Sri Lanka cricket desperately needs something to cheer about! Nothing seems to have gone Sri Lanka’s way since Jayawardena and Sangakkara retired. Demoralizing losses against India, Pakistan and New Zealand in Tests and even worse performances in limited overs cricket has pushed Sri Lanka cricket backwards by many years!
Sri Lanka desperately needs a series in which they can at least compete, if not win. Picking the right team for England Tests is a critical step in planning for Sri Lanka’s revival. This is not a tour for experiments, inspired selections, or the time to hope against hope! Selectors must focus on experience, conditions, fitness, team strategy and current form and confidence.
Given the conditions expected and the duration of the tour, the likely composition of a 15 member squad would be five fast bowlers, two spinners and eight batsman. The eight batsman should include a couple of wicket-keeping options and a couple of fifth-bowling options.
Dimuth Karunaratne, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews and Malinda Siriwardena should be certainties. Given his recent first class form and invaluable contributions during Sri Lanka’s successful Test series in England two years ago, Kaushal Silva should be favored to partner Karunaratne in England.
Lahiru Thirimanne probably has the most high-profile endorsements in cricket and there is likely to be a major push for his inclusion! However, it must be noted that he had a horrid time during the 2014 England Tests scoring just four runs at Lords and a pair (0, 0) at Leeds, two of the Test venues for the upcoming series. He averages ~20 in his last seven Tests since that tour and has an average of 24.8 in his 23 Test matches to date. His ill-advised and infamous inclusion in the World T20 team and embarrassing failures surely must have dented whatever confidence he had regained during the recent first class tournament in Sri Lanka. Given his abysmal overall Test record, depressing failures during the 2014 England Tests and demoralizing failures in the T20 event, to pick him for this series will be to hope against hope! Thirimanne no doubt has the potential to become a great batsman! However, he must be made to work hard and fight for his place. The upcoming Zimbabwe and England A tours should give him the opportunity to regain international form and confidence.
With the number three position still to be filled, Sri Lanka may have no choice but to recall the in-form Tharanga Paranavitana. Paranavitana was the leading run getter in Sri Lanka’s first class event with 953 runs at 79 with three hundreds and five fifties, batting at #3.
Chandimal, Mathews and Siriwardena are certainties in the middle order. With Mathews unlikely to risk injury, Siriwardena is the only fifth-bowling option. Sri Lanka would like to include a second fifth-bowling option and that place might go to Dhananjaya Silva. Dhananjaya scored 868 runs with three hundreds and four fifties in Sri Lanka’s first class season and took 34 wickets at 14 with a strike rate of 27. His average and strike rate were both best among the top 15 wicket-takers.
For the eighth batsman, selectors are likely to consider either a pure batsman or a wicket-keeper batsman. If there are any concerns about Chandimal’s dual role, then Dickwella might come in to contention. If a pure batsman is considered, Upul Tharanga’s experience and recent domestic form (803 runs at 61 with three hundreds and three fifties) and the ability to bat in the lower order should favor him.
Rangana Herath will continue to be Sri Lanka’s leading spinner. Given his fine form during the T20 World Cup, Vandersay is likely to be preferred as Herath’s back-up. Dhananjaya’s off-spin and Siriwardena’s left arm spin will contribute to Sri Lanka’s spin options.
The biggest worry will be that all leading fast bowlers, except for Chameera, are coming back from injury! Yet, if fit, Prasad, Chameera and Lakmal are likely to be automatic selections. Nuwan Pradeep has only played one first class match since injury and Eranga too has just recently recovered. It is highly unlikely that selectors would pick both of them in the same squad and one of them will have to miss out. A much fitter, healthier and fresh Rajitha is likely to be included as the fifth fast bowler.
Potential Test squad
Karunaratne, Silva, Paranavitana, Chandimal, Mathews, Siriwardena, Dhananjaya Silva, Tharanga/Dickwella, Herath, Vandersay, Prasad, Chameera, Lakmal, Rajitha, Pradeep/Earanga.