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Tour selectors taken to the cleaners

From the time of my arrival after covering the ICC World Cup Twenty20 Cup competition in England, from the airport taxi driver to the man on the street, to the telephone callers, the questions to me were:

“How did Sri Lanka after successfully making it to the final come a’cropper at the last stage? How come Jehan Mubarak and Chamara Silva figured in the tournament after continuing to fail?”

I am a firm believer that silence is golden. But being persisted with for an answer I said this: “The failure in the final in my opinion was because of the insensible batting changes in sending Mubarak at the fall of the first wicket and the holding back of the consistent Angelo Matthews till the nearing of the final overs.

As to the persistence with Mubarak and Silva, I too was at a loss for an answer and said that these questions should be better posed to Kumar Sangakkara the captain and the selectors on tour.

At the mention of the selectors, it was all abuse and the allegations made should be heard to be believed. Today, it must be understood that cricket has become a religion in the country.

All calamities, even the death of a near or dear one is forgotten when the Sri Lankans are playing cricket. Pavements are packed with cricket fans watching the action on TVs in shops, transistors are at full blast, even the private buses have their sets tuned on to the cricket commentaries.

Everything stands still when cricket is on. That is how it goes. From the man in the street to the elite driving posh vehicles, they know and are aware of what goes on inside cricket circles and the powers that move the players like pawns.

At the outset it must be accepted that one cannot keep winning all the time. But when losing especially, losing fairly and squarely is accepted. But when one throws away a certain victory due to moves that are unacceptable that cannot be accepted.

After swiping aside all opposition and reaching the final, all that the Lankans had to do was to put the best side out and take it from there. True, that the norm is to go in with the winning combination and not tinker with it.

But the selectors were faulted because they persisted with Mubarak and Silva who were more out of the runs rather than in it.

Mubarak and Silva had enough opportunities to come good. If they were unable and don’t take the trouble to come good, then the selectors need be told that to persist with them and deprive the deserving is a sacrilege committed in the name of the game.

Players of the calibre of Indika de Saram and Farveez Maharoof would have been asking the cricket gods as to what wrong they had done to suffer the ignominy of being benched throughout the tour and only taking in the action in the middle as tourists.

As for Mubarak, it is mystifying as to how come he has cemented his slot in all squads - from Test to 50-over and Twenty20. We have nothing against him. True, he must be talented. But when he keeps failing, the question the selectors must ask themselves is: Are we playing fair by the other talented players who are succeeding and persisting with ones who are not?

Accepted that the selectors are performing an unenviable job. They too are human and are bound to make mistakes. But silly mistakes cannot be accepted. As I said earlier and would want to reiterate about Mubarak - the more he fails the more he plays and the more he plays the more he fails. As for Silva, it is inexplicable that he is not making it his business to come good.

The game is a way of living and should be his prime interest and need we tell him that this is his bread and butter. I was there in New Zealand with my friend Asoka Atapattu watching the twin ducks he made in the First Test.

Atapattu told me that it would not be fair to leave him out for the Second Test and he had a premonition that he would make a big impact in the Second Test. And Silva did just that by silencing his critics with scintillating twin centuries. But since what?

After the Lankans brushed aside all opposition, surprising everyone and when every Sri Lankan was sitting back to savour a Sri Lankan victory in the final, which would have been akin to winning the World Cup 50-over competition in Lahore in 1995/96 which was historic, to say the least poor thinking by the captain where the inexplicable changing of the batting order was done, saw the Lankans disappoint their millions of fans.

A sudden rush of blood saw the captain sending in Mubarak one drop and then delaying calling in Angelo Matthews to strike. The shot Mubarak played would be best described as a nothing shot which would not be played by even an under 12 batsman.

Finally to get the Lankans to a total that would enable the bowlers to work on the Pakistani batsmen, Matthews had to come and slog and slog well. Yet that score of 138 was certainly not sufficient as it ultimately proved.

Had Sangakkara come in one drop and Matthews earlier than Udana, the story would certainly have been different and the consensus was that it would have been another epic triumph for the Lankans.

Not many gave the Sri Lankans a chance against the Australians and the West Indies. They even predicted a first round knockdown. But after clearing that hurdle and then scaling the Super Eight obstacles and downing the West Indies to enter the final, the Lankans suddenly developed what could be best described as “frightightis” and succumbed to the Pakistanis whom they beat earlier.

Nerves and the pressure of figuring in a final seemed to have finally caught up with the Lankans and they seemed like children lost as they just went through the motions looking like Zombies and gifted the victory in a platter.

As for Tillakaratne Dilshan, the Player of the Tournament, there was a time when his place in all forms of the game was in jeopardy. I kept reiterating that, he must be persisted with for his fielding alone. A brilliant fielders’ place in the team is worth his weight in gold.

The selectors finally saw reason and persisted with him and now he has cocked a snook at his detractors and concreted his place in the team, till he decides to call it quits.

We wish him more success as his career begins to roll.

 

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