How tough can it be for a selector?

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Roshan Abeysinghe

Looking at the Sri Lankan squad picked for South Africa confirms that the selector's job is never an easy task. Generally the job of a selector is dependent on both the positive and the negative aspects that govern a situation, and they should be mindful to maintain the correct balance when picking a squad. Obviously the selectors had the opportunity to pick the squad from a positive situation, where the selection options are healthy and good. Besides, one has to always assume that the selectors are the experts on the job and their decisions are based on the knowledge they carry, as well as in the best interest of the respective situation. Hence, the reason why such a decision may not be overturned even in a court of law despite all arguments one could have against such a selection.

The South African team selection is one of those situations where many have raised eyebrows with healthy criticism directed towards it. The obvious and the most spoken about reason is the omission of Asela Gunaratne, and to some extent, Niroshan Dickwella.

The case of Gunaratne has been a seriously unfortunate one for the player. From never-been-a-serious-contender to national level cricket, he forced himself on the tour of Zimbabwe courtesy the weight of his performance for Sri Lanka 'A' vs. the West Indies 'A'. And then when the Test team was debated for the opening game against Zimbabwe his all round option as a medium pace bowler clinched him a Test spot that looked quite distant then. When given the break it's no doubt that he grabbed it with both hands with an average of seventy five in the two tests - with a hundred and a fifty. Definitely very compelling stats for selection: Add to that he also scored a very fine century in the opening first class game for his club.

Dickwella, on the other hand, never got a look in, in the Test series, though he was most impressive in the ODI series in Zimbabwe where he did get to play. His aggressive stroke play and positive nature always gave the Sri Lankans a good base whenever he was in, and he too had a hundred just before the tour squad was announced for South Africa.

In such a backdrop the decision of the selectors to retain Upul Tharanga has been the tough one. Tharanga's inclusion for the tour of Zimbabwe was not for anything exceptional but purely for the need of experience, and it has to be admitted that he didn't let the selectors down on the said tour. He was not only successful as a batsman in the Test team with his second hundred, but also stepped in when Sri Lanka needed an ODI captain winning the triangular series with a relatively inexperienced team. Hence, my feeling is that the debt the selectors owe Tharanga was greater and wasn't easy to repay as he had done everything expected of him on the tour of Zimbabwe.

Therefore, if one looks at the selection and the situation closely, it's a confirmation that despite being a positive development, the selectors were in a very tough position picking the squad.

Another possible reason for the nod to go for Tharanga is the experience factor. Sri Lankan being a squad less in experience needed such stability as an option in what could be a very difficult tour for the team. As for the rest of the squad despite Kusal Perera being in need of runs more consistently, the selection can't be faulted. In a country where spin doesn't really play too much of a role and on venues where the Test matches are scheduled having more pace and bounce, a third spinner was bound to be a passenger. In fact one wonders whether Dilruwan Perera, who has been such a super foil to Herath, would ever get a look in. Vikum Sanjaya the newest kid on the block, however, is an unknown quantity. In that sense his inclusion is a bold one as his First class experience has been limited to just seventeen games. Obviously the selectors have seen something special in the young man who is supposedly capable of bowling in the mid 130's and uses the out swing to good effect. With Prasad out injured, and no real contender in the radar for a fast bowling spot, blooding someone as inexperienced as Sanjaya, is a step in the right direction.

Getting back to the Gunaratne situation, despite all the tough decisions to be made, one felt the selectors had a way out of it: and that was to increase the squad to sixteen. It could have been at the expense of SLC, but then what better investment can they hope to make to ensure a quality player is looked after and kept highly motivated and ready to step in at the need of the hour! I don't mean Gunaratne will be de-motivated by his dropping, though it's crystal clear that he is bound to be disappointed big time. SLC should therefore ensure that he doesn't end up as a two Test wonder.




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