times.
He told the Sunday Times he had declined this challenge on four previous occasions, but is more than happy to accept the challenge now.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times, the chief selector explains how he also manages to keep his ICC job as a match referee, at the same time.
Labrooy is also of the view that Test Captain Dinesh Chandimal would be picked for all three formats once again. Chandimal last played a T-20 match on January 20, 2017, and since then, lost his captaincy as well as a place in the side.
Obviously, we first asked Labrooy about the ICC challenge and how he overcame that hurdle. He explained, “I still am an ICC match referee. When Sri Lanka Cricket approached me, I had a chat with the ICC and it cleared the legal side of it, and was happy that I continue as a match referee. One must understand that there are two levels of match referees at the ICC. You get the ‘Elite’, where Ranjan Madugalle is the chief match referee with seven other match referees. Then they have five regional match referees, who look after Women’s Cricket and Division II downwards and this does not include Sri Lanka or any other Test-playing nation. Hence, there is no conflict of interest. Based on that, the ICC has given me the green light to continue, saying that, if Sri Lanka is even remotely involved in a tournament, my name will not be considered. We have a loose contract, if I may call it, and the ICC calls us up on a series-by-series basis.”
Then we asked how he made up his mind at a time when Sri Lankan Cricket is going through a very volatile time. Labrooy said, “On four previous occasions, I was offered this job. But I declined, as I had a full-time job in the corporate sector, besides being a match referee. Now that I have moved on from my corporate responsibilities, I put up my hand up, because someone with experience was needed, and I felt I would be able to contribute.”
We then pointed out – “nevertheless it’s going to be an arduous one” – we mean the interaction with the national cricketing brood. The former Lankan fast bowler explained, “Interaction, we leave it mostly to the manager and coach. We would talk to the players only if it’s needed, but remember, manager Asanka Gurusinha is also a selector, and he carries our messages to the players, and the coach will talk to them about cricket. Unfortunately, our predecessors had the challenge of replacing players because of injury. I think this is one thing we have to address, and I think that, if most of our cricketers are fit, they are capable of delivering the goods for the country. This will solve the problem.”
At this point we pointed out the concern of about 40 cricketers donning the national crest within a short period of one-and-a-half-years. We asked how he saw this development. He said, “Like I said before, the selectors were forced to include various players because there were lots of cricket played with many injuries, and because of that, the physiotherapists and the trainers requested that these cricketers be rested. Hence, the selectors were left with no choice. We have a bunch of talented cricketers for the three forms of cricket — Test, ODI and T-20. I think most of the changes were done in the T-20 format, so we are sympathetic towards the past selectors.”
Then we asked especially of a player in the calibre of Angelo Mathews, a pivot in the side, being in and out because of injury. Doesn’t it tilt the balance of the outfit? Labrooy said, “I say experience counts and we have to look after our experienced players. Even now, he is trying to recover from a calf strain and we have told the manager, the physio and the trainers not to release him unless he is 100 percent fit. At times, when he was 75-80 percent fit, he would play for the country and basically, would carry injuries through the series. This time we are keen to see him one hundred per cent fit. So that, he would be of full use to the country, rather than pushing him in and out. Experience is a thing we are lacking in our team, and we are very keen that he returns”.
Then we pointed out that fast bowler Dhammika Prasad, our most productive fast bowler in recent times, is out of action for the past one-and-a-half years.
Labrooy explained that Prasad is working with the trainers. “On and off we get players who are on top of their game, getting injured. Prasad has been serving our country for a long time and has bowled loads of overs, so we are keen to have him back on track soon. We also have a few other fast bowlers such as Dushmantha Chameera who is trying to step up. He is suffering a stress fracture. So, we have a few young fast bowlers recovering from injury.
“Right now we are playing a full tour with Pakistan and immediately after that, we are playing India, which is another full tour. So we hope to rotate players. They have to play but, at the same time, they also have to have adequate rest to recover.”
Then we asked about the significance of Chandimal and if he considers Chandimal being included even in the T-20 format? “We feel that Chandimal is a good bat who could adjust and play all three formats of the game. Besides, he is confident and in good form. So I do not think there would be a question of what format he plays, if he is picked by the tour management”.
Then the Sunday Times delved into the Herath issue. At 40, Rangana Herath is our most trustworthy wicket-taking bowler. How long could he hold on to this status quo we asked. The chief selector was diplomatic. He answered: “We can go back a bit. When Muttiah Muralitharan was ending his career, we asked the same question. Who is going to take over? Then, Rangana Herath stepped in. He has the experience and lots of cricket left in him. I think he still has a good one-year of cricket left in him, to say the least—Rangana will be performing at his best. I think, soon we would be able to bank on another bowler to do the job. I don’t want to single out anyone but, for instance, we have youngsters such as Akila Dhananjaya, Jeffrey Vandersay, Wanindu Hasaranga and Malinda Pushpakumara who have the potential to step up.”
Then we asked him, “Yes, now we have won one match. But, that does not mean we have discovered the magic formula. How do you propose to take up the challenge? Labrooy said, “Well, it was not so long ago that we beat Australia handsomely. Then, unfortunately, thereafter we did not win many games. But, I think, going forward, the boys are confident. Sri Lankans are confidence players, they need to bank on their confidence to perform. We must get that confidence back. We know we will not be able to win every game but, as long as they apply themselves and play good cricket…. You need to understand that we are going through a rebuilding process.”
We pointed out that the rebuilding process has gone on for too long. Labrooy replied by saying that, even the Australians went through a similar period. They went for about 24 months of rebuilding. They were rotating players, giving breaks to certain players.
Right now the team is even thinking of the ICC T-20 Championship and the World Cup proper in 2019. He said, right at this moment, they are in discussion with the players about how they are going to fit in and play their respective roles effectively. It all becomes so much easy when you restore mutual respect, confidence and continuity within the unit.