How foolish of Sri Lanka's selectors to leave Kusal Mendis behind

By Thiviyanthan Krishnamohan | November 28, 2017

Kusal Mendis was not picked for Sri Lanka's Test series in India after having a poor Test series against Pakistan. © AP

On this island, where mediocrity is the norm and conservatism is ingrained in the DNA of the populace, where even a semblance of temerity is frowned upon, there stood out a rookie whose counter-attacking batting breathed fresh air into the dying brand of Sri Lankan cricket.

Kusal Mendis has turned matches Sri Lanka's way with his skilful batting in his brief career. Who remembers how he tamed Australian bowlers last year to help Sri Lanka come-from-behind and rout Australia in a Test match? The young Mendis scored a century against India during the home series in August as well. Let me remind you that a very few are scoring centuries for Sri Lanka these days. And yet his axing for the tough Test tour of India is hardly surprising, given the way Sri Lanka Cricket is known to operate.

The newly-appointed chief selector Graeme Labrooy, barely a few weeks before dropping Mendis, had assured the players he would not do what his predecessor Sanath Jayasuriya did. "If they are selected to play in a Test match or an ODI, we will continue with the identified lot as long as possible and give them a fair chance of performing rather than letting them play one or two innings and replace them with somebody else," Labrooy promised at the time.

It took the chairman of selectors, who incidentally also serves as ICC match referee, just one Test series to walk back that pledge. One would be forgiven for viewing a local politician as more competent than a Sri Lankan selector. That is not approbation for our politicians.
There have been multiple explanations provided by the selectors for dropping Mendis from Sri Lanka's Test squad for the tour of India and they all seem ridiculous.

Gamini Wickramasinghe, a member of the selection committee, claimed "technical mistakes" lead to Mendis's ousting, while Labrooy asserted that "he (Mendis) has got everything in his armoury." Then Avishka Gunawardene, who was Sri Lanka's batting coach during the ODI series against India, vouched for Mendis's technique but had presaged the youngster's poor state of mind. These SLC officials appear to be in a state of confusion.

When explaining his decision to drop Mendis from the Test squad to face India, Labrooy told The Island, "We don't want a situation where he plays two more innings, gets two low scores and then drop him and destroy his confidence further."

So then, what's the alternative to destroying his confidence by dropping him after two innings? How about not discarding one of your best, genius? The selectors felt dropping him immediately would not have the same negative effect as dropping him after two more innings. There is no better way to boost a player's confidence than to guarantee his place in the side and help him overcome the temporary loss of form.

Giving Mendis the assurance that he would be playing until he returns to form would have been a more prudent solution to boost the young player's confidence. Instead, a player who is widely-considered to be one of Sri Lanka's best batsmen finds himself playing domestic cricket, and that too at a time when the national side needs him the most. Sri Lanka's batting has been shambolic in India thus far, and they have often found themselves struggling to cross 300 runs in an innings in the Test series.

Mendis's replacement at number-three in Sri Lanka's Test batting line-up for the tour of India was Lahiru Thirimanne, whose inclusion was not due to any noteworthy recent performances in domestic tournaments. Thirimanne was extremely poor during the last domestic season and hasn't done anything outstanding for Sri Lanka A either. He was brought back into the team purely because of the confidence the selectors had in his potential.

Thirimanne, 28, has had many unsuccessful comebacks. He was dropped two years ago by the then chief selector Kapila Wijegunawardene after a string of low scores but again found a place in the side following the second coming of Sanath Jayasuriya as the chairman of the selection panel and then axed again for not delivering for his side. After Jayasuriya was removed this year, in came a new selection committee and also a cricket manager (Asanka Gurusinha) and so Thirimanne has returned.

Besides the illogical thinking, the self-righteous confidence the selectors have placed in Thirimanne borders on foolish favoritism, as other more-deserving batsmen are being needlessly sidelined.

Labrooy, defending his decision to appoint Thirimanne as the vice-captain of the Test side, told the media: "The success in our cricket going back to the late 70s was because that we had lots of captains and vice-captains working in harmony. We need to try the same formula. That's one reason why we gave Thiri the vice-captaincy."

What kind of success did Sri Lanka have in the late 70s, Mr. Labrooy? We were whipping boys of international cricket until the late 90s, no? Also, trying what 'worked' in the 70s may not work in 2017. Sri Lanka needs batsmen who can score them runs, not "lots of captains and vice-captains working in harmony."

After dropping the 22-year-old Mendis, Labrooy explained away his decision by saying Mendis "has age on his side". Perhaps he thinks Mendis still has time on his side, whereas the ageing Thirimanne is fast running out of time.

Those responsible for selections are displaying a keenness towards seeing Thirimanne achieve their perceived potential. In hope that Thirimanne will come good, Mendis — a player with four international centuries in his brief career — and other players with more-accomplished first-class records than Thirimanne have missed out.

The thinking by Labrooy's panel sheds light on their lack of trust in the work done by prior selection panels and also their lack of awareness of statistics and recent performances of players. In Sri Lanka, the selectors don't tend to carry on from where the previous selectors left off. This panel feels Thirimanne was mistreated by previous selectors and so they have gone back to Thrimanne. They want to give him a fair chance but don't realise they have been unfair to Mendis.

Unlike Thirimanne, Mendis has scored match-winning knocks against top attacks and has been far-more consistent than most Sri Lankan batsmen. Mendis, who was the second-highest Test run scorer for Sri Lanka this year at the time of his axing, has three centuries (made against Australia, India and Bangladesh) and four half-centuries after playing 22 Test matches, while Thirimanne has played 29 Tests but has just one century against Bangladesh and five half-centuries going back all the way to 2011.

The decision to drop Sri Lanka's best young batsman in years (the backbone of a brittle batting line-up that often struggles to post winning totals) is an asinine one. Selections in Sri Lanka continue to be made on hunches and the gut feelings of middle-aged former cricketers who don't appear to follow the game closely, when data-driven decisions and sharp-thinking are needed.

© Island Cricket


Anonymous's picture

very well said. Great example of administrators and managemnt ruining cricket. Also explains why talented dananjaya silva is not getting any opportunity instead playing zero-skill idiots like Thirimanne. Mark my word-- D Silva, mendis and sadeera can do great things for our country if nurtured well.

Anonymous's picture

Beautifully written article

Sure 's picture

Thirimanne kiyanne Test Match ekaka wathura adinnwath ganna oni ekek newei..!
labroy t denna ona තණකොල..!

Gaja48's picture
Member since:
6 December 2014
Last activity:
41 weeks 2 days

Selecting Thirimanne into the team is a foolish decision, but having out of form Kusal in the team may cost his future. SL has done that a lot. When Chandimal was out of form he was given continuous chances to get his form back, but what happened is a history, Same thing happened to Kapugedara. Even the bowling great Lasith Malinga who has plenty of experience under his belt is struggling to find his form. SL cricket & fans should change their mindset. Everyone should realize that an international match is not the place to find form. Doesn't matter who it is, Doesn't matter how many matches they played, If they don't perform they should be dropped. SLC should apply this policy. If this policy applied then SL may find a team like India. One doesn't perform other one will. Australia came up with Renshaw, he performed bad in FC he was dropped and new in form player came in played his part. Marsh who has a very bad test history earned his call up by his form. SL players, fans and the cricket board should realize, every player has to earn their places by performances, not by promising or potential.

Gaja48's picture
Member since:
6 December 2014
Last activity:
41 weeks 2 days

28/44 Innings in his Test Career, Kusal Mendis has missed out to reach 30. If it is going to be the case, SL will end up losing another promising talent in future. Everyone knows his drop was coming after his shot selections. Many times he has given away his wicket. Those things need to be looked after before he makes his return to the side. Another player is Sadeera, a lot of talks have been done on his name and his start to the career doesn't look too promising either. Still am wondering, why in form Roshen was never given a chance. DdS is another in form player who is warming bench. Except that Mendis dropping debate, SL needs to drop Dilruwan first. We are having better bowlers warming bench. So basically, 6/11 players who played in the last test must make way for in form players.

Anonymous's picture

Brilliant article. All the experts agree that dropping Kusal Mendis was a mistake. Bad move.

Marco's picture

To Kusal Mendis,

I am sure you will see this comments.

Kusal you have a good future. Do not worry about Sri Lanka cricket. Just move to Australia or England and you will have an Excellent future. Sri Lankan selectors are the stupidest cricket selectors in the world. Those selectors will destory your whole cricket future.

And Mr.Chandika Haturusingha is one of very good cricket coaches in the world and I dont know why he decided to go to coach unorganized Sri Lankan Cricket team. Theres nothing wrong with the players but the selectors. No one can do there job in Sri Lanka in honest manner. There are lots of examples. One day Mr. Haturusingha will regret for his decision to leave Bangladesh team and also he will loose his reputation as well dealing with this stupid idiots. Thats why GREAT Mr.Mahela, Mr. Sangakkara and Mr. Muralidaran ETC... not interested to do anything. I am really sorry for young cricketers and good coaches in Sri Lanka.

Fabian's picture

Thirimanne is so weak against spin. Ashwin and so many spinners have made him look like a schoolboy player. He is one player who needs to go back to domestic cricket for next 2 or 3 years and work on his technique. Mendis should never have been dropped.

AB's picture

100% agree with Gaja48.... Well said bro, I too stay with same sate of mind

Kusal Mendis need some rest

No use of Thirimanne at all

Why Roshen & DDS warming bench - As Pothas said, we need some batters who can rotate strikes rather than try only for boundaries, hope these two has the said ability

We have lot of better option than Dilruwan - He will bat only in batting frndly wkts and bowl in gd areas only when you get spin frndly wkts

Samson's picture

Kusal Mendis was a big dissapointment recently. I think it was coreect decision by the selectors to drop him until he finds his form back.

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