The opener’s slot



Rex Clementine reporting from Pallekele

An avid cricket follower compared the mentality of the top brass of the national cricket team to that of a village tennis ball cricket team where the captain gets to bat first followed by the other big boys, who have the lion’s share of the innings while the small ones are left with the leftovers. Tactically too it sounds weird for a young side needs a calm head to steady the ship. Arjuna Ranatunga is a case in point. As the years passed and as he was saddled with responsibility he didn’t promote himself up the order, but down and down he went and the end result was that he ended up with just two ODI centuries. He may have not got 20 centuries or many Man of the Match awards, but he won us a World Cup.

Currently captain Mahela Jayawardene and ex-captains Kumar Sangakkara and Tillekeratne Dilshan occupy the first three slots in the batting line up and the case of what would happen if Sri Lanka had a collapse, as it was showcased in the first ODI against Pakistan, has been asked frequently.

Not that we have a dearth of opening batsmen all of a sudden. Upul Tharanga is the best opener produced by Sri Lanka since Marvan Atapattu and to his credit he has 13 ODI hundreds. Not that they were made on the flat tracks of Colombo either. His centuries came in places like Headingly, Lord’s, Christchurch and Calcutta and he should be allowed to open the innings playing the anchor role that he so well did to the side for years.

Captain Mahela Jayawardene, however, defended the decision. "In Australia we used Upul as an opener in the first few games and after four or five games we felt that we were not getting what was required from Upul. So we did a change at that point. Then we brought in Lahiru Thirimanne as a middle order batsman and that helped us immensely. We used to get consistent starts and our middle order was doing well," Mahela said.

"Then we brought Upul back into the middle order during the Asia Cup and he batted well against the spinners. So we thought we could do the same against Pakistan who have several spin bowlers in their side especially with Upul being a left-hander. We do changes and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Moving forward we take those decisions for the team’s sake," he further said.

Even during the two T-20 Internationals at Hambantota the top three were Jayawardene, Dilshan and Sangakkkara. After the T-20s Mahela explained the reasons behind that line up, "We can take control earlier on and it makes a big difference in T-20 cricket. It has given a lot of freedom to young players to take responsibility and I believe that will help Sri Lanka cricket in the longer run. Guys like Angelo, Chandimal, Lahiru will gain experience handling tough situations. What we are trying to do is try to give them exposure handling tough situations while all three experienced players are around so that they will get used to it."

Mahela’s reasoning sounds good, but those tactics have their disadvantages as well. To start with it doesn’t send the right message. Secondly the top three against the new ball, that too against a quality attack, is too much a gamble.

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