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News

Selectors to blame for A-team debacle

Continuity is a word seldom associated with Pakistan cricket, so when one discovered that seven members of the Pakistan A squad that triumphed over Sri Lanka in the unofficial three-Test series, also played in the Under 19 World Cup here last year,

Charlie Austin
Charlie Austin
29-Jun-2001
Continuity is a word seldom associated with Pakistan cricket, so when one discovered that seven members of the Pakistan A squad that triumphed over Sri Lanka in the unofficial three-Test series, also played in the Under 19 World Cup here last year, one felt obliged to comment, because the converse is true of Sri Lanka.
Not a single member of the Sri Lankan team in the final Test Match, played in the Youth World Cup; a tournament in which they had defeated Pakistan in the semi-finals, before losing to India in the final. Ian Daniel, who played in the First Test Match in Dambulla, and Akalanka Ganegama, who played in the first two Test Matches, were the only representatives in the entire series.
Indeed, for Pakistani players, the route into the national side is clearer. The Under 19 team side is a natural feeder into the A team and then from there one can progress into the national team.
For Sri Lankan cricketers, however, the process is confused - there is no natural progression from the Under 19 team to the A side. Worse, no one seems to quite know what the A team is.
Sri Lanka used 22 players in this three-match series, an unwieldy number that smacks of selectorial indecision and almost certainly hampered the performances of individuals involved and contributed to the team's eventual downfall.
With the squad being chopped and changed with alacrity, the players were forever looking over their shoulders and were put under unbearable pressure to perform. Privately they admitted to unsettling feelings of insecurity.
According to the team management, the selectors rationale was that they wanted to give an opportunity to as many players as possible. This series was to act as a stepping to the future when a leaner squad of approximately 16 could be picked for forthcoming A tours.
It is true that many players were given an opportunity, but it is the quality of that opportunity that poses the problem. With an overbearing importance attached to each innings played and with the omnipresent threat of the axe should they fail, it is no wonder that the batsmen failed to live up their potential.
Sure, the selectors are looking for strong-minded players, but one cannot expect even the most battle hardened young cricketers to flourish in such an environment of flux. Continuity of selection breeds confidence and an environment conducive to personal success.
One wonders as to what poor Hemantha Devapriya, the A-team coach, said to his batsmen before each match. Perhaps it was: "Good luck machang but remember, if you don't score today, you will probably be dropped because the selectors think you may be a good player but they are not very sure."
Is it really true that the selectors could not identify a squad of 15 players for the Test series? If they have not seen enough of the players involved then the obvious question is, why not? A stable squad would have been preferred by the players and would have provided a clearer indication as to the potential of each player.
As it stands, the selectors have gained few insights from this three-match series. The now know that Thilan Samaraweera deserves to be promoted ahead of Kumar Dharmasena; they will realise, perhaps reluctantly, that Avishka Gunawardene is head and shoulders above the other upcoming batsmen; and that Michael Vandort is an exceptional slip fielder and a promising batsman.
Apart from those three, we know little more. Those that have failed were not given a proper chance, so a judgment now would be premature. This is true of Ian Daniel, Jeevantha Kulatunga, Dammika Sudharshana, Shantha Kalavitigoda and Malintha Warnapura.
In the defense of the selectors they did they need to balance the needs of the national team. For several of the 24-man national squad this A tour provided an ideal opportunity to gain valuable match practice against a high quality opposition. In normal circumstances the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Indika de Saram may not have played.
Clearly a decision has to be made: the A team is either a vehicle for the national players to practice or it is a gateway to the senior side, a means of providing experience to an emerging crop of players.
In fact, the situation is crying for a complete overhaul of the developmental system. The concept of an A team has become confused. Is it the Sri Lankan second team, a natural feeder into the test team? Or is it a collection of young players, a true developmental team, who are unlikely to play for the national team immediately, but could so in a couple of years?
The obvious solution, in a country such as Sri Lanka where the domestic cricket is so poor, is to have two developmental sides: an A team which is effectively a Sri Lankan 2nd XI and an Academy side, which provides a stepping stone from the Under 19's to the A team, and offers young players an exposure to a high standard of cricket at an early age.
A proper Second XI or A team is crucial because it will help to bridge the gapping divide between first class and international cricket. The Second XI would play touring teams in Sri Lanka and could tour the likes of Australia, South Africa and England to gain greater experience. In the spirit of Asian co-operation there could even be regular tournaments with our neighbours.
The Academy Side would also play touring sides in their warm-up games and tour abroad to play against the Academies that are springing up all over the world. The important point is that the squad members get a greater exposure to a higher standard of cricket at an earlier age, something that is not possible in the present hybrid system because the youngsters are crowded out by more established players. Even if they do get an opportunity, it is often shortlived.
The root of the problem is, of course, domestic cricket, but that is a dilemma that could take time to adequately resolve. In the meantime the setting up of an Academy and A team is essential if Sri Lanka's young cricketers are to realise their full potential.