Can Ashantha de Mel & Co. resurrect the game? | Sunday Observer

Can Ashantha de Mel & Co. resurrect the game?

With Sri Lankan cricketers having lost all the formats – T20, 50/50 and white washed in the all important Test series 3-zero to England, the big question in cricket circles was: ‘how can we bring about a change? Enter ASHANTHA DE MEL, hopefully the promised Messiah.

DE MEL the former tear away fast bowler who opened the bowling in the First Inaugural Test against England from February 17 to 21, 1982 after the country attained Test status comes in to occupy the all important seat of Chairman of Cricket selectors. This is not the first time that he has occupied this hot seat. When he sat there earlier, he and his committee did a job pleasing to all. There were no sacred cows. No nonsense. And no stooging to pressure. What he has in him is the ability to provide strategic leadership and to deliver.

Previous committee–sub head It must be recorded that the previous committee led by another former Sri Lanka fast bowler Graeme Labrooy, endeavored to do a job to the best of their ability in the most difficult of circumstance. But the nature of sheer downturn in the English series indicated that there comes a time when a change of guard is necessary.

And Sports Minister Faiszer Musthapha has played some good strokes to resurrect, not only cricket but other sport as well. He has brushed aside uncharitable criticism from his critics and had not hesitation in tossing in a new Selection Committee headed by DE MEL which also includes cricketers of repute in Brendon Kuruppu, Chaminda Mendis and Hemantha Wickremaratne. DE MEL when he held this position on earlier occasions, did a commendable job, hooking his critics over the ropes and ensured that the teams were structured to face an array of challenges.

Padding up again

He and his committee will have to pick a squad that will tour New Zealand soon for Tests and one-day series. As it is as the results against England shows that the game is wallowing in the mud. He will have to resurrect it, wash it squeaky clean and give it a brand new image. And more importantly a psychological reorientation that will bring about a sense of responsibility and team play. De Mel has a personal track record of distinction. He showed his prowess not only at cricket but was a promising ruggerite at Isipathana where he learnt his basics.

From Isipathana he moved to Royal College where he concentrated on cricket, what with being the fastest bowler at that time where he was fortunate to have former Sri Lanka captain and stylish bat Ranjan Madugalle to show him the future that lay before him.

Keen cricket promoter

DE MEL played in centenary ‘Battle of the Blues’ and then joined the Maharaja Organization, now Capital Maharaja and was fortunate to have R. Rajamahendren as a passionate leader and cricket enthusiast who also served as Vice President when Gamini Dissanayeke was President of the Cricket Board. It was Dissanayake who noticing the talent in DE MEL further inspired and encouraged him to aim high. It was not long when national honours beckoned.

And in playing in the Inaugural Test at the Colombo Oval DE Mel became the first Lankan bowler to pocket a Test wicket when he had England opener Geoff Cook caught by Lalith Kaluperuma. He later had Gooch LBW for 22 and bowled Chris Tavare for no score and would have jubilated when he knocked the great Ian Botham’s stumps for 13. We wish him and his committee a fruitful stay at the wicket as Cricket Selectors.

When the final Test against England began at the SSC, expectations were that the Sri Lankan team will put behind them their earlier two defeats as being bad dreams and hit back strongly although having lost the series and assert their superiority by stuffing the Englishmen.Lacked the know how – sub head But that longing did not materialize.

The homesters had their moments where they threatened their opponents, but sadly lacked the know how and the aggression to go for the jugular and chalk up a victory that would have been some consolation. This time round they lost the Test by 42 runs with more than a day to spare. Thus Joe Root’s Englishmen become the third team after Ricky Ponting’s Australians in 2004 and Virat Khholi’s 2017 Indians to whitewash Sri Lanka.

Where Sri Lanka lost the match was when after going strongly in chasing an England score of 240 and being 173 for 2 losing the last 8 wickets for 57 runs which was an unbelievable collapse. Spineless batting would be the best way to describe the collapse which put the opponents back in the game.

Surrendered the game

With a first innings lead of 96 the English built on it to make a fighting 230 and set Sri Lanka 327 to win and although showing like making the impossible, possible surrendered the game by 42 runs. Also what was inexplicable was the bowling of no balls by left arm spinner Lakshan Sandakan when wickets were badly needed.

Had he not no balled when dismissing Ben Stokes who made 58 twice at 22 and 32 the situation would have been different. A spinner bowling no balls is unacceptable. In this column last week I wrote about the good that can accrue to a team in having a good leg spin bowler who could bowl the varieties of this most difficult art in what bowling is all about.

Rashid unplayable

And as predicted England’s leg spin/googly bowler Adil Rashid proved us right by bemusing and baffling the local batsmen and bagging a career best 5 wicket haul for 49. With this string of defeats Sri Lanka’s cricket crumbled like a pack of cards and it is now a challenge to the new selection committee and others in charge of the game to do some serious thinking and get the game back on track. It is not that the side lacks latent. What is needed is a mental attitude to play as a team with a strategy, measuring up the opponents and adopting tactics that to counter the opponents. Cricket is a team game and while individual brilliance could be counted, it would not matter in the end if victory is not achieved which is the bottom line. Playing as one unit and going hard at the opponents and having a right mix of players in the squad is of paramount importance. The new selectors will have an important innings to play in this aspect.

By the way play a straight bat and enjoy life. It has an expiry date on it.

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