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Selectors peering into a black hole hoping for answers

Trevor Chesterfield

Updated: May 27, 2010, 12:05 AM IST
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Aravinda de Silva is known as a man for all occasions. After all, as one of five batsmen to score a century in a World Cup final, it does place him in a different category.

Now he has a new challenge, as along with India's crew led by Krish Srikkanth, Sri Lanka's newly appointed selection panel, led by Aravinda, have nine months to pull together a World Cup squad. Not easy, when you consider the debris of a selection policy that has left Sri Lanka looking at a deepening black hole and serious self-doubt.

Just as Aravinda's panel has been tasked to find a strategy for next year's World Cup, India also need to grapple with their own serious long-term planning, with possibly 16 or 17 games to find the right squad for the big event. This includes three tours within four months: Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka first for the Asia Cup and yet another series of Tests and ODIs, this one to bail out the cash-strapped Sri Lanka Cricket, although just where all the money from these television deals and high fees go is another matter.

Sri Lanka's captain, Kumar Sangakkara has called for his team to play more Tests. India are helping out in good neighbourly fashion, which makes you wonder what the guys who administer the game on the island actually do, other than smile obsequiously and beg for more tours.

As Sri Lanka Cricket is run by a government appointed (non-elected) ad-hoc group known by the fancy euphemism interim committee, it is an open question whether, despite their so-called cricket related backgrounds, those involved have the qualifications to hold such positions of trust. Also, and unlike India and most other full members of the International Cricket Council, Sri Lanka's selectors are government appointed as well.

After months of growing discontent at how the selectors were mismanaging their portfolios, and headlines asking whether Sri Lanka's selectors have a blueprint for the 2011 showpiece, the axe has finally fallen. The Minister of Sport, C B Rathanayake, went over the heads of the government ad-hoc committee in charge of SLC and appointed his own men, with Aravinda at the head.

Whether this will finally force Sanath Jayasuriya into retirement is another matter. His decision to carry on playing while an elected member of parliament has led to a satirical suggestion with typical double-edged Alice in Wonderland style irony that Jayasuriya, oversee selection policy for the next decade so that he can continue in his role as an all-rounder. He is off to a county stint for Worcestershire and leaving his constituents to be looked after by others. Perhaps Sri Lanka MPs are not paid enough.

Apart from his disastrous Indian Premier League form and that at the ICC World T20 tournament won by England in the West Indies, Jayasuriya's last foreign engagement was with Natal Dolphins in the 2008/09 in a domestic 45 overs series where he managed a top score of 58, scoring 129 runs at 14.33 from nine games. He says he is sticking around until the World Cup, warning Sri Lanka's selectors to drop him at their peril. This may now take a different course.

However, Srikkanth, as with Aravinda, still need to sit down with the coaching managements and captains to map out a programme, which is already looking decidedly tattered around the edges.

It is why some importance needs to be attached to Gary Kirsten's probing question of whether India were fit enough for the ICC tournament in the Caribbean, which should also be part of the selectors and administrators brief in searching for genuine answers and not excuses for the failure,.

At least India came up with a squad for Zimbabwe during their Caribbean fiasco, a type of bench strength for the World Cup. Whether it is the right squad and what are that plans for the Asia Cup need careful examination; how does Dinesh Karthik continue to hold his place, and what other options are there have already been asked. Like Jayasuriya, Karthik seems to have symbiotic relationship with his country's selection mafia.

Yet what are the long-term plans for talent such as Virat Kohli, who is yet to play a Test, and overlooked for the World T20 in the Caribbean; also where do players such as Robin Uthappa fit into their planning. Does Yusuf Pathan have a future at ODI level? And you can be sure that Suresh Raina's leadership skills will be carefully noted, along with those shown by Kohli.

Also, who among the squad in Zimbabwe, other than Raina, Kohli and Rohit Sharma will be part of the World Cup squad and do India have the right balance. There are no ready replacements for Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Vangipurappu Laxman; excluding Raina, Kohli and Sharma, the rest of the squad it seems doesn't inspire the selectors with the type of confidence suggesting there are such quality players in the system.

Yet visitors to India are always being told how many better players there than Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly. Retirement in Dada's case and Dravid being pensioned off from the ODI without such dramatic revelations makes anyone wonder whether such comments be taken seriously.

Fortunately, for India, there is still Tendulkar, yet the need to build for the future is becoming urgent and why the series in Zimbabwe does at least give others a chance to prove their skills at 50 overs level and not the wild adrenalin pumping T20.

India's progress and planning depends on the selection panel and what they are hoping to achieve with Kirsten's coaching team. The shorter from of the game is all about scoring runs and quality fielding. Has anyone checked where South Africa, as are England and Australia, moving in the 50 overs game? They have kicked out Herschelle Gibbs and placed Mark Boucher on early retirement. There is the impression that Jacques Kallis days at the shorter format will end after next year's World Cup.

There are also the complaints from bowlers about their needs. Already Shanthakumaran Sreesanth is talking about the need for a mentor as India head for Zimbabwe with a largely inexperienced bowling attack and the concern is that it will find conditions not to their liking. Sri Lanka are sending five seam and swing bowlers, largely a support system and a lot of second-guessing of conditions as it is winter in that part of Africa and such conditions are not always conducive to good bounce.

Also, Sreesanth's "need for a mentor" call indicates that Eric Simons is not providing the sort of off-field mental stimulus needed. Surprising as he was a quality seamer and an astute captain of Western Province in his playing days.

Across the ditch in Sri Lanka, with a new panel in place, the hard work is about to begin. What this means is how the squad sent to Zimbabwe, which like India is a supposed to highlight World Cup bench strength, is expected to show a major change when it comes to the Asia Cup next month. So, instead of the tired familiararity the current selectors have been putting together in losing causes, there could a radical change for the better.

A home record last year when beating a dysfunctional Pakistan and an injury stricken New Zealand squad explains little in the way of improvement as they were well hammered by India on the sub-continent. It explains how the Ashantha de Mel panel and the coaching system, with a so-called shadow operative in the structure, struggled for answers and were scared to move outside their comfort zone. Suggestions were that they have become dinosaurs and it showed in their policies.

First Published: May 27, 2010, 12:05 AM IST

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