Having sacked Lasith Malinga as Sri Lanka’s ODI captain on the verge of the ICC Cricket World Cup last year, Chairman of Selectors Ashantha De Mel has indicated that the fast bowler’s T-20 captaincy was under the microscope after another humiliating series defeat in India.
The series defeat meant that Sri Lanka slipped behind Afghanistan to number eight in official ICC Rankings and Malinga’s inability to bring the team together has been highlighted. Incidentally, when Malinga and host of other front line players pulled out of the tour of Pakistan two months ago, Dasun Shanaka skippered a young team to a series whitewash against world’s number one ranked team.
“As far as I see, this tour was a minus for Lasith. After two matches, he conceded 81 runs and did not take a wicket. He was out first ball in both games and then he is slow on the field. We have to review him. He himself has to review. If he needs to be in the side, we need to see whether he can be captain. We have anyway appointed him tour by tour. Last year too before the World Cup we had to remove him,” De Mel who is also the Manager of the team told The Island.
“His performance was well below par. He has to lead from the front. He is still a good bowler. If we are removing him, then we have to find someone who is able to hold onto a place in the side. The captain has to be sure of his place. Dasun Shanaka captained in Pakistan but we are not sure whether he is able to hold on to a place. Then we have Angelo Mathews who is making a comeback to the side,” noted De Mel.
The former fast bowler highlighted certain areas that need improvements, if Sri Lanka were to make an impact in T-20 cricket again. “The dot balls is an issue. In the first game we had 49 dot balls. That is too many for a game of T-20 cricket. Any good side has to keep it down to 20-25 dot balls. Our batters need to be taught how to rotate the strike and where to pick up the singles. Our batters are playing with hard hands. The Indians play with softer hands and they steal singles to mid-on and mid-off. We don’t do that unfortunately.”
When it came to key aspects of shorter formats of the game like running between the wickets and fielding, Sri Lanka used to set the benchmark in the Asian region a decade or so ago. However, thanks to strong domestic competitions like the IPL, teams like India have made vast improvements.
“For example, we were running at ten seconds ten years ago and we are still running at ten seconds. India meanwhile were running at 12 seconds and now they are running at eight seconds. Our cricket has stagnated. Players like Virat Kohli have taken lot of interest to improve their personal skills. The Indians are hungry but we lack that hunger. There is no dearth of talent. But our culture is such that the players need to be pushed. They are not taking the initiative to improve themselves. We can take the horse to the water but we can not make it drink.”
“Our players have the ability to play strokes but they are not converting starts into big knocks. Most of our batters average below 20 in T-20 cricket. If you take the Indians, most of them average above 30 while some average 40 and even 50. What Mickey Arthur is trying to do is to identify players we need for the World Cup while building their skill levels. Teach them how to build an innings. I think that there is some improvement in players’ thinking. The Head Coach is pushing them. He is not allowing them to sit on their laurels. What we have to do is we have another ten games before the World Cup and then the qualifiers. We need to try and address some of these issues before that.”
De Mel underscored some of the improvements the team has made. “We are happy with the fielding which has improved. We have had good fielding sessions during training. The spinners bowling well was another positive. Wanindu Hasaranga was impressive. It was good to see Angelo making a comeback. He can contribute in many ways and importantly he can play big shots at any stage. If he can bat at five that’s the way forward for us. Kusal Perera we feel is best suited at number three. We are trying to get Kusal Mendis at four and Dhananjaya de Silva at six. Then we have Dasun Shanaka or Thisara Perera at seven.”
“The door is not shut on Thisara. We have identified Danushka Gunathilaka and Avishka Fernando as openers. Dickwella is another option. If he can give us a good start getting a quick 40 he can put us in the game. We need to look at a spare batsman for the middle order. The problem with Bankua Rajapaksa and Oshada Fernando is that they are slow on the field and their fielding is not the best,” De Mel noted.