Allrounder Thisara Perera will lead a new-look, 16-man Sri Lankan squad to play the T20I series against Pakistan starting next Thursday. The shake-up is the result of some first-choice players – including the regular limited-overs captain Upul Tharanga – refusing to play in Lahore, where the third match of the series is scheduled.
Two days ago, the SLC chief selector Graeme Labrooy had confirmed that only those willing to travel to Lahore would be considered for the squad. That decision was taken by the board in consultation with the Sri Lankan sports ministry. This has brought about nine changes to the squad that last played India in September.
In addition to Tharanga’s refusal, selectors have also confirmed that Lasith Malinga, Niroshan Dickwella, Chamara Kapugedara, Akila Dananjaya and Suranga Lakmal were all unavailable for selection as well. Lakmal and Kapugedara had been on the team bus that was attacked by gunmen in 2009.
Head coach Nic Pothas and physiotherapist Nirmalan Thanabalasingham have also refused to travel to Lahore, but are likely to be with the team for the UAE leg of the series. SLC has reasoned that as the team is only in Lahore for 24 hours, the absence of two regular members of the support staff will not make a substantial difference. A replacement physiotherapist is expected to make the trip.
In what is a sign of the recent upheaval Sri Lanka have experienced, Thisara is set to become the seventh man to captain Sri Lanka this year, with Tharanga, Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Dinesh Chandimal and Chamara Kapugedera having borne the captaincy in some format, in 2017. While Thisara’s ODI from has continued to flounder, his T20 form was good in the recent World XI matches in Lahore. In fact, he was Player of the Match in the second of those three T20s, largely for his 19-ball 47 not out.
Among the notable names in the squad is batsman Danushka Gunathilaka, who regained his place after completing a suspensionfor a lethargic attitude towards training. Sadeera Samarawickrama, the 22-year old batsman who won his first Test and ODI caps on this tour, is also in the squad. He was one of two uncapped players in the shortest format, alongside wicketkeeper Minod Bhanuka, who will be getting his first taste of any kind of international cricket. Sri Lanka have also recalled Mahela Udawatte, who has not played for them in eight years.
Allrounder Dasun Shanaka will leave Sri Lanka A’s tour in the Caribbean to take part in this series. He brings with him some batting form, having struck 102 off 108 balls and 60 off 85 in the ongoing four-day match against West Indies A.
That this is a very inexperienced outfit is no surprise. Over the last two weeks, it has become apparent that better-established players would refuse to play in Lahore, while fringe players were more likely to take the tour on. SLC was hopeful a full-strength team would be available, but had not succeeded in convincing many of the more experienced players of the security arrangements.