The Lessons That We Can Learn From Aravinda

Chairman of Selectors Aravinda de Silva and Captain Kumar Sangakkara at times rarely agreed on team compositions and combinations but publicly they sang from the same sheet.

Spectator

It’s a crying shame that during the prime of his career – former great Aravinda de Silva – played little cricket at home. Due to the political unrest, no international cricket was played in Sri Lanka for more than five years from April 1987 to August 1992. Aravinda made most of his career from the little opportunities he got. All Sri Lanka’s captains from Bandula Warnapura to Kumar Sangakkara agree on one thing – Aravinda is the greatest batsman the country has produced. Let’s hope and pray that after the Easter Sunday suicide attacks, the county will not return to the dark days where no international cricket was possible.

Aravinda is ahead of his times. The cricketing predictions that he makes are proof of this. His observations on the selections made for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 has struck a responsive chord with fans.

The selectors have named three spinning all-rounders for the World Cup when the squad already has too many spinning options. Carrying that many spin bowlers to an event in England is like carrying coals to Newcastle.

Aravinda also expressed his dismay at picking five players who had not featured in ODI cricket for the last 18 months. The captain along with another player hasn’t played an ODI for more than four years. This clearly shows that selectors have done little homework before picking the World Cup squad.

The axing of wicketkeeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella also surprised Aravinda. Everyone has been shocked by the exclusion of the best talent the country has unearthed in the last 36 months. You don’t see many batsmen backing themselves to slice Kagiso Rabada over third man for six in the first ball of the innings. You also don’t see many batters hooking Mohammad Shami over fine leg when he has packed the leg-side with fielders. There aren’t also many players in the world to tell Virat Kohli to get lost.

It needs guts to play fast bowling and Dickwella has plenty of that. Sometime back, when a national newspaper carried a headline in the sports page saying, ‘Sri Lanka to play without Dick,’ Dickwella objected and wanted it changed. He suggested, ‘Sri Lanka to play with Dick out’. These Trinitians can certainly see the funny side of life.

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Caption: Sri Lanka lost a closely contested World Cup final to India in 2011 in Bombay. Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni and Player of the Tournament Yuvraj Singh celebrate as Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara looks on.

Dickwella’s batting has been erratic, Chairman of Selectors Ashantha de Mel has argued. That may be true but don’t forget that the kid is only 25. Aravinda said that his detractors accused him of the same thing when he was young. Aravinda’s shot selection received heavy flack those days and he has one advice for the young wicketkeeper batsman, ‘take all the criticism with a pinch of salt’.

De Mel while criticizing Dickwella’s batting has conveniently forgotten that his wicket keeping has been flawless. Having seen lot of cricket in the last 24 months, the Spectator cannot recall the last time Dickwella dropped a catch or fluffed a stumping. The title for the best wicketkeeper in the country is a toss between Dickwella and Dinesh Chandimal and De Mel has opted to leave both of them out of World Cup.

The last time Sri Lanka reached the finals of a 50 overs World Cup was in 2011 and Aravinda was the Chairman of Selectors while Kumar Sangakkara was the skipper. That was one heck of a combination. Not that they always agreed on team compositions and combinations. They would argue for hours, but the moment they came out of the selection committee meeting, in public, they would strike the same chord.

When selections were done for the 2011 World Cup with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the height of his powers, very few people dared saying no to him. Aravinda was summoned by the Sports Minister and told that a particular player ought to be selected in the World Cup squad. The said player was a onetime match winner but was past his prime. Aravinda explained it to the Sports Minister. Then the Minister told the Chairman of Selectors that President Rajapaksa was insisting on this selection. Aravinda was told that there was no way out for him but to select the particular player.

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Caption:  President Mahinda Rajapaksa felicitated the national cricket team after they finished the 2011 World Cup as runners-up.

Aravinda then adjusted his seat, cleared his throat and said, ‘Sir, we have already finalized the selections for the World Cup. But if you insist, there’s one way that we could do this.’

As it appeared that Aravinda was conceding ground, the keen Minister told him that they needed to do this somehow. ‘The only way we can do this,  sir, is by me resigning. You put the man you want as Chairman of Selectors and I am happy to go home.’

Realizing that public opinion could boomerang against the government with the World Cup a mere weeks away, the Minister let the status quo remain.

Aravinda went on a high. Less than 12 hours after Sri Lanka lost the World Cup final to India in Bombay, he resigned. His fellow selectors – Amal Silva, Ranjit Fernando and Shabbir Asgerali followed suit as well. Such men are a rare breed.

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