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Sri Lanka greats clash over Chandimal axing

Ranatunga reminds Jayasuriya of his early-career ODI struggles after surprise decision to drop leading batsman

Sri Lanka great Arjuna Ranatunga has taken aim at former teammate and current chairman of selectors Sanath Jayasuriya, accusing him of 'forgetting the past' after axing struggling batsman Dinesh Chandimal.

A mainstay in Sri Lanka's middle-order in recent years, Chandimal was dumped for the first two matches of their one-day international campaign against Zimbabwe. 

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The right-hander was his side's leading ODI run-scorer in 2016, and fell two runs short of becoming the first Sri Lankan to pass fifty in six consecutive innings. He's also been one of their leading lights in the longest format with eight Test tons to his name and a career batting average of 42.33.

Chandimal has however struggled to replicate those feats this year, with his batting average sitting at 27 across all formats in 2017 and his only three scores greater than fifty coming against Bangladesh.

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But Ranatunga, Jayasuriya's first captain in international cricket, suggested the legendary former opener had failed to heed the lessons of his own career in opting to drop Chandimal.

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"I am bitterly disappointed with what these people have done with Chandimal. They have destroyed him," Ranatunga told Sri Lankan newspaper The Island.

"I am surprised that Sanath Jayasuriya being a selector, he has forgotten his past. 

"It took Sanath more than 40 games to score his first half-century. He was never comfortable earlier on in his career. The team management and the selectors faced lot of pressure those days, but we backed him as we knew that he was our future. 

"Look at what he ended up with. I am sad that Sanath is not doing the same with younger players.

"Dinesh Chandimal is a naturally gifted player and you don’t find talents like him in the country. He is a rare talent and I am pretty certain he is the future. 

"He is going to win you lot of matches. He was our best batsman last year averaging 59 and at the age of 27 has done wonderfully well having already scored four ODI hundreds. 

"So what more do you want?"

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While Jayasuriya would go on to become one of 50-over game's greatest-ever batsmen – only Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting have made more than his 28 ODI tons – he had in fact struggled in the early part of his career.

It took him 40 matches and 34 innings to post his first half-century and prior to his first ton against New Zealand in 1994 (in his 71st ODI) he'd scored just 926 runs at 15.18 in 70 matches.

One-day great Jayasuriya sweeps in 2005 // Getty
One-day great Jayasuriya sweeps in 2005 // Getty

At the time of Chandimal's omission, Sri Lanka's cricket manager Asanka Gurusinha insisted the 27-year-old remained in the national frame and that the squad had only been selected for the first two ODIs of the series.

"We are looking at different combinations and that's one of the reasons why we have selected this team to play in Galle," Gurusinha said.

"That's the only reason Dinesh was left out of this squad. But he is in our plans."

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Sri Lanka suffered a shock defeat to Zimbabwe in the first ODI at Galle before bouncing back with wins in the second and third games of the five-match series. Chandimal was not recalled for the third ODI, and the fourth match begins in Hambantota on Saturday.

It isn't the first time Sri Lanka's handling of Chandimal has come under the microscope recently, with Kumar Sangakkara last month lamenting the uncertainty the batsman has had over his spot in the side.

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"We've had two, two-and-a-half years of it now, looking for replacements for (Tillakaratne) Dilshan, Mahela (Jayawardena) and we have some fantastic young players coming through," Sangakkara explained while commentating during the Champions Trophy.

"One of the accusations directed at the management and the team has been that they haven't groomed anyone to fill those voids.

"But I think the one man that was identified very early was Dinesh Chandimal, who performed excellently in South Africa, then in England, in Australia. 

"He's actually had a period where he's been identified as the best young player (and was) appointed captain probably a bit too soon.

"Then he was dropped from the captaincy, dropped from the team, so he's never had a consistent run in the position that he was identified for.

"I don't think the environment he's played in has been very good for his confidence. Every time he now takes the field, it's almost as if (he's) playing for his place, for survival, and that's not a good place for a young player to be."