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POSTED AT 10:53 AM 06-01-2019

The walking dead of Lankan cricket

Struggling Chandimal needs more focus on his batting - File pic

On a sunny boxing-day morning in 2004, the sudden destruction of the Lankan coastal areas by the Asian Tsunami affected the life 14-year-old Dinesh Chandimal, in the environments of Balapitiya where he lived. Yet he lived to bat another day and shifted from his school Dharmasoka College Ambalangoda to the cozier Ananda College in Colombo, soon after.

There, at Ananda, he was given only one task. He was supposed to bat and score runs and he did just that. There he conquered. He captained the school and almost played for the national team while still in school. I still remember the knock of 75 not out he scored against the visiting New Zealand national team just before he walked on stage to be crowned as the Sunday Times-Bata Schoolboy Cricketer of the year at the BMICH in 2009.

As expected, he became one of the rare schoolboys who just walked into the National side. At the same time, his establishing in the playing Xl was also meteoric. He was talked about. Chandimal scored a Lord’s ODI century on his sixth international inning on a day when the more established Kumar Sangakkara and T.M. Dilshan had failed. His 105 not out saw the Lankans romping home. Then at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the 2015 World Cup, he hit a 20 ball half century in a losing battle where he also tore a ligament and also lost to Australia by 64 runs.

Prior to that, on July 17, 2013 Chandimal had become the youngest ODI captain for Sri Lanka. He was appointed as the ODI captain for first two matches against South Africa in Colombo. Then, in the same year, he was also appointed captain of the Sri Lanka Twenty20 International side. That was the turning point in his career. During the run-up to Sri Lanka’s T-20 conquest in Bangladesh, someone in his own team decided to slow down proceedings during Sri Lanka’s final group match against New Zealand. It was the second time that this occurred inside twelve months and ICC match referee David Boon slapped the ban on the beleaguered national cricket captain, then after another injury that followed, he stepped down from the captaincy and Lasith Malinga was appointed as the captain and the rest is now T-20 history.

Then for Chandimal, it was a case of falling in and out of the popping crease. He lost his nerve and confidence and never became the champion that he promised to be. Still he keeps stumbling in and out of the side. Then he is captain one-day and not the other day and the tale of woes for him is greater than the tsunami that he experienced when he was only 14. Witnessing the first ODI against New Zealand on Thursday, I saw him as a novice who was playing to secure his place so that he would be a part of the 2019 World Cup dream.

I feel Chandimal does not deserve this treatment.

From the days that Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera and Dimuth Karunaratne were members of the Josephian first Xl the threesome had something special in them. Yet, little Angelo was a head taller in his skills than the others. By June 2005, Mathews was already the captain of the Sri Lanka under 19 team in its tour of England.

With a good balance in the Lankan national team, it was a difficult proposition to create a vacancy to wear the crested cap, but, in 2008 he was made cap No 137 playing against Zimbabwe. Then his fame blew the roof-top off when he made the impossible, possible.

In 2010, Mathews’ great 132 run stand for the 9th wicket with fast bowler Lasith Malinga against Australia is still talked about. While playing in Australia, against the home total of 239 for 8 in an ODI, the Lankans were reeling at 8 for 107. It was Mathews who led the defiance and Malinga followed suit. When Malinga was finally run out for 56, the match was literally won, with last man at the crease Muttiah Muralitharan hitting a boundary to win the match. Mathews was on 77 not out; thus a new folk hero in Sri Lanka cricket was born.

So much so, the seniors in the calibre of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena were touting for the name of Mathews to take over the reins after them. It was not long after that, he was made the national captain.

In 2014, Mathews led the side from the front against England in Headingly by scoring a match winning 160 and helping the Lankans score a mammoth 457 run in the second inning. This helped the little island nation complete a white wash when the spurred Lankans also won the ODI series.

Yet, those milestones and victories were soon also his stumbling blocks. Soon his wings began to get clipped. He too was in and out of captaincy and sometimes not even in the playing Xl.

Today it’s a case of Mathews doing the dips on the wicket after scoring a century to show someone that he is still very much a part of the great plans. Now someone also said that without his bowling abilities he may not be an automatic choice for the 2019 World Cup.

Does a cricketer of this calibre deserve this treatment?

Then Lasith Malinga, Lahiru Thrimanne and Upul Tharanga have also leaped to the top and brought down from hero to zero and being in and out of the national team more often than not. Right now Malinga is the ODI captain, what happens tomorrow is anyone’s guess in a Lankan context.

All these players are seniors and had been the captain or even the vice-captain of the national side at one point of time. But, the irony is that some muppets above them have not given the necessary gelling powers to stick in to the national team. Just imagine the number of international matches they would have counted by the time the 2019 World Cup arrived, if all of them are together still. But, what happened is that their inner souls have been robbed by someone and they are susceptible now.

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