By Srian Obeyesekere
In the countdown to high stakes player selections of arguably cricket’s most dominantly demanding swaying role of high intensity contests bordering on run making, its modern pinch hitting sophistication that has turned batting on its head and by and large come to dictate who plays and who doesn’t in dictating the destiny of the game.
The macho of shot making has begun to replace the finesse of the orthodox as more and more players with the ability to turn a game like a flash of lightning coming to reign. That Sri Lanka had much to do in this turn around where run making was hyped in bulldozing style by the Sanath Jayasuriya-Romesh Kaluwitharana one-day dimension of that 1995-96 world cup euphoria is indeed significant.
For Jayasuriya went a step further in breathing that same breathtaking dynamism into Test batting as well. Since, we have seen dime a dozen shot makers from the likes of Australia’s Adam Gilchrist pick up from where mainly the Master Blaster Jayasuriya left; and of course, Sri Lanka’s new sensation in that mould Kusal Janith Perera who in fact has been quick to credit Jayasuriya in influencing his batting. Perera converted from a right to a left hander and what a rollicking mauler of the ball he has proved to be in all forms of the game.
Therein, as Sri Lanka braces to face England in the first Test match from March 19 to 23 at Galle, it is interesting reading to see the bludgeoning element influencing selections as in the case of Kusal Janith Perera who has ousted Lahiru Thirimanne influenced by his match winning unbeaten 150 odd in a matter of few hours against South Africa in their own backyard.
Another savager of the ball who has made inroads into the test team is 27-year old opening batsman Oshada Fernando on the back of his a match winning Test innings on his debut in South African terrain by a classic half century in Sri Lanka’s historic whitewash of South Africa in the latter’s den in February, 2019. Strikingly, Oshada’s strongpoint as a batsman is the extra second leverage he derives facing fast bowlers. It is lamentable that the left handed Thirimanne has been pushed to the wall in what appears to be the final line on his career following a progressive decline from a once stroke filled batter who did his country proud who has been struggling to regain his pristine form.
Dinesh Chandimal, who also made his foray during the time of Thirimanne, also had a close call when he lost his place in the home series against South Africa soon after the world cup in a similar history as Thirimanne where his form waned out but for a battling test century against Pakistan. In the cases of Thirimanne and Chandimal, it is sadly reflective that the macho flair the duo breathed to the game as youngsters has become a thing of the distant past. In the case of Chandimal though, there is hope that he possesses the resolve and flair to ride back to top fettle. Having said that, it is interesting to note that Kusal Mendis continues to win the selectors faith in an ups and downs career following a rollicking entry to the test fold showcased by his epic match winning 197 against Australia because of his inherent ability to take on bowlers while the skipper Dimuth Karunaratne has won the selectors faith to a point of winning the captaincy following a marked turnaround in run accumulation. It catapulted him to the ODI team which once looked a distant reality which was capped by becoming ODI captain to boot since the 2019 world cup. In the case of veteran batsman Angelo Mathews, everybody knows what a match winner he has been for Sri Lanka with the bat best showcased by his back to centuries against England at Lord’s and Headingley in leading Sri Lanka to a historic first-ever Test series win in England. Under him, Sri Lanka also won the ODI series 3 – 2.
Meanwhile, the presence of Dhananjaya de Silva has been by the right-hander getting into the reckoning for his level headed stroke play spiced with defence and aggression, his plus point being unafraid to attack the ball when necessary. Also relevant is the naming of pinch hitting all-rounder Wanidu Hasaranga in the 15-man squad following a highly successful Man of the Series outing against the West Indies including the Player of the Match award in the first ODI, but who had to withdraw due to a needling injury he suffered in the final T20.
The Sri Lanka squad: Dimuth Karunaratne – Captain, Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Janith Perera, Dhananjaya De Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Lakshan Sandakan, Wanindu Hasaranga’s replacement to be named
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-