Following the retirements of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara over the last three years the Sri Lanka team are undergoing a period of transition as they try to plug the gaping holes left by these cricketing icons who had held the batting together for more than two decades.
As the Lankan team prepares to take on the West Indies in a home series comprising two Tests, three ODIs and two T20Is next month, chief selector Kapila Wijegunawardene looking ahead of the tour told The Nation that he was not overall duly worried by the team’s current performance.
Sri Lanka suffered back to back 1-2 Test series defeats against Pakistan and India at home but Wijegunawardene said, “We don’t need to be unduly concerned because we know that the talent is there it’s just a matter of getting all the team dynamics right and getting it together as a unit.
“I am convinced we have the resources that we need. The team environment with all the members fulfilling their roles is a vital thing. Not everybody was able to deliver those objectives there were gaps and it was very clearly reflected in the end results. There were naturally shortcomings in the delivery of one’s role. Those are things we need to work out and ensure that every member of the team fits into the role he plays in the larger scheme of things.”
Wijegunawardene put down the reasons for the players failing to fulfill the roles set out to them to a combination of factors.
“It could be inexperience and players being a little over eager, lots of things that one can sight but you can’t really pinpoint and say this was the reason,” said Wijegunawardene.
“From the bowling side they really performed creditably, the gaps were in the batting, the six or seven batters we had in the side were not able to chip in. In all the games if all the batters had chipped in with 25-30 runs we would have met those shortfalls, which was the winning margin for the opposition. The fact that we had those shortcomings is generally not a concern but those are little areas we need to improve on.
“If you really analyse our defeats closely in all the games we were in winning positions but by losing vital sessions during the game we gave away our advantage to the opposition. That was the main reason. We were within striking distance in all the games that we lost.”
Wijegunawardene said the series against the West Indies would be another chance for them to carry out a few experiments and identify the right batsmen for the respective places. He said that none of the batting places were really fixed and that they need to work out the combinations.
“Every series we strategise to win whilst working towards that objective. There is some element of experimentation also that we are compelled to carry out in order to identify the best combination with the resources at our disposal and to come up with a more sustainable long term plan,” said Wijegunawardene.
One of the key positions that need to be filled is the number three vacated by the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara. Sri Lanka has tried out three batsmen in that slot – the heir apparent Lahiru Thirimanne, Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne, all have failed.
“We are convinced that Thirimanne’s got the talent. In fairness to him he’s hit a rough patch which can happen to any player. Being the talented player he is I am sure he can work his way out of the rough he is facing. Now that Kumar is no longer in the equation those are the things that we are working on,” said Wijegunwardene.
One of the positions that has been made secure for the present time is that of the wicket-keeper where Kusal Perera has earned it with a string of consistent performances for Sri Lanka ‘A’. Picked for the final Test against India at the SSC, Perera on his debut hit twin fifties to more or less seal his place in the team.
“If you analyse our team composition in the last 15-20 years we’ve always had batsmen who deputised as ‘keepers because whether we can afford to have a genuine keeper is questionable. It’s a vital position no doubt but working out the batsmen we need to balance the side,” said Wijegunawardene.
“Kusal missed one chance but you cannot hang somebody for a mistake. He can naturally improve on his wicket-keeping. He has been a little bit rusty not ‘keeping regularly. It has been clearly spelt out to him that he needs to work on his ‘keeping which he is doing. We all know if he had survived a few more overs we would have won that game at SSC. He is going to be a very exciting prospect for Sri Lanka in that position.”
On the same tone Wijegunawardene didn’t rule out the wicket-keeping abilities of 22-year-old Niroshan Dickwella who appeared in four Tests last year.
“Dickwella is on the ‘A’ tour to NZ he is definitely one of the strong candidates we are looking at and he is keeping very well at the moment but we don’t want to tinker around too much. We will keep an open mind on how things pan out but right now we are looking at a more stable run for Kusal in that role.”
Before Perera was handed the position of wicket-keeper it was Dinesh Chandimal who was performing the role, but the selectors feel that he has a bigger role to play purely as a top order batsman.
“Given Chandimal’s talent we would like him to bat higher up in the order that is the role we have identified for him. We know that he has got the talent to do it.”
Wijegunawardene said that he was looking forward to working with newly appointed interim head coach Jerome Jayaratne who comes from the same school as him – S Thomas’ College (ML).
“Jerome’s first year in cricket was under my captaincy,” said Wijegunawardene. “He is one of the most qualified and competent coaches we have in our system. I am pretty confident that he’s got the credentials to carry out the mandate vested in him.
“We have always dealt with him in his capacity as director coaching and had close interaction with him from the inception because he basically handles all the support staff for all age groups.”