Danushka Gunathilaka, Jeffrey Vandersay and Lasith Malinga – three players currently out of favour with the cricket establishment – could all find their way back into the Sri Lanka team. So says coach Chandika Hathurusingha who, albeit not a selector, exerts substantial influence in selection decisions. Like captain Angelo Mathews and batting coach Thilan Samaraweera, Hathurusingha believes Sri Lanka are yet to identify the “combination” of players that will take them into the World Cup in 2019, and the World T20 the following year, and has said spots remain open for these three, so long as they sharpen up.
Gunathilaka, of course, has committed the most serious offence, breaking curfew on a Test-match night last month, and as a result was suspended for the entire limited-overs leg of the South Africa series. Vandersay briefly went missing after a night out in St Lucia in June (though at least in his case, he was allowed to be out that night), and received a hefty fine and was put on probationas a consequence. The official team stance on such conduct is that it is not tolerated, with Mathews delivering an especially stern public rebuke to Gunathilaka. But that does not mean these two players are out forever, Hathurusingha said.
“I am very disappointed that these kinds of things happened,” Hathurusingha said of Gunathilaka and Vandersay’s indiscipline. “But at the same time this has been something that has been happening in the past. Our culture is so different. We don’t tolerate this. It is not that he is letting down one person or two persons; he is letting down the whole team and his family. At the same time, people do mistakes. We need to give them second chance. They have not done a crime. It is just the team rules that they have broken. They will be back.”
Malinga, meanwhile, was not considered for ODI selection because he did not play in the provincial one-day tournament earlier this year; he spent that time working as a bowling consultant in the IPL instead. Though he had played in one domestic T20 tournament earlier this year, and finished as joint-top wicket-taker, he was overlooked for selection for the forthcoming one-off T20 against South Africa on Tuesday. But with another, more competive domestic T20 tournament set to begin in August, Malinga has another chance to prove himself.
“As long as what the selectors want is fulfilled, Malinga is in our plans,” Hathurusingha said. “He needs to come and play domestic cricket and we are not going to make exceptions for anybody. The team is number one. The team culture has to be protected. We are not treating him differently. He is a quality player. He needs to show that he is capable of delivering what he has done in the past. Not only with bowling, but fielding as well. There’s a good opportunity for him to come and play the domestic T20 tournament if he is willing to play. If he is performing he is in our plans.”
Malinga had been substantially below his best when he last played international cricket, but the absence of a good death bowler has been felt by the team, who have lost over 70 per cent of the limited-overs matches they have played since the start of 2017. That awful record has prompted a change in strategy, whereby Sri Lanka have decided to prepare batting-friendly pitches at home in order to prime themselves for the kinds of tracks they will encounter elsewhere in the world. Ahead of the final ODI against South Africa, Hathurusingha described this change of tack as a no-brainer.
“When you play 36 matches and win only nine, it is not a tough call at all to change strategy,” he said. “It is common sense. It is looking at what we have been doing and seeing it’s not working. We have scored more than 300 only a handful of times if my memory serves right. We realized what we need to do. It is not only about the World Cup, it is about whatever we have been doing is not working.” (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)