Cricket selection: Who is fooling whom?

Wednesday, 10 March 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Sa’adi Thawfeeq

Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa
Sri Lanka Cricket President Shammi Silva

The Minister of Sports was seen responding to a question on the pending appointments of the Cricket

Selection Committee in the strangest way, knowingly or unknowingly. The Minister went to great lengths to explain that the appointment of the Cricket Selection Committee shall be done in concurrence with the National Selection Committee, the National Sports Council and the Cricket Technical Committee. Isn’t the appointment of selection committees across 73 disciplines vested with the National Selection Committee? And aren’t selection committees expected to be ‘independent’ and free of outside ‘influence’?

If selections are going to be done with consultation, where is the integrity of the process? In the absence of independence can there ever be integrity? If this is how the apex body of sport in Sri Lanka is going to function, what is the example being set? Do we need to worry playing sport in this country? Do the countries tilt towards allowing sinister elements lurking in the shadows controlling selection/s and the cricketing fortunes of the country?

In fact, this exactly is the bane of Sri Lanka cricket. The integrity of cricket selection was destroyed 24 hours before the team departed for the T20 World Cup in India in 2016.

In yet another news clip, the Minister of Sports was seen pleading with cricket fans to allow the newly appointed Cricket Technical Committee to be given time to fix cricket. Unfortunately, what the Minister has not been told is that two members of this committee were very much involved in the cricket advisory capacities during the Thilanga Sumathipala administration, and they should take part of the blame for the plight of cricket in the country today. In fact, two of these gentlemen went to the extent of sitting in a kangaroo selection committee 24 hours prior to the departure of the national 2016 T20 World Cup side, to carry out the bidding of the administration.


Why no Akila Dananjaya for Tests?

Yet another T20 international series has been lost in the Caribbean, and there are a few observations worth dissecting. To begin with, Akila Dananjaya was included in the side straight after remodelling his bowling action for the second time. He first took a hat-trick bowling his normal off-spinners, and the very next over conceded six sixes bowling primarily leg spin (one can only assume that this is the remodelled action). In the second game he bowls his normal off-spinners again and concedes only 12 runs. In spite of this fine performance, he is excluded from the Test squad. One can only wonder why?


Isn’t there something strange in this type of selection policy?

The West Indies has a bowler facing the identical predicament in Sunil Narine, who too has returned to the side after his remodelled action was cleared. The West Indian selectors, however, did not play him and instead blooded 21-year-old rookie off-spinner Kevin Sinclair in preparation for the T20 World Cup coming up in a few months’ time in India. This is because the West Indies selectors are aware that they simply cannot afford to risk including Sunil Narine in any ICC Championship tournament, where a bowler cited for a suspect action is thrown out of the tournament without a replacement. Isn’t this smart thinking on the part of the West Indian selectors? Isn’t this the kind of long-term thinking we ought to be adopting here too, if we are truly interested in changing the cricketing fortunes of this country?


Selection deficiencies

There were more blaring mismatches observed during the series. To highlight a few:

The head coach chooses to write Lasith Malinga’s retirement papers, and then gets Angelo Mathews to open the bowling? Seriously, is this really happening to Sri Lanka Cricket?

To make matters worse, Niroshan Dickwella, who made a creditable 30 in the first game opening the batting, was demoted to No.7 in the second. Is this how a cricketer ought to be rewarded for a creditable performance? If this was bad enough, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Ashen Bandara, all batted above Dickwella, and scored at a rate of a run-a-ball, visibly slowing down the scoring rate in the latter overs when the norm was to accelerate. It is common knowledge that in the T20 format a batsman needs to score at a minimum strike rate of 130. Are the selectors (whoever is selecting the team now) seriously grooming a side for the upcoming T20 World Cup or simply going through the motions to save face? In the third game Dickwella was again made to open the innings. Is such shuffling justifiable, particularly to a senior player with a proven track record? Or, more worryingly, are there moves afoot to side-line him in the ODI’s by getting another player to keep wickets?

If the present selectors are of the view that Mathews and Chandimal are part of the 2021 T20 World Cup plans, then there is no need to worry about where this ship is headed, and the Cricket Technical Committee should be singularly held responsible for wrongfully advising the Sports Minister to permit a dysfunctional selection committee to pick the team for the Caribbean tour. Is SLC causing more embarrassment to the Sports Minister by scheduling a Club T20 Tournament with 26 teams participating in the absence of a selection committee? Shouldn’t this tournament be conducted closer to the T20 World Cup, giving every opportunity to aspiring young cricketers to showcase their talents and impress the selectors? Where is the justice for these aspiring young cricketers dreaming of representing their country? Should we be surprised in hearing reports of the exodus of youngsters lining up to migrate to other cricket playing countries under such callous circumstances? 


The Moody Saga

As if the Sports Minister didn’t have enough fires to put out, the Tom Moody saga has ignited one more for him. Two SLC stakeholders have questioned the legality of the contract signed by the Shammi Silva administration after their legal term expired. This no doubt is a very valid question, considering that an administration inking a three-year contract needs to have legal binding – considering the value of the engagement running into $ 600,000 (Rs. 120 million in today’s exchange rate) over a three-year period. One can justify such a pay-out if Moody was guaranteeing victory for Sri Lanka at the 2023 World Cup. In the absence of such a guarantee the Technical Committee will be hard pressed justifying such a colossal pay out, especially at a time when the citizens of this country are foregoing the enjoyment of a simple ‘kiri hodi’ and ‘ulundu wadai,’ to support the government’s efforts to save every dollar we can in order to meet the country’s daunting debt obligations. Under these circumstances, this contract getting scrapped due to a ‘legal snag’ may prove to be a blessing in disguise for this government and save them a few blushes trying to justify an outflow of $ 600,000 at a time of extreme austerity, where an ordinary citizen of this country can carry only a maximum of $ 5,000 when travelling overseas for whatever reason.