The highly satisfying series win against England was a much needed confidence booster for a team that had been battered, bruised and scared in India. Although there are still a few unanswered questions, the England series seems to have helped confirm 13 of the 15 world cup places. Perhaps the only major disappointment of the series for Sri Lanka was Kusal Perera’s failure to grab the vacant opener’s position. Few other questions such as Malinga’s availability, bowling at the death and finding the back-up batsman still remain. However, there were enough positives to come out of this series to give selectors plenty of options to work with.
Prior to the England series, only the six seniors, Dilshan, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Mathews, Herath and Malina were assured of their places, barring fitness concerns. The primary beneficiaries of the England ODI’s have been Chandimal, Senanayake, Tissara Perera, Lakmal and Thirimanne.
Chandimal finally had a little bit of luck go his way and he made it count with two mature and well-constructed innings. Senanayake not only passed the ICC bowling test, but also proved that his remodeled action has not compromised his effectiveness. Tissara Perera’s fifty in the last match was significant, not for its record breaking pace, but for how it was constructed. Perhaps for the first time, he batted more like a proper batsman than a ‘see ball hit ball’ slogger. The way he chose his scoring options, especially early on, should give selectors some hope that he can be trusted at the most crucial number seven position. Lakmal’s performances in the two matches he played were outstanding. Thirimanne was one of the few positives from India and he did not do harm to his chances as the team’s official number six batsman. Dammika Prasad and Seekkuge Prasanna are the other two players who might just have secured their places.
Dammika Prasad did not produce anything significant without also not doing anything too damaging to his chances. His extra pace and bounce as well as the ability to score down the order almost assures his place in the 15. Jeewan Mendis couldn’t convert seven opportunities in to a single stand out performance with either bat or ball. Prasanna clearly is the better bowler between the two and is no slouch with the bat either. With no time for experiments and Ajantha Mendis’s continued decline in form being the closest thing to a mystery about him, all-rounder Prasanna looks set to secure the back-up spinner’s role. It is likely that Sri Lanka opts for a back-up spinner instead of an eighth batsman due to the risks associated with the ‘only just rehabilitated’ Senanayake.
With 13 places almost assured, the remaining two places will likely be shared between a back-up batsman and a front line fast bowler. Unless Eranga shows poor form early during the New Zealand Test series, he is likely to fill the remaining fast bowling vacancy.
At least as a result of circumstances if not by management choice, it seems almost inevitable now that Jayawardene will start as the opening partner to Dilshan. However, management will want to have the option of playing Jayawardene in the middle if needed. As such, the temptation might be to select a back-up batsman who is capable of opening and also batting in the middle. Kusal Perera must be very low on confidence and has run out of opportunities to gain any. Upual Tharanga has proven his worth as a middle order batsman in Australian conditions in the past and has plenty of experience to compensate for his indifferent form. His recent domestic and A-team form should also help his chances.
Given the big stage, it is highly unlikely that inexperienced players like Priyanjan, Vithanage, Dickwella, Kaushal, Pradeep or Gamage will be considered. Experience is most likely to be preferred over any surprise element, as is said to be the case with Sandakan, or ‘hidden’ potential that chief selector Jayasuriya sees in Rambukwella.
Late Australian summer wickets might provide Sri Lanka the opportunity to play to their strength, which is spin. The ideal combination would include four out-and-out bowlers. Sri Lanka might look to play two spinners and two fast bowlers and hope Tissara Perera can provide the balance with his all-round abilities at number seven. .
England series was the opportunity to finalize the team. New Zealand ODI’s will provide the opportunity to get accustomed to conditions, fine-tune roles and find the right team balance.
Finding an opening partner to Dilshan has made most of the headlines. However, it might very well be that a reliable and sensible number seven batting all-rounder Tissara Perera who holds the key to Sri Lanka’s success.
Probable World Cup squad: Dilshan, Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Mathews, Chandimal, Thirimanne, Tharanga, Prasanna, Herath, Senanayake, Perera, Malinga, Lakmal , Prasad, Eranga