De Mel wanted Mendis and Lakmal dropped for second Test


Rex Clementine in Port Elizabeth

There could have been chaos lead up to the second Test in Port Elizabeth if not for former Test opener Brendan Kuruppu, the selector on tour, as his colleagues in Colombo and particularly Chairman of Selectors Ashantha De Mel insisted on dropping both Kusal Mendis and Suranga Lakmal for the crucial game.

Initially, all selectors, including Kuruppu had wanted to drop Mendis and Lakmal for the second Test but after Fast Bowling Coach Rumesh Ratnayake confronted Kuruppu asking him on what grounds the selectors wanted to drop Lakmal, the selector on tour had toed the line with the team management.

Kuruppu then had to convince the rest of the selection panel that getting rid of two proven performers has not gone down too well with the team management and captain Dimuth Karunaratne.

The arguments of dropping the two players had been going on even before the team landed in Port Elizabeth after the thrilling one wicket win in Durban. It was Karunaratne and Vice-captain Niroshan Dickwella who had been insisting on retaining the winning team, a practice that is customary

for Sri Lanka, unless conditions or situation demands.

The arguments were going as late as 45 minutes before the toss as Colombo wanted both Angelo Perera and Mohammad Shiraz to make their debuts.

Kuruppu eventually had to play the mediator role with the rest of the selectors in Colombo to let let saner counsel prevail.

Then the selectors agreed to reach a compromise and wanted one of the two players dropped. However, they couldn’t find a way out from captain Karunaratne’s firmness.

The selectors seem to be little aware of statistics or have hardly followed the game before they took over in November. Mendis was the world’s second highest run scorer in Test cricket in 2018. He scored 1023 runs with three hundreds and five fifties and only Virat Kohli had scored more than him last year.

Lakmal, meanwhile, has been the team’s most consistent fast bowler and a former captain having stepped up during the suspension of Dinesh Chandimal. In the opening Test in Durban he bowled probing spells although Kasun Rajitha and Vishwa Fernando picked the most number of wickets. More importantly he picked up a five wicket haul in Australia’s only innings of the Brisbane Test.

The call for his axing was apparently due to him showing overwhelming support to Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha in the leaked video after the thrilling Durban win and not due to his lack of performance.

The selectors have had their say somewhat by having Lakmal axed for the limited overs leg of the South African tour.

Both players came up with noteworthy contributions in Port Elizabeth. Sri Lanka had conceded advantage to South Africa after giving away a lead of 68 runs. It was Lakmal, who brought the tourists back on the track with a four wicket haul which helped Sri Lanka to bowl out South Africa in the second innings cheaply.

Then Mendis’ unbeaten 84 and his 163 run stand with Oshada Fernando sealed the game. The 24-year-old taking on Dale Steyn, the best fast bowler of this generation was a treat to watch. He raced to his ninth Test fifty off 52 balls and then once the field spread out to stop the flow of boundaries was content on picking up the singles.

There has been little dialogue between De Mel and Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha and all squads since the new selection panel took over have been picked with no dialogue with the team management.

This selection committee is a byproduct of the October 26th political coup. In the absence of the Executive Committee due to a court ruling, Nishanta Ranatunga took control of SLC filling key committees with his loyalists.

While most of these committees have been disbanded since Harin Fernando resumed duties as Sports Minister, the selection panel remains.

The second Test ended inside three days giving Sri Lanka a comprehensive eight wicket win. The tourists clinched the series 2-0 having won the opening Test in Durban by one wicket. They became only the third country to win a Test series in South Africa after England and Australia.

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