Captain Dasun has helped Sri Lanka turn things around

by Rex Clementine

Cricket’s most successful captains had some remarkable factors that made them successful leaders. Mike Brearley was a good thinker. Clive Lloyd was inspirational. Imran Khan had a good eye for picking talent. Arjuna Ranatunga was a fighter and two of his prodigies Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene had factors unique to them. While Sanath led by example, MJ was a brilliant tactician. All successful players don’t become good captains either. Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Inzamam-ul-Haq are cases in point.

Sri Lanka’s white-ball captain Dasun Shanaka has been the subject of discussions by cricket analysts for turning the fortunes of an inexperienced, young and underperforming Sri Lankan team into a successful unit. Last week he sealed the fate of Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the Asia Cup and this week he provided another shock when India were sent home packing. What makes him successful?

Dasun wasn’t the choice to lead Sri Lanka when the national selection panel benched half a dozen seniors two years ago. He wasn’t even the deputy. Kusal Perera turned out to be the chosen one with Kusal Mendis as his deputy. The selectors argued that KJP was the only player in the team who was sure of a place. That argument is ancient. When you try to be progressive, you don’t stick to age-old theories. For a selection panel that had been ruthless in leaving out so many seniors, they needed an equally aggressive captain. When you have revamped a team you needed a new direction.

KJP is one of the nicest blokes you’d come across in cricket, but his leadership qualities were found wanting. To start with he was injury prone. He’s also a bit of an introvert. The new captain found himself in a bit of a storm following the contract crisis coupled with injuries and that experiment didn’t last long.

Dasun had become captain by default with the team in total chaos. A heavy defeat in England in 2021 saw commentators ridiculing the team and to make matters worse three players were sent home for breaching COVID protocol. When Dasun agreed to take the captaincy it was demanded that he signed contracts. He agreed. This was a gamble and perhaps angered some of the players who were on the war path with the board. He was on a tightrope. The initial few series were tough but he gradually turned things around.

Dasun-Mickey Arthur combination worked well. Although their disagreements were once seen in public the duo were quick to patch things up and move forward. They picked young players and backed them and more importantly persevered when things were falling apart.

“Dasun is special in that he has great belief in himself and empowers the team. He leads by example in his performance, training and practice and has the ability to take people on the journey with him,” Arthur told Sunday Island.

As captain, he’s not the sharpest guy when it comes to tactics. His strength is his focus and getting others to focus. He’s also not the most naturally talented player. He’s one of the fiercest hitters in the team but his defence can be breached. The best thing that has happened to Dasun the batsman is he has identified his strong areas and sticks to them. You don’t see him cutting, but you’ll see him clearing the boundary with straight hits or pulling over mid-wicket. Those are strokes that he has mastered and they fetch most of his runs.

As a bowler, he doesn’t cover himself in glory. Again, his strength is that he puts in the hard yards and wants to improve.  Those are Dasun’s strong points. Since Sri Lanka won the Asia Cup in 2014, it’s been all downhill in white ball cricket. Leave alone winning tournaments, the team is nowadays struggling to qualify for events like the World Cup. Dasun has given new hope to the nation with his unique leadership qualities. He needs to be backed.

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