The advent of Twenty20 cricket has no doubt diluted the quality of cricketers emerging from the junior ranks and created enough headaches to the national selectors when they try to pick a balanced team that could compete at Test level on all five days.
One glaring example of how T20 cricket can affect a player in Test cricket was demonstrated in no uncertain terms by batsman Kithuruwan Vithanage during the Sri Lanka first innings of the second Test against Pakistan at the P Sara Oval. He had faced only six balls when he attempted to reverse sweep a ball from leg-spinner Yasir Shah that was pitched wide outside the off stump and was bowled.
The present selection committee headed by former Sri Lanka fast bowler Kapila Wijegunawardene and comprising past cricketers like Amal Silva, Brendon Kuruppu and Hemantha Wickremaratne have identified the problems facing Sri Lanka cricket. One of the main concerns is the paucity of quality cricketers emerging from the junior ranks and has taken steps to address the trend.
“Today what is happening with all these T20 tournaments that are played all over players are not focussing on playing the real cricket. If you instill the discipline of a Test cricketer into a player then he will have the capacity to adapt to the other two formats, not the other way round,” said Wijegunawardene.
“That is the culture we want to change because T20 cricket is a bit of a lazy format, you don’t need the levels of fitness of a Test cricketer. A fast bowler doesn’t need to bowl 30 overs for the day and go wicketless. That is the way we are structuring the whole thing – change the culture and ensure that there is competition.
“We have told the coaches to tell the boys that the selectors are only looking for Test cricketers. If you find Test cricket material he will fit into all the other formats,” he said.
Another area which the national selectors have identified and want to improve are the standard of pitches. “In our domestic competitions more often than not they play on turning wickets. As a matter of policy we have taken a decision that ‘A’ team and below we will only play on very good wickets. We want the players to learn how to play on good wickets so that when you go off shore you are not going to get turners,” Wijegunawardene said.
The selectors’ objective is to build a strong and balanced team for the 2019 World Cup in England with this objective in mind they are trying to make maximum use of the three upcoming tours to give enough opportunities to youngsters whom they have identified as future talent.
“The need to bring in young blood into the side nobody is going to deny that it is a must. When the next World Cup comes around four years from today there has to be youngsters inducted into the team and nurtured and developed to be the leading players, that process we will systematically do,” said Wijegunawardene.
“We have a very busy calendar leading up to July next year. We clearly want to make those adjustments in the side as we go forward. As a precursor to what our line of thinking is we have inducted five young players into the T20 side against Pakistan. We are making use of that platform to give the opportunity to the youngsters to display their talent. We will also assess to see which of those players can get into the requirements of the senior team.
“We have been watching the ‘A’ team and Emerging team boys more than the senior side because that is where we need to identify the up and coming talent. There are some very exciting players coming through who will serve the country well. All these youngsters we have a clear picture of what they are capable of. With South Africa Development squad, a tour to India and the ‘A’ team tour to New Zealand we have a very clear pathway lined up for them.”
South Africa arrives on July 26 and their tour goes on till end of August. Then the Emerging side will go to India for a two week tournament of 2-day games in the Moin Ud Dowla Gold Cup from September 1-15 before the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team travels to New Zealand from September 27 for a month.
“We have lined up a very clear pathway for all the identified cricketers to give them as much exposure as possible. We are keeping two teams running ‘A’ team plus Emerging team otherwise younger players won’t get the opportunity,” Wijegunawardene said.
“We want to give the spinners as much exposure as possible because they mature with time. The more opportunities they are given to face competition they will improve. There will be a period of pain where they will get hit. Unless they are put there they will never get the opportunity to learn,” concluded Wijegunawardene.