Chandimal should not suffer Dilshan’s fate


by Rex Clementine

If you were told to pick a young player to break Kumar Sangakkara’s outstanding batting records, Dinesh Chandimal will emerge as the front runner. Captain Angelo Mathews (27) is the most consistent batsman in the Sri Lankan side, but Chandimal (26) is the most gifted. Fans are yet to see the best of Chandimal and this year where Sri Lanka will play nine Test matches - against England, Australia and South Africa could be a landmark one for the maverick right-handed batsman.

Fans had got glimpse of what Chandimal could do last year when India toured the island. He turned the Galle Test upside down in a matter of one session as Sri Lanka came from behind to record a victory. Chandimal’s unbeaten 162 laid the foundation for Sri Lanka’s 63 run win after they had conceded a first innings lead of 192 runs and slumped to 95 for five in the second innings.

There was further proof of his ability to take bowling units apart when he smashed a 24 ball half-century in Sydney against the home team in the ICC Cricket World Cup during a pool game. The batsman left unfinished business on that instance as he had to retire due to injury and played no further part in Sri Lanka’s World Cup campaign.

Two years ago Chandimal experienced the bitter aspects of leading the side when he hardly received any support from the seniors after being elevated as Sri Lanka’s T-20 captain. He had come through the ranks having captained junior sides and was the understudy to Mathews. When the selectors decided to split the captaincy and give Mathews Test and ODI captaincy and Chandimal the T-20 format, they argued that they didn’t want to burden young Mathews with too much responsibility.

Chandimal took over the reins of the T-20 side during a tumultuous period as senior players were at constant loggerheads with the administration.

Senior players’ participation for World T-20 in Bangladesh looked doubtful due to a payment dispute with the board. In the eleventh hour, the players agreed to tour, but refused to sign contracts. A powerful cricket administrator, now in trouble for his excesses during his time at SLC, wanted captain Chandimal to sign the contract and show solidarity with the board.

Chandimal explained that if he were to deviate from the stance taken by majority of the team, he wasn’t going to get the fullest support of all players and politely turned down the request. He was then threatened that he will not have the captaincy when he returns home after the World T-20. The administration was waiting for an opportunity to put Chandimal in his place.

Despite sticking with the team’s decision to not to sign contracts, the captain hardly received any support from the seniors. Sri Lanka’s excellent run of 14 games unbeaten in T-20s came to an end at the hands of England when they chased a target of 190 and won on that gloomy March evening. Chandimal had been warned of the ‘ides of March’. But little did he realize what was to hit him. He was suspended for Sri Lanka’s last group game against New Zealand and Lasith Malinga stepped up as captain.

Suddenly, the seniors’ attitude changed. Those players who only cared to walk from third man to fine leg at the end of the overs suddenly took a keen interest and actively got involved in field setting.

The selectors were opportunistic. Rather than sticking to principals they compromised on justice. With the full backing of the board, they sidelined Chandimal and played rest of the competition under Malinga. Sri Lanka went onto win the tournament beating India in the final. But a young player had been devastated.

When the decision was announced to Chandimal that he was not going to play further part in the World T-20, he was in tears. The seniors had hijacked his captaincy, the selectors were playing politics and Nishantha Ranatunga had turned Brutus. Poor Chandimal repeated the words that Dilshan had uttered two years ago, ‘Et tu, Brute?’

Dilshan accepted the captaincy at a time when nobody wanted it soon after the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. Murali by then had retired and to make matters worse came the retirement of Lasith Malinga from Test cricket to enjoy the IPL riches. Dilshan was in charge of four tough tours. England, Pakistan and South Africa away from home and Australia at home.

As the team’s form slumped, then SLC chief Upali Dharmadasa instead of supporting the incumbent captain, was having negotiations with Mahela Jayawardene to take over the leadership ahead of Sri Lanka’s tour of South Africa. Jayawardene agreed to take over the captaincy, but after the South Africa tour, considered one of the toughest assignments in cricket.

So according to the deal, Dilshan was removed as captain. Mahela took over. But it wasn’t a bad tour at all. Sri Lanka had won their first ever Test Match on South African soil and had competed well in the ODI series losing 2-3. But deal was a deal. Dilshan never recovered from the ordeal and even to date remains bitter about what he was made to go through.

Ian Botham was England’s best player by a distance in 1980s. But he was an awful captain. Similarly, Lasith Malinga is our best bowler, but he is by far the choice to lead our country. Let sanity prevail.

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