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

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