I’ve wanted to write for some time about the intersection of politics and cricket in Sri Lanka, but there are some incredibly complicated issues to sort through. Instead, my first post on this subject is going to be about an interesting squad selection for a T20 match. The player is a 21 year old batting allrounder called Ramith Rambukwella. His numbers are modest at best, though his bowling figures suggest he is a handy part timer. So why is this a story?
Ramith’s father is a minister in the Sri Lankan government, and some observers speculate this influenced his selection. Sanath Jayasuriya, the Chairman of Selectors, is also an MP in the Sri Lankan government, though a much more junior member. Is it a tremendous stretch to speculate that connection had some bearing on the selection of Rambukwella?
Of course, that may be unfair on Ramith. He cannot control who he was born to, and though growing up as part of an elite family can’t have hurt his development and access to professional cricket, perhaps he really did get selected on merit. The problem with that is the slightly strange statements coming out from Jayasuriya in defense of the pick.
As a batting allrounder, his averages across the three formats are pretty poor. 16 in first class and list A, 17 in T20. Rambukwella is hardly setting the world on fire. His strike rate in T20 is one stat going in his favour, across 7 innings he has scored at 143.52. A small sample of matches, yes, but they do hint at the potential to be a “hard hitting middle order batsman” as Jayasuriya described him.
He can bowl too though, averaging almost identical numbers with the ball in First Class cricket. In list A and T20 he has also performed pretty well with the ball, though if bowling spin is his main job he has some pretty tough competition in Sri Lanka. Rambukwella seems to be the textbook definition of a bits and pieces player, someone who might do a job in either discipline, but wouldn’t merit selection in either individually.
Sri Lankan cricket fans have been somewhat critical of the selection, with many arguing that Rambukwella’s performances in the recent domestic competition don’t set him apart. Opinion is fairly divided on whether he should be in the team, as this Facebook photo, and especially the comments, from a Sri Lankan fan page show. Look, I can’t read Sinhala or Tamil so I don’t know exactly what the balance of comments is, but from the English language ones it is clear many don’t think he should be there and some think he deserves a chance.
There is one comment though which is quite perceptive, from a Nishlesha Dananjaya. He argues that were Ramith not the son of an MP, this wouldn’t be a story at all. He’s probably right, mediocre players with potential get selected all the time, in every country, at every level of competitive cricket. However, Sri Lankan cricket is not exactly known for being independent of political influence, so people are probably right to speculate in this case.
Given that, wouldn’t it have been wiser for the Sri Lankan selectors to wait until Ramith had proven himself in the domestic competition, before rushing him into the national squad? Yes, only the T20 squad, and only to play Bangladesh, and he didn’t end up playing. Still, though, he is 21. He has a long career ahead of him. If he is good enough to play for Sri Lanka, he should have got there the same way everyone else does, by being better than the players at their current level. Rambukwella has not yet shown that he has reached that stage, and as such his selection is deservedly controversial.