Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakkara says his former side will have to adopt a “back to basics” approach in the World Cup to make up for their chaotic lead-in.
Dimuth Karunaratne has been installed as captain, despite not having played a one-day international since the 2015 World Cup. In a 15-man squad full of surprises, there was no place for Dinesh Chandimal, the previous ODI captain, wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella, or the exciting young quick bowlers Dushmantha Chameera and Kasun Rajitha.
Sangakkara, who was speaking after being unveiled as the next president of MCC – he will be the first non-British person to hold the role – believes Sri Lanka need to adopt a more old-school approach to building an innings.
He said: “Dimuth Karunaratne is a very capable player, technically very sound, has been very successful in Test cricket over the last two years. With two new balls [in operation at once], the ability of someone to anchor the innings, to bat through a long period, is going to be very important.
“England plays its ODI cricket very differently now, but Sri Lanka is going to have to change its mindset and really to go back to basics – maximising the overs in terms of partnerships, and then deciding from which portions of the innings they start attacking from. Right now, they need solidity.”
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Sangakkara, who captained Sri Lanka to the final of the 2009 World T20 and 2011 World Cup, hopes that Karunaratne’s appointment represents a new slate after a poor four years in which Sri Lanka have won just 27.4 per cent of their ODIs – the joint-lowest ratio of the 10 World Cup teams.
“One of the things that can happen with captaincy is that you get too comfortable in your role. Captaincy is not about surrounding yourself with people you like and trust. It’s more about competence and being able to execute skill, and buy into team strategy.
“With Karunaratne coming in now as a fresh face and fresh captain, it could actually help the team. He doesn’t come in with the baggage of being part of a set-up that for the last two and a half years have had a lot of issues. He won’t have partisanship in terms of how he wants to play or who he wants in the side.”
Sangakkara says that all Sri Lankans must support the 15 players chosen, but that big changes are needed in Sri Lankan cricket in order to keep producing players that can win ICC major tournaments.
He said of the process: “It’s been quite chaotic, both in terms of continuity in selection and giving players a very good, consistent run in the team, which is essential for confidence. I’ve always been a big believer in consistency in terms of selection including batting orders, because it breeds trust in themselves, each other and the team management.
“The management, the coach [Chandika Hathurusinghe] and the captain really need to be on a single page in terms of communicating honestly and openly with the players, so they, in turn, know what is expected of them and their roles. If it’s a constant change and churn, where you’re always looking over your shoulder when trying to safeguard your position, rather than trying to execute team strategy, I think that becomes a big problem.
“They have settled on a World Cup 15, but there have been quite a few surprising selections – players who haven’t really featured much in one-day cricket for quite a long time, including the captain himself.
“There needs to be long-term solutions put in, but also in the first-class and grassroots level because for years Sri Lanka has been succeeding despite, not because of, its system. Every few years we’ve produced an X-factor player or a few of them. That’s why we’ve been very successful in ICC events. But that’s changed, unfortunately – you need a nursery that’s forward-thinking enough, and of the right quality to produce the best players in the world.”
Sangakkara believes the three most powerful and best-organised countries – England, India and Australia – are likely to make the semi-finals, then it is open for the fourth spot between South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies.
Looking further forward, Sangakkara says that security arrangements for tours to Sri Lanka must be finalised, following the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday which killed at least 258 people and left 500 injured.
England are set to play two Tests in Sri Lanka in March 2020 as part of the new World Test Championship, and England tours are key to the Sri Lankan cricketing economy. The ECB are likely to conduct the most thorough study of security arrangements before deciding on whether to tour. England players, supporters and journalists have often stayed at the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La Hotels in Colombo which were targeted in the bombings.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked if he was worried. “I was in the bus in 2009 when the Sri Lanka team got attacked [in Lahore, Pakistan] and I understand the reservations and the security concerns that come after such an incident or even as an observer looking from the outside in.
“We need an open conversation with the necessary security aspects that are in place, make sure there are independent assessments done, that the boards connect openly and fully.
“We always talk about cricket transcending politics and that has to be the case with tours, as long as security and safety is assured, and there is an honest commitment from every country to put those security measures in place, that the home boards are satisfied when it comes to bilateral series and be able to communicate that to the players, either through the home board or the players association.
“I understand the reservations but I’m sure from a Sri Lankan perspective that those security protocols will be in place very soon. Confidence in the country and its ability to combat what has happened is evident to everyone. It’s important that tours do go ahead.
“I was very assured to see Gladstone Small in Galle inspecting some of the hotels just a month after the Easter Sunday attacks. These are all good signs. Sri Lanka has been through a lot in the past and has conducted cricket tours, including a World Cup, in very trying circumstances.”
Sangakkara takes on the MCC presidency on October 1, succeeding Anthony Wreford.