de Mel removed from selection panel

Ashantha de Mel, Sri Lanka's chairman of selectors, has been sacked by Jeewan Kumaratunga, the sports minister, just three weeks after being reappointed for a fresh one-year term. Lalith Kaluperuma has been appointed as the chairman of a new trimmed down five-man panel.

Kumaratunga had reappointed de Mel in April, claiming at the time that there was "no reason" to change the previous year's seven-man selection committee. However, recent changes within the administration, most importantly the appointment of Jayantha Dharmadasa as interim board chairman, have prompted a rethink.

Indeed, the sudden removal of de Mel and Ranjith Madurasinghe has raised suspicious eyebrows within the local media, who fear that the minister's U-turn may have political rather than cricketing objectives. Both de Mel and Madurasinghe were more closely aligned with the out-of-favour Thilanga Sumathipala.

While Kaluperuma, a former Sri Lanka offspinner who has served on the selection panel since April 2003, is a safe hand well-respected as a selector, two remaining members of the panel, KM Nelson and Shabbir Asgerally, have no first-class experience as players. The other two panel members are former Sri Lanka cricketers Don Anurasiri and Pramodya Wickramasinghe.

de Mel's tenure in charge of the selection committee included an embarrassing public spat with Marvan Atapattu, the captain, triggered by de Mel's criticism of senior players in an outspoken newspaper interview during Sri Lanka's tour of Pakistan last year. de Mel accused the team management of standing in the way of the selectors' desire to blood younger players for the future.

The criticism was swiftly followed by the summary dismissal of Tillakaratne Dilshan from the Test team, a move that forced Atapattu to experiment with a novice in the middle order and enraged the team management. However, the pair patched up their differences, in public at least, after the tour.

While de Mel's decision-making was questioned over the Dilshan affair, the independence of his panel also won respect in the face of growing behind-the-scenes politicking last year to include veteran Hashan Tillakaratne. De Mel's panel stood firm and demanded more runs from Tillakaratne to justify a recall at 37.

The new panel's first task is to select an A team training squad for West Indies A's tour of Sri Lanka in late May and June. The squad's composition will be analysed with interest to see whether the selection changes will bring a noticeable change in direction.

The new selection panel

Lalith Kaluperuma
Shabbir Asgerally
KM Nelson
Don Anurasiri
Promodya Wickramasinghe