After years of false rebuilding claims, finally Sri Lanka played fearless brand of cricket in the ongoing T20 World Cup. However, a tactically incompetent captain Dasun Shanaka, with his repeated blunders at crucial moments, derailed a resurgent Sri Lanka’s world cup campaign prematurely!
Against South Africa in the Super 12 Group 1 match Yesterday, Sri Lanka was everyone’s favorite to win the match till 19th over. With a tailender like Kagiso Rabada and horribly out of form David Miller were on the crease and 15 runs to defend in last 6 balls, Sri Lanka was all geared up to secure a hard fought win. However, in a brain fade moment, captain Dasun Shanaka handed the ball to Lahiru Kumara, who eventually ruined his side’s hopes by offering two lenth balls to Miller, that too right in his hitting arch!
Those two monstrous sixes not only snatched two crucial points from Sri Lanka, but now their world cup campaign is also depends on other teams results.
And this is indeed an unfortunate scenario for a team, who is now looking an improved unit and is blessed with some extraordinary young batting talents ( Pathum Nissanka, Charith Asalanka), a mystery spinner (Mahesh Theekshana), along with an out and out fast bowling attack in Lahiru Kumara, Dushmantha Chameera and Chamika Karunaratne.
What’s more painful is that all these youngsters spirited performances were undone by a clueless captain! Karunaratne, who has fast established himself as one of the top allrounder in world cricket, had still one over left. In a short period, Karunaratne has already proved that he is a thinking bowler, especially in death overs. However, instead of him, Shanaka trusted on Kumara, who is known for his speed, not for death overs yorkers!
More surprisingly, this is not the first time, when Shanaka ignored Karunaratne. There were questions raised in earlier matches also, that Shanaka is under utilizing him. Not only in bowling, in batting also, Shanaka kept promoting himself ahead of Chamika, who has a T20I strike rate of 126 comparing to his captain’s dismal strike rate of 109 after more than 50 Innings.
“At times it seems that Shanaka is deliberately under utilizing Chamika. In same sort of scenario, Dasun himself was always underutilized during Thisara Perera’s tenure as national team’s captain” a cricket expert in Sri Lanka told Cricket Age.
After consecutive defeats, questions have raised over Shanaka’s utility in the team also, both as a captain and a player! As a captain, Sri Lanka hierarchy, it seems, trusted on him only because he keeps team united! As a player, his statistics are ordinary! Though he has played 57 T20Is, his batting average is still hovering around 16 with a bellow par strike rate of 109. As a bowler, he is not even a part timer (yesterday, he was bowling like a spinner with a long run up). At the moment, his biggest qualification to lead Sri Lanka in shorter formats is that he plays his domestic cricket for SSC!
Then, Mahela Jayawardene’s so called data-driven observation about young batting prodigy Avishka Fernando also proved fatal for Sri Lanka. Though he was with Sri Lanka team for barely few days as mentor, it was projected like he is the messiah, Sri Lanka Team was waiting for years. In those few days, some so called cricket experts and social media journalists focus was only on to highlight Mahela’s impact in Sri Lanka’s world cup campaign.
For Avishka, it was strategically projected that based on data-driven insight, Mahela has figured out that he plays better cricket at number four!
Someone published: Mahela Jayawardene’s data-driven insight helps Avishka Fernando find stability at No. 4
Immediately, coach Micky Arthur (who’s primary job seems to praise everyone in Sri lanka cricket setup from top to bottom), came forward and said,
“Avishka is very comfortable at No. 4. We had a bit of a brainstorming session, and Mahela came with a plan. He had a look at stats which he sent on to Shanaka and myself. It was pretty clear that No. 4 was a good fit for Avishka in terms of the brand of cricket we wanted to play.”
Then, as it was most predictable, Shanaka also praised Mahela, saying,
“We get a lot of help from him. He’s got a lot of experience. He analyses not only our team, but the oppositions’ weaknesses. He sees the game in a unique way. He’s already contributed a lot, and we’re looking forward to getting more from him through the tournament.”
So, he was slotted in middle order. The experiment, however, went horribly wrong, as after making scores of 83* off 59 balls, 33 off 18, 62* off 42, and 61 off 37 in two practice games against an Oman side and warm-ups against Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea, he failed miserably with scores of 0,2*,0,4,3 in last five matches.
Now, as both Micky and Dasun didn’t waste a second in crediting Mahela for placing Avishka in middle order after good scores in warm matches and against minnows, it’s interesting to see whether they will show the courage in their next pre match conference in saying that Mumbai India’s head coach data based analysis about Avishka proved fatal for the team! Questions should also be asked that if Mahela was given credit to identify right batting position for Avishka, then what highly paid Micky Arthur and team analyst is doing with the team since last two years?
Then, some selection blunders also left Sri Lanka with fewer bench options during the all important mega showpiece. Ideally, left arm spinners like Praveen Jayawickrama or Lakshan Sandakan should have included into world cup squad to partner newest bowling sensation Maheesh Theekshana, who is a right arm off break bowler. However, a clueless and ever incompetent chief selector Pramodya Wickramasinghe picked Akila Dananjaya, who is also right arm off break, leg break bowler (same as Theekshana). This selection blunder deprived Sri Lanka from rotating spinners according situayion and opponents.
Dinesh Chandimal’s inclusion in a world cup squad, though, was the biggest illogical selection in recent times. In 2014, in a same sort of brain fade moment, Aravinda de Silva led selection committee had picked test batsman Lahiru Thirimanne for t20 world cup. Now, as Aravinda has returned as technical advisory committee, Pramodaya opted for Chandimal. Only Pramodaya can elaborate who recommended him to include Chandimal in a world cup team. However, without a doubt, Sri Lanka paid a big price for carrying passenger like Chandimal to UAE, whose T20 strike rate is 105 after playing 63 matches! Questions should also be asked that who recommended Akila, who has passed his prime years ago, to occupy spinner slot.
So, it’s quite visible that some tactical blunders by Shanaka, some Interested parties eagerness to establish Brand Mahlea in the expanse of a world cup campaign and some highly questionable selections have put Sri Lanka in a position, where their fate is now depended on other results. This is particularly injustice for an otherwise young side, who showed glimpse of improvement and played some heart winning cricket in last two weeks.