Sri Lanka needs someone to step up right now, says Russel Arnold

Former Sri Lanka cricketer Russel Arnold expressed his views on the new Sri Lankan skipper and an "exciting" Indian squad that is currently in the island nation. 

Russel Arnold

File picture of Russel Arnold.   -  The Hindu

India and Sri Lanka will be heading into the 2021 T20 World Cup in October in contrasting styles. While India places itself among the favourites to win the trophy, Sri Lanka will open its tournament in unfamiliar waters – in the qualifier group alongside Ireland, Netherlands and Namibia.

As the two teams go toe-to-toe for their final set of T20s ahead of the premier event scheduled in UAE and Oman, former Lankan all-rounder Russel Arnold feels it is time for certain players to step up and lead their side out of a string of misfortunes, ranging from player retirements to contract tussles. 

In a conversation with Sportstar on Friday, Arnold expressed his views on the new Sri Lankan skipper and an "exciting" Indian squad that is currently in the island nation. 

Excerpts…

India will have a tricky task in selecting its squad owing due its depth, while for Sri Lanka, it will be a challenge to pick the right players. How do you look at both situations?

Well, the ideal place to be is India. You have plenty of options and those are good headaches to have. Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you go in such situations because you have players who have performed at a high level and have also played out of tough situations.

 For Sri Lanka, they need someone to pop up and make a mark consistently so that the team suddenly breathes fresh air and others can settle around that particular player. Hopefully, when it happens, 50 per cent of your problems disappear. 

What do you think is the immediate change that Sri Lanka requires? Do you see a need to break down the 26-team domestic cricket structure and take the game beyond Colombo?

The game has gone beyond Colombo and they (SLC board) are trying to grow. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s economic base continues to be in Colombo and until you play for the country continuously, a lot of people need to be semi-professional and require another job. That attracts cricketers from the villages to Colombo.

READ: Sri Lanka cannot be in a transition phase forever, says Mickey Arthur

Yes, the first-class game needs to be tightened up and I believe there are plans being made for that. Probably, a tournament above the existing system where the best players from the clubs come and compete - that would help uplift the standards. This is not an overnight remedy and I’m sure towards the end of the year when Sri Lanka’s first-class tournaments begin, our plans will be ready. 

On an immediate note ahead of the World Cup, it’s hard to get any plans in. We need a star, we need someone to pop up and look inside (the situation) and show something special. Right now, everyone is burdened with expectations, failures and criticism. You need to break free and cannot be talking about the systems and policies ahead of the T20 World Cup. 

Now that the Lankan squad is announced, who are you keeping an eye on, in the lead up to the World Cup? Also, your thoughts on the Indian team?

You have to envy the Indian team. There’s a lot of experience alongside the youngsters and that’s amazing. Shikhar Dhawan will need to lead from the front and he will. (Yuzvendra) Chahal and Kuldeep (Yadav) have been pretty quiet lately and this is a good opportunity for them to shake off any cobwebs. There are some talented youngsters in the mix - guys like (Ruturaj) Gaikwad and Prithvi Shaw. Wherever you look or mention these names, it’s exciting because you’ve seen them play. The challenge now is to take the responsibility forward without the likes of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.

For Sri Lanka, I hope Avishka Fernando gets a break at the top of the order and scores a lot of runs. Another player in the middle-order I’ve been keen on is Charith Asalanka. Dushmantha Chameera as well - enjoying him bowl day in day out.

Earlier this year, you had expressed disappointment when Wanindu Hasaranga wasn’t picked up in the IPL auction. Do you think a collective woeful image of Sri Lankan cricket is a reason? How important is it to have a representation in such leagues?

It’s (representation in foreign leagues) good because you learn. Sri Lanka is working on the Lankan Premier League and it took off well last year. We are looking forward to it growing and becoming more competitive and that’s a start. 

 For now, the Lankan players are not looked at (for IPL). They aren't posing a threat to others and that is going against guys like Wanindu Hasaranga. If you look at him alone, he’s a street-fighter and has good variety with the ball.

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Dasun Shanaka will lead Sri Lanka in the limited-overs series against India.   -  AP

 

India has the second-highest success rate in T20s since the last World Cup while Sri Lanka is lagging behind numerous associate nations and will have to challenge them in the WC qualifiers. Predictions and thoughts… 

Sri Lanka have to progress (from the qualifiers) but they will be under tremendous pressure. You can’t ignore what’s been going around. They will be scared to make mistakes and express themselves. But if they get through the qualifiers, they could ease up and be party-poopers and actually set themselves up for the next World Cup in 2023.

READ: Series unlikely to impact T20 World Cup selection, says Manjrekar

Do you think Sri Lanka needs to instil a structure similar to India soon at the domestic level  and involve greats like, say Mahela Jayawardene? 

Yes, all experience, all help would matter. So, I think the board is doing that. There is a cricket committee that is formed, headed by Aravinda de Silva. There’s (Roshan) Mahanama in it, (Kumar) Sangakkara and (Muttiah) Muralitharan as well. So the best of the best in Sri Lanka is looking at it from every angle and hopefully, we’ll know their plans and the direction in which they are headed. We are all anxious and agitated and need to be patient for results.

Sri Lanka has had over 10 captains in the last five years across formats. Do you think Dasun Shanaka's pick to replace Kusal Perera will see the team through the World Cup and beyond?

It is up to him. The problem with the previous captains is not the policy, it’s the situation you’re in. You need your captain to perform and be in the team for his performances. Dimuth Karunaratne had captained for a bit, but we are eighth and ninth (in the rankings). You need to look somewhere else to freshen up, to somehow get the performances to come in. 

Leadership is crucial - the captain's thoughts, how he handles his players. That defines how players feel, what’s expected of them and how to react to different situations. You have to win specific moments when the game drifts and those moments are the ones Sri Lanka tend to lose. These are the finer points to be looked at, but they will be hoping that Shanaka performs and makes a difference to continue for a long time. 

Watch the 1st ODI on 18th July 2021 LIVE on Sony Ten 1 and Sony Six in English and Sony Ten4 in Tamil and Telugu from 2.30 pm IST.

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