In late 1990s, Aravinda de Silva was winning the race to become the first batter to reach five figures in ODI cricket but his quest was cut short when he was axed from the limited overs side following a disastrous World Cup in 1999.
With Aravinda’s campaign abruptly ending, Sachin Tendulkar marched to the 10,000 run mark first in March 2001. Michael Tissera was at the helm in 2002 as the Chairman of Selectors and with the ODI team struggling to make an impact and the World Cup one year away, he brought Aravinda back into the fold.
Tissera just didn’t allow open entry to Aravinda, but he set up a challenge, which was to lose weight and the moment he did that he was back in the reckoning. How well Aravinda spent those last few months in international cricket not only letting his bat do the talking but winning games with his crafty off-spin like when he bowled the team to victory in his last game on home soil which happened to be the semi-final of the Champions Trophy against the Aussies.
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Mathews has suffered a similar fate. It’s shocking that he’s not featured in a white ball game for more than two years now. In that same period the ODI team hasn’t been covering themselves in glory. There’s no harm in dropping a senior player to drive home a point. So many have suffered that fate. But to have been given the cold shoulder for two long years is a crime.
In the case of Aravinda, the selectors had changed twice before he was recalled. But in the case of Angelo the same selectors who axed him have brought him back. Either they are too honest or so desperate given the dire straits the team is in.
The last ODI that Sri Lanka featured in was a disaster. Playing in the south Indian city of Trivandrum, Rohit Sharma’s side posted 390 for five in 50 overs and then shot out Sri Lanka for 73 runs to record a mammoth 317 run win. It’s the worst ever defeat in the history of ODI cricket.
Given the sorry state of affairs, the selectors were left with no choice but to recall Mathews. The timing is crucial as unless Sri Lanka win 3-0 in New Zealand, they are unlikely to earn direct qualification for the World Cup.
Whitewashing Kiwis in their own backyard will be quite a task for a team that failed to beat Afghans at home. Had Sri Lanka beaten Afghanistan and managed a 3-0 clean sweep of Zimbabwe also at home last year, they wouldn’t be fretting too much about direct qualifications. Since they failed to do so, now they’ve got to do it the hard way. Which is why you feel that Sri Lanka would have been better off with Mathews in the middle order much earlier than now. His presence will be vital when they play the qualifiers in Zimbabwe in June.
The selection policy is somewhat flawed as T20 players were backed for ODIs. It backfired so badly that some of those players now can’t find a place even in the T20 side. The other mistake was to back too many all-rounders.
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When you have someone like Dhananjaya de Silva in the side, all what the team can afford is another all-rounder and that’s filled by Dasun Shanaka. There’s certainly no room for a third all-rounder.
This is not to say that everything about backing young talents was wrong. We have found some good match winners in Pathum Nissanka and Charith Asalanka. By the time the World Cup comes both players would have featured in around 40 ODIs and that’s pretty good exposure before a big tournament.
It’s a good sign for Sri Lanka that Kusal Perera has recovered after going through shoulder surgery. Although he’s been only named in the T20 squad, this is a gradual way of bringing him back to the fold having not played any cricket since November 2021.
KJP unlike Mathews was very much part of the selectors’ plans for the shorter formats of the game and in fact was the first choice for captain when half a dozen seniors were benched.
You tend to get the feeling that Sri Lanka’s bowling is settled both pace and spin. It’s the batting department that they need to sort out.
The chances of Sri Lanka clean sweeping the Kiwis looks quite a formidable task. Hence, they need to bite the bullet and prepare themselves for harsher realities, which is to play the qualifiers in Harare. With two teams going through to the World Cup from the qualifiers, Sri Lanka should make it through.