Asantha De Mel selection committee’s vision bring Sri Lanka team back on track

Written by N Krishnamurthy

Chandika Hathurusingha, the million dollars paid so called high profile Coach of Sri Lanka, was on mission to destroy all hopes of revival. Then, in December 2018, the Sri Lanka Cricket Board (SLC) took one of the bravest move by appointing Asantha De Mel, Chaminda Mendis, Brendon Kurruppu as national selectors. Immediately Asantha led selection committee took the challenge and identified world cup players. Not surprisingly, in the ongoing World Cup, all those players, whom Asantha and Co trusted, introduced or reintroduced, are proving their worth and keeping Sri Lanka’s hopes alive. The most notable thing is that the selection committee brought all these players into the system without the support of Hathurusingha, as the Coach was in favour of his group of tried and tested players.

At Leeds, on Friday, England’s Jofra Archer struck in his very first over to dismiss Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne (1). And, in the next over, Chris Woakes sent Kusal Perera (2) back in the hut. And, with the unheard Avishka Fernando and Kusal Mendis at the crease, no one really expected a lot from the Lankan batsmen.

However, contrary to popular perception, Fernando had different plans. At a time, when other batsmen would have focussed on stabilising the innings, the 21-year-old decided to counter-attack on the back of some masterful strokes. Beginning the carnage in the sixth over, the Sri Lankan youngster decided to take on Archer arguably England’s best bowler in the tournament.

After getting beaten with a testing line on the first ball, Fernando lashed a wide delivery through covers for a pleasing boundary. But, Archer isn’t the one to back down either as he came back, squaring the Lankan batsman with a pacy delivery. The next delivery was again bowled with a searing pace at a shorter length that left no option for Fernando, but to get out of the way.

Trying to test the batsman with another short ball, Archer ended up overdoing the length as Fernando seized the opportunity and pulled it for a massive six. Desperate to finish the over well, Archer overcompensated by bowling full outside the off-stump, allowing Fernando to cream his drive for another four.

For someone who is undeniably one the pick of the bowlers in the tournament so far, Archer conceding 14 runs against the 21-year-old batsman had everyone praising the youngster. But, Fernando wasn’t done, not yet. In the tenth over, the right-hander once again cut Archer a sorry figure by hitting a four and then a massive six, which went out of the ground, to show his abilities on the biggest stage.

While the other batsmen were treading with caution, Fernando looked in a class of his own and looked poised for a big score. But, a rare brain-fade saw the right-handed batsman upper-cutting the ball despite knowing Eoin Morgan had placed the third man at the fence. As Adil Rashid completed a simple catch, Fernando missed out on his maiden World Cup fifty. But, despite that, the young gun won everyone over with his strokeful innings.

The credit to unearth Avishka Fernando at World Cricket biggest stage goes to Asantha De Mel led selection committee. One of the most dynamic and consistent batsman in Sri Lanka domestic circuit, Avishka was always a contender for a 2019 World Cup birth. However, at that time Hathurusingha was acting as a Messiah of Sri Lanka cricket. He was not only a coach, he was a selector also. And on overseas tours, he was the one who had the power to select playing eleven, instead of on tours selectors. And, with those powers, young players like Avishka were not in Hathurusingha’s scheme of things. Instead, he was happy with Chandimal’s and Thirimane’s!

However, after Asantha’s arrival as chairman of selectors, SLC realized the mistake to make Hathurusingha one of the selector, thus removed his selection powers!

That was a turning point for Sri Lanka cricket. In next Six months, Asantha and Co not only unearthed Avishka Fernando, they also brought Oshada Fernando, Lasith Embuldeniya. Oshada, who emerged as one of the brightest batting aspect for Sri Lanka after successfull South Africa tour, has been put as one of the stand by for the World Cup. Lasith, who like Oshada also proved his mettle against Proteas, was also certain to play in the World Cup, however a finger injury forced him out of the contention.

The notable thing is that all these young players were not in Hathurusingha’s scheme of things. Only Asantha De Mel led selection committee vision put them into national team.

And, not only young players, Asantha De Mel and Co also brought back Dimuth Karunaratne into ODI setup, when Hathurusingha’s was almost certain to arrive UK with his favorite Dinesh Chandimal.

“Yes. This is true. Dimuth was no where near to World Cup squad. It was one of the riskiest decision in the history of Sri Lanka cricket to not only include Dimuth into world cup squad, but also to make him captain. Fortunately, after six world cup matches, Asantha De Mel and his selection committee can proudly claim for the credit to transform Sri Lanka cricket by appointing Dimuth as captain for the World Cup” a top SLC administrator told Cricket Age.

When Hathurusingha was wholesale incharge of Sri Lanka Cricket, the national team was divided at least in four camps, with all the senior players were fighting with each other. Asantha De Mel led selection committee took risk in this matter as well and, after almost one year, anyone can see that Sri Lanka is playing as a unit under non controversial Dimuth’s captaincy in the world cup.

Then, Kusal Perera’s Case also proves the vision of Asantha and Co. Even though regarded as one of the most destructive batsman in world cricket, unfortunately, Kusal Perera was not in good book of Hathurusingha! Before the South Africa tour, his career was going nowhere. Reason, Hathurusingha had made it clear that he don’t rate Kusal Perera as a test batsman. Even in this case, Asantha selection committee trusted in Kusal Perera’s ability and selected him for South Africa tests. Rest is the history, as Kusal not only played the greatest ever test innings against South Africa, but is prospering big time in the ongoing world cup as well. The opening pair of Dimuth and Kusal amongst one of the highlights of the ongoing World Cup, with some of the most sparkling opening partnerships between them have brought joy for Sri Lanka supporters.

If not for Asantha’s selection committee, Kusal Perera would have not been playing as an opener in the mega event!

However, perhaps, the most important decision Asantha De Mel led selection committee took is to back two of most cherished senior players of Sri Lanka – Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga – during their bad time.

Mathews, who was controversially sacked by previous selection committee on the influence of Hathurusingha, was not mentally prepared for the World Cup. To make things worse, interested parties had created false stories about his match fitness, commitment etc. Asantha offered him world cup captaincy, but Mathews politely declined it stating that he can’t work with Hathurasingha again. However, Asantha and Co were aware about the importance of Angelo in this team. So, they eased him and managed to convince him to support the team in this most challenging time. That Angelo played a match winning knock against England on Friday!

And, then let’s talk about Lasith Malinga. Even though Sri Lanka’s most iconic shorter formats fast bowler, Malinga was completely sidelined before the arrival of Asantha led selection committee. They trusted on Malinga’s experience, even made him captain for South Africa Series and when result didn’t come as expected, they handled the situation with utmost maturity and convinced him to be a part of Sri Lanka’s World Cup campaign. That Malinga took four wickets against England on Friday!

“In last six months, whatever decisions Asantha De Mel led selection committee took, they we’re paid off big time for Sri Lanka. Yes, with Hathurusingha’s logic, we were going nowhere. But now the team has settled” SLC Top administrator added.

Irony is that whomever Hathurusingha discarded – Mathews, Malinga, Kusal Perera – are now saving his credentials as a Coach by putting match winning performances in the World Cup. Also, whomever Asantha De Mel led selection committee backed – Avishka Fernando, Dimuth Karunaratne, Ishuru Udana – are proving their worth at biggest stage!

That’s how, Hathurusingha was going to destroy Sri Lanka cricket. However, more importantly, that’s how Asantha De Mel led selection committee transformed and put Sri Lanka team back on track!

About the author

N Krishnamurthy