Waiting in the wings
For Sajeewa Weerakoon, the road to international recognition is still some distance away despite the number of times he has produced match-winning performances for the Sri Lanka A team. The orthodox left-arm spinner from BRC has been knocking on the door and sounding out the national selectors with a kind of consistency that no other cricketer in recent times has managed.
There have been cricketers who have got into the national side with marginal performances compared to what Weerakoon has produced. But that is why they say you need an element of luck in cricket. What is blocking Weerakoon's entry into the national side is the presence of spinners of his type who are already there and have established themselves.
Left-armer Rangana Herath is one of them. He is a contracted player with Sri Lanka Cricket. Then there is also Sanath Jayasuriya, who is the third-highest wicket-taker for Sri Lanka in Test cricket with 92 wickets. Although currently hors de combat, he is expected to resume bowling shortly. With two left-arm spinners already in the side to support the offspin of Muttiah Muralitharan and with legspinner Upul Chandana also available for selection, Weerakoon finds his entry into the national side blocked despite clamour from the cricketing public and certain sections of the media for his inclusion.
Anura Tennekoon, the former Sri Lanka captain said: "Sajeewa has shown consistency in his bowling. You couldn't ask for anything more than that from a bowler or a batsman. To me the hallmark of a good cricketer is consistency. It shows that he has some ability in him."
As manager of the A team, Tennekoon has watched Weerakoon in action at close quarters and his assessment of his bowling is interesting. "Compared to other spinners he is quite tall and he is able to make use of his height to get that extra bit of bounce. He bears close resemblance to another former Sri Lanka left-arm spinner Ajith de Silva who was also quite tall.
"Sajeewa bowls a nagging line and length and uses the extra bounce. So far he has performed on pitches that has given him some kind of assistance. His real test will come when he bowls on flat surfaces. If a batsman or bowler performs consistently he should be given due recognition sooner or later."
Weerakoon, 27, a product of St. Aloysius College, Galle, shot into prominence when he picked up the best bowler's award taking 50 wickets in the Premier trophy tournament last season. Prior to that, he had played in two matches for Sri Lanka A against Pakistan A in 2002 and taken seven wickets, before being overlooked until this year when he was included in the squad against the A sides of England and Pakistan. However, he was not picked for any of the matches as spinners Malinga Bandara and Suraj Mohamed were preferred over him.
With Bandara going away to represent English county Gloucestershire, Weerakoon once again came into prominence. He has not missed out on the opportunity given to him. In three unofficial tests against West Indies A, he captured 26 wickets at a cost of 14.07 to steer Sri Lanka A to a 2-1 series victory. He has extended this brilliant piece of bowling to the ongoing series against South Africa A, where he took a match bag of 13 wickets for 106 to subject the tourists to a six-wicket defeat inside three days at the NCC grounds last week.
Weerakoon picks the majority of his wickets by taking the ball away from the batsmen towards the slips. He also uses the arm ball for variation. Lalith Kaluperuma, the chairman of selectors, said: "Of all the A team players in the past year or so, Weerakoon has shown the most promise. He had done well and he is in our short list.
"We can't just rush him into the national team because only eleven can play. The team has got to have balance. An opportunity must come to include him. In the meantime, he must continue to perform. He has a good future and should make it to the side very soon."
With a tour to India coming up later this year, Weerakoon should keep his fingers crossed and performing, while hoping for the break that will launch him into international cricket.