The 27-year old Sri Lankan batsman, Dinesh Chandimal, has been elevated to Test captaincy after Angelo Mathews, the veteran all-rounder gave up captaincy across formats following an ODI series loss to Zimbabwe. Chandimal has experience of captaining the national team in limited-over formats but this would be his first assignment as skipper of the Test team. He led the team in the group stages of the 2014 World T20 which Sri Lanka won, but after an over-rate suspension chose to sit out of the remaining matches citing the team was performing better without him.
A captain who makes such sacrifices is rare in World cricket. But Chandimal, who had the luxury of having quite a few senior players during his tenure then, has an altogether different challenge up his sleeve this time around. A player who has ample experience captaining teams from school cricket, Chandimal is the apt replacement given that he is a mainstay in their Test line-up.
Mathews, who stood down after the series loss, revealed that he had thought about giving up captaincy quite often in the past few months but did not want to desert his nation during struggling times. However, with Chandimal and Tharanga available as replacement options, Mathews finally decided to step aside after an embarrassing series loss to Zimbabwe.
“As a captain, I can’t turn a blind eye to the failure of the team in the past several months.” Mathews had told a news conference where the new captains were announced. He was right. Sri Lanka had endured some difficult times since the retirement of their stalwart players, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena. The loss of Tilakaratne Dilshan last year only compounded their problems. While they beat Australia 3-0 at home in the Tests, their batting and bowling struggled away from home.
Chandimal is aware that his task is by no means easy. “I thank Angelo for leading the team and it is not an easy task,” the 27-year-old had said after his appointment. “We have lots of ups and down in the last two years, but we have a lot of talented young and senior players in the team. I am happy about being entrusted (with) this post. I am going to put my heart and soul to put the team in the right position.”
Given Sri Lanka’s recent performances, Chandimal might need more than his “heart and soul” to revive the team’s fortunes on the field. Here we take a look at few of the challenges awaiting him.
Guiding a relatively young batting line-up
Chandimal has quite a few huge challenges up his sleeve. Although the one-off Test against Zimbabwe should be a cakewalk given Lanka’s record at home in Tests, the bigger test awaits when India visit their shores at the end of the month. The batting line-up is relatively young and has little in terms of experience apart from himself and Mathews. The onus will be on Chandimal to guide the likes of Kusal Mendis, Asela Gunaratne and Danushka Gunathilaka.
Managing his spin bowlers
Sri Lanka’s primary spinners in Tests are Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan. Given Perera’s recent exploits with the bat, Lanka might ponder playing all three in the same line-up alongside two fast bowlers. Chandimal will need to be swift with his thinking given that India have batsmen capable of taking the game away in quick time. While picking and choosing spinners for sub-continental conditions is fairly easy, how many of them travel for overseas Tests need to be addressed.
Chandimal has to ensure that he is a player’s captain given that the unit is fairly young and immature. Spreading responsibility amongst the likes of Tharanga, Herath and Gunaratne will help ease the pressure on him. It is to his advantage that Mathews remains with the team. He will have a senior player with experience in captaincy to bank on at times of crisis. A captain cannot handle each and everything happening on the cricket field and he will have to assemble his trusted allies to bring out the best from a young team.
Grooming the younger lot
Sri Lanka have a plethora of talent coming through in recent months with each of Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Asela Gunaratne, Wanidu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara, Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella and Dushmantha Chameera making an impression. However, Sri Lanka need more than one-off performances and grooming this younger lot will be one major task for Chandimal. Being the test skipper, he will have ample opportunity to mingle with these newbies and pass on his experience and knowledge to them.
Winning big matches away from home
For a team like Sri Lanka, winning Test matches away from home means a lot. They haven’t enjoyed the kind of success they would like to in conditions alien to them. The struggles in Australia and South Africa are well known while it is also good to remember that Sri Lanka do not boast of a great record in New Zealand or England. Even their better players over the years, Sangakkara, Muralitharan, Vaas and Jayawardena have struggled in overseas conditions and this has been a major setback for the Test teams that travel overseas. With Sri Lanka building a fort at home, these performances have rarely been as scrutinised before. But the fort has breaches now, and Chandimal may not be able to hold onto his post for long if he cannot make his team competitive in different conditions.