England v SL, Champions Trophy, Group B, Jo'burg September 25, 2009

Sri Lanka pay for faulty selection

Sri Lanka's ace spinner has had a poor tournament, a solitary wicket and bundles of runs leaked at pace

If emotions and the rest of it didn't come into it, Kumar Sangakkara would have some straightforward decisions to make for the game against New Zealand, which they must now win to make the semi-finals. But human beings without emotion are not human beings at all, and so whatever decisions he does take between now and Sunday will likely be among the most difficult ones he has had to make the short time he has been captain.

On the face of it, Muttiah Muralitharan should be dropped; he has had a poor tournament, a solitary wicket and bundles of runs leaked at pace. He has not looked quite with it, truth be told; probably if you stood close by you might not even hear the low, ominous whir of his usual deliveries. He has missed that very thing that makes him - that snap in his spin, in his wrists, the devil in his eyes. Perish the thought but has he even looked robotic? England played him comfortably, even daring to go after him, and that can never be a good sign for any spinner.

And the Wanderers in this mood simply demands another pace option. Not often do you drop your fast bowler when he is in the form of his life, but such are the peculiar dilemmas of Sri Lanka's depth that Thilan Thushara has not so far played a part here. Sangakkara must know he has to play him against New Zealand, if conditions and the surface are as they were tonight. Ajantha Mendis has looked the better spinner and the rest of the attack has performed so who to drop but Murali?

But Muttiah Muralitharan - Murali, legend, icon, great, national hero - cannot be dropped so easily. One of the downsides of greatness is not knowing how much rope to give it as time nears its end; in greatness when does a momentary lack of form become a more permanent and fatal condition? He's done it so many times before after all, and the odds that he does it again cannot be that long.

Sanath Jayasuriya's place may not be as much a predicament simply because the space he occupies in Sri Lankan cricket is altogether different; anyway he is at a more advanced point in his career than Murali. And concerns about his form are not new. If we want to be ruthless about it, then he averages barely over 10 outside the subcontinent over the last two years and half that here. To a lesser degree, the Jayasuriya question is similar to Murali's. What if one of those prods outside off takes an edge, goes over point for six and sparks carnage?

Not often do you drop your fast bowler when he is in the form of his life, but such are the peculiar dilemmas of Sri Lanka's depth that Thilan Thushara has not so far played a part here

The matters are delicate, and tellingly the question wasn't raised post-match though Sangakkara did allude to it. "We'll have to sit down and have a think. There are lots of good players on the bench waiting to have a look. Come training tomorrow, we'll have a think, worry about it a bit more, a bit longer and probably make the obvious decision when the time comes to make that decision."

The smoothness of Sangakkara does have an edge to it. You can imagine him being gung-ho about it and taking the decision, though until he makes it, it is just that: imagination. Whatever decision he takes will in the process reveal a fair bit more about him and his leadership.

None of this is to apportion blame for triumph and failure are collective. The top order failed today and Sri Lanka's fielding was some way off its own energetic standards. Whatever was right about Sri Lanka came from the young, a signal maybe to Sangakkara of which path to take. "[Thilina] Kandamby and [Angelo] Mathews have been very impressive for the whole of the last year, and they've been great in the A and international side. We've sort of sorted out the middle order problem, now we have to get everyone firing at the same time."

But haste is of essence. It is one of the painful beauties of this tournament that one match can bring upon such headaches. There is no time for sentiment or emotion. Get the team wrong again on Sunday and you might be out.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sage on September 27, 2009, 18:56 GMT

    Anderson2010...I wonder what team you support? And I sincerely hope NONE! The last TRI nation we lost to India in the final. Unfortunately who ever bats second at Premadasa Stadium has not done well. If you go back a bit to the previous match we won against India batting first. I agree with you on one, that's dropping Murali. But I prefer our mediocre cricketers to so called top players. India lost to Pakistan after having one of the best one day units. Shane bond goes for 82 runs in 9 overs. England is really doing well right now after having a pathetic series with Australia. What about out first match vs. South Africa. When you have high scoring test match it's difficult to get a decision. And remember the entire top playing cricket teams have played with minnows and couldn't score what we scored. Australia lost to Bangladesh under Ricky Ponting. Mathew Hayden broke Lara's record against Zimbabwe by scoring 380.

  • Sage on September 27, 2009, 14:42 GMT

    Sadly, Sri Lanka lacks so many things right now. The senior experience players are not performing in lively pitches. Sangakkara's field placing is so horrible and also he should not keep wickets in any format. Our main three front line pace bowlers lack of direction and intelligence. I wonder what they learn in practice sessions and do they watch any tapes of other teams? It's seems Sri Lanka is going down badly. Most of the fans comments here are true. If you just listen to commentators, you could learn a lot. But how come the coach, the team management, selection committee and the captain doesn't see the real picture? Just wait until we tour India for the test and limited over series later this year. It will be a very testing period for Kulasekera, Thushara, Malinga and also Mendis. Mendis should be dropped from the side because for his pathetic fielding. Representing your country at highest level should be an honour and perseverance is the key to success not attitudes and egos.

  • rob on September 27, 2009, 12:26 GMT

    Sageleaf. So thats what it comes down to? highest test score?ODI score? ODI and t20 was against minnowas and did they actually win the test match where they scored highest total. LOL. No wonder they have such a pathetic record outside sri lanka. What happned in last tri series? what happned in 3 previous series against india? You saw what happened when mediocre cricketers decide to drop a real class of murali.

  • rob on September 27, 2009, 11:31 GMT

    Sri Lanka have 2 good cricketers Murali and Jayasuria. They decided to leave one of them out against new zealand. What a silly mistake. Mendis is not even in the same league as Murali. Murali is in premiership, where as mendis is a school grade bowler compared to him. Less we say about malinga the better. Malinga gave away 80 runs in 10 overs against india and today he went even better. This must be the joke of the century. Oh we are so good, we will leave murali out and play thusara instead. Ha Ha Ha... This has really cracked me up. Sanga, Jayvardena and dilshan can't negotiate the moving ball and they have temerity to leave out the best spinner ever? LOL

  • Jagath on September 27, 2009, 6:27 GMT

    SL should drop Sanath (because of poor form) and Murali (to rest) and select Thushara and Kapugedara. either mahela or sangakkara should open the batting with Dilshan and send kapu at no 3 and see how he goes

  • Shanthal on September 27, 2009, 4:35 GMT

    This is madness :P there are way too many things to consider before you come to the point that Murali's lost it or losing it... Sure the conditions weren't right for him, sure the batting let them down (I don't think England's line-up would have fared any better judging from their recent past) and you must remember this is he's second game since injury and to what extent that is hampering a bowler and it always does more so than a batsmen... is a huge question in it-self. So, should SL play Murali agains NZ? To my knowledge, isn't the game at Centurian - if not no, probably the third seamer... don't think it's too harsh - it's one game, a must win at that and why not let Murali have a bit of a rest... it's great to have SOLID bowling options anyway. And as for Chandau comments about SA in Centurion, I think it was the whole Gauteng vs CSA problem...

  • Indika on September 27, 2009, 4:08 GMT

    well said sageleaf i do agree with you..anp guys murali goes bad for two matches and every one goes nuts....murali had the best economy rate in the t20 world cup and he bowled exeptionaly well with mendis this is just a temporary glitch coz he coming from an injury so people please stop whinig about murali...and sanath has the full backing of everyone im sure hell perform well

  • Sanoj on September 26, 2009, 23:37 GMT

    Sri Lanka did not lose because of a faulty selection; they lost due to their inept batting at the top of the order on a lively track, against extra bounce and swing that was readily available throughout the morning session.

  • Sachin on September 26, 2009, 22:29 GMT

    Simple. Play Thushara and drop Murali. Lankan top order also needs to fire. When on swinging pitches, they had no idea. Dilshan can't be patient and Sanath is past his used by date. Jayasuriya 0 bowled Bond. Strauss was nice to call back Mathews, but probably shouldn't have. Mathews made a bit of a fuss.

  • Sage on September 26, 2009, 21:31 GMT

    Sri Lankan cricketers do not have to represent Australia, India or South Africa. Our so called mediocre cricketer have won a world cup within 15 years gaining test status and also have been in to the finals of the last ICC world cricket tournaments. We also have the highest Test score, ODI score and T20 score and counting. Just go to Guinness book of world records and browse through cricket, you may not believe what you see. The present Test, ODI rankings as well as in batting and bowling is also true testament to how good our mediocre cricketers are. Unlike England playing cricket since the previous century and not winning a single ICC tournament, Sri Lankan cricketers are great and has character and perseverance as one of the best teams in the world. Losing one game has only one impact and that is learning from our mistakes in order to perform better in the following game. The flat track bullies will deliver when it matters

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