De Silva gets used to life wielding the axe

Colombo: Aravinda de Silva is getting used to his new life as Sri Lanka`s chairman of selectors -- and axing big name ex-team-mates is just part of the package.

De Silva, now 45, omitted Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas from the final 15-man squad for the Feb 19-April 2 World Cup, to be held in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, and he accepts not all decisions will be popular.

"It`s not an easy job but I am enjoying it," de Silva told Reuters by telephone from his home in Colombo, of the position he assumed last May.

"It`s a thankless job, actually. But we had to pick the best team, so we did."

The stocky, diminutive de Silva scored an unbeaten 107 to inspire his team`s shock World Cup final win in 1996 when tournament underdogs Sri Lanka upset favourites Australia in Lahore.

Sri Lanka were runners-up in 2007 and are highly regarded by many pundits this time.

De Silva and his fellow selectors ignored sentiment in favour of youth and so the 41-year-old Jayasuriya and 36-year-old Vaas were out.

Opener Jayasuriya was man of the series in `96 when his brutal hitting revolutionised the 50-over game.

His 444 matches in one-day internationals is a joint world record, while only three bowlers have claimed more than Vaas`s 400 ODI victims.

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The two have not featured recently, but once they were named in the 30-man preliminary World Cup squad, their pedigree was expected to push their cause.

"They were in the running, but they were left out on performance and because of the combinations that we had to ultimately select," de Silva explained.

"It was very difficult to leave out someone like Jayasuriya, but we had to make some decisions and although they may not be popular we had to do it. We spoke to him to explain why he hadn`t made it. Obviously he was upset."

Still, the former batting maestro who used to watch videos of West Indies batsman and regular opponent Viv Richards, believes the team captained by Kumar Sangakkara has the right blend between youth and experience.

He feels comfortable with the replacements for left-arm paceman and lower-order batsman Vaas and Jayasuriya, who also bowled tidy left-arm spin.

De Silva tipped Nuwan Kulasekera to replace Vaas, with Jayasuriya`s loss also covered.

"Kulasekera is a good bowler with the new-ball, he moves it around and seams it a bit. He was ranked No.1 in the world a couple of years ago.”

"And we have our openers with (Upul) Tharanga and (Tillekeratne) Dilshan. Tharanga has been up and down for a couple of years but he is playing well again now and scored a hundred against West Indies this month."

He added: "I`m pretty optimistic about our chances -- not because of home conditions but just because the team we have is a pretty good one. The bowling is our strength, especially Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) and Lasith (Malinga)."

De Silva scored 9,284 runs in his 308 ODIs, to go with his 93 Tests. He has long been considered the best batsman his country has produced, a majestic stroke-player, but the emergence of Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene could challenge that legacy.

Unlike de Silva, however, they cannot yet boast a World Cup win.

"It is something I will cherish forever, it is every cricketer`s dream to win a World Cup," de Silva reflected proudly. "To achieve that in my time was very special.”

"It would be very satisfying to win it again (as a selector). Obviously nothing beats the feeling of winning as a player, but if I can play a part to win it for the second time, I would be very happy."

Bureau Report