Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) selectors led by chairman Asantha de Mel dropped former captain Dinesh Chandimal and off-spinner Akila Dananjaya from the 15-man squad for the ICC World Cup in England & Wales.
Dimuth Karunaratne will be leading the side but the selectors have not named his deputy for the tournament. De Mel informed that the vice-captain will be selected on ‘match-by-match’ basis.
The squad also includes former captain Lasith Malinga, who has led Sri Lanka in limited-overs cricket since the start of the year. There is speculation that an upset Malinga might announce his retirement before the World Cup after being stripped off captaincy.
“Malinga is a world-class player and has been one of our best bowlers. He can take decision to retire at any time but we haven’t got intimation from him so far. If he decides to retire, we’ll withdraw his name from the squad and announce his replacement,” newly elected SLC president Shammi Silva told the media after the announcement of the World Cup squad in Colombo on Thursday (April 18).
“We have selected the best 15 that is available to us at the moment. We gave Malinga enough opportunities to perform as a leader but out of 14 games in charge he had about 13 losses and 1 no-result. Sometimes world-class players don’t make the best captains and vice-versa. If he decides to retire because of this, we can’t do anything about it,” Silva added.
The big omissions from the squad were former captain Chandimal and wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella. De Mel said that the selectors were following a ‘horses-for-courses’ policy and that Chandimal’s poor form with the willow went against him.
“We gave Chandimal seven games before South Africa and he failed in all of them. Then back home in the four Provincial ODI tournament games he had about 50 runs. If I had picked him in the side, the media would have questioned his selection!” De Mel said, after a two and a half-hour long selection meeting in Colombo which was also attended by new ODI captain Karunaratne.
“We are following a horses-for-courses policy. The fact is Chandimal just hasn’t scored enough runs. (Lahiru) Thirimanne has been batting beautifully. He has the experience and form. He was the third-highest run-scorer for Sri Lanka in the 2015 World Cup just behind the likes of Kumar Sangakkara,” De Mel said about Thirimanne, who was the second-highest run-getter in the 50-over Provincial tournament with 213 runs behind Angelo Mathews (227 runs) in four games.
The chief selector was also full of praise for new skipper Karunaratne, who last played ODI cricket for Sri Lanka in the 2015 World Cup. Karunaratne though, was the captain of the Test side which posted a historic win over South Africa recently.
Karunaratne scored 165 runs in four games in the Provincial tournament with a top-score of 86. “Dimuth is not a slow batsmen by any means, not even in Test cricket. I saw him score 86 in the Provincial and it was scored quicker than a run-a-ball. We need solid batsmen at the top, who can give us big centuries in the World Cup,” De Mel said about Karunaratne’s return to the ODI set-up.
SLC have also brought in allrounders Milinda Siriwardana and Jeevan Mendis and leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay, despite the three players not playing an ODI for Sri Lanka since 2017. Dhananjaya de Silva was also preferred over off-spinner Dananjaya.
“In the Provincial tournament, Dhananjaya was the best off-spinner on show. His batting is a bonus and he comes into the side in the No. 6 position. Jeevan Mendis gives us the ‘three-dimensional’ option with his leg-spin because he is batting well and his fielding is superb.
“I was not impressed by what I saw of Akila at all. He sets field for off-spin and then bowls leg spinners. In the last game he played, he has 0/69 in nine overs. Since remodelling his action, his average turn is 2.8 degrees as compared to 3.2 degrees of Dhananjaya. We can’t go in with two offies in the side. In ODI cricket, it’s wrist spinners who are more successful these days. Even with India, they have not selected (Ravichandran) Ashwin and picked two leggies and (Ravindra) Jadeja,” De Mel said about the side’s spin bowling options.
Apart from the 15-man squad, Oshada Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Wanindu Hasaranga, and Angelo Perera will also travel with the team as four back-up options, to be used in case of an injury.
Sri Lanka squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (Captain), Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Avishka Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jefferey Vandersay, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Jeewan Mendis and Milinda Siriwardana.