If you were looking for surprises in Sri Lankaâ€™s World Cup squad of 15 there was plenty with four players who have not appeared in one-day internationals for the country since 2017 getting the nod on the strength of their performances in the recently concluded Super Four Provincial limited-over tournament that was used as a yardstick for selections.
Those picked were batsman Lahiru Thirimanne, spin bowling all-rounders Jeevan Mendis and Milinda Siriwardana and leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay.
Among those who missed out were wicket-keeper/batsman Niroshan Dickwella and his opening partner Danushka Gunathilaka, batsmen Upul Tharanga and Dinesh Chandimal and off-spinner Akila Dananjaya.
The surprise selection was 21-year-old opening batsman Avishka Fernando who had an ordinary tour of South Africa and fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep whose selection in the one-day side has been inconsistent partly due to injuries.
The players who got the nod on the strength of their performances in the Super Four Provincial tournament are leg-spinning all-rounder Jeevan Mendis who took six wickets in three matches and scored an unbeaten half-century.
â€œJeevan Mendis brings a three dimensional option. He has been bowling the best in the games that I have witnessed. Heâ€™s got the experience and he has been playing a lot in the international circuit. He is bowling well and he brings in the additional batting and he is a good fielder,â€ said chief selector Ashantha de Mel at a media conference held at SLC headquarters yesterday to announce the World Cup squad.
Thirimanne was the tournamentâ€™s second-highest scorer, behind Angelo Mathews, having scored a century and an 82, while Vandersay who took five wickets in the tournament is the only specialist spinner.
â€œI donâ€™t know for what reason Thrimanne was dropped from the one day side. In the 2015 World Cup he was our third highest run getter after (Kumar) Sangakkara and (Tillakaratne) Dilshan. In the provincial tournament as an opener he displayed his experience. We had a big problem with the openers Dickwella and Gunathilaka their form had fallen in the provincial tournament. That is why we went for experienced openers. We lose 2-3 wickets in the first 10 overs and in England you need the experience,â€ said De Mel.
On the selection of Siriwardana, De Mel said, â€œWe want Siriwardena to bat at no. 6 or 7 because he can bowl as well otherwise we canâ€™t balance the team. It is between Siriwardana and Dhananjaya de Silva. After Kusal Perera at 3, Kusal Mendis at 4 and Angelo Mathews at 5, number six should be an all-rounder otherwise there is added pressure on the bowlers. That is why we picked two batting all-rounders.â€
DHANANJAYA BOWLING BETTER THAN AKILA
Explaining the exclusion of regular off-spinner Akila Dananjaya from the squad De Mel stated, â€œAfter he modified his action his effectiveness is not there. I have been watching him and I havenâ€™t been impressed at all. Although he says he bowls off spin he bowls two off-spins, two leg-spins and two googlies in an over. He sets the field for off-spin but bowls mostly leg-spin. He is also not getting the bite and the kind of revs that he used to get on the ball.
â€œIf you take Dhananjaya de Silva and Akilaâ€™s performances Dhananjaya gets a wicket every 26 balls and Akila every 50 balls. The deviation off the wicket for Akila is 2.8 percent and for Dhananajaya 3.2 percent. That means he is spinning the ball more. Those are some of the things we went through before picking the side. After he re-modelled his action he is really scared to put that extra effort in. Especially in ODI cricket it is the wrist spinners who are more effective, the off-spinners unless you bowl like Nathan Lyon are not. Lyon can bowl over spin and not side spin and gets a huge advantage because he gets more bounce,â€ said De Mel.
â€œOn the other hand we feel that Dhananjayaâ€™s form from the off spin bowling side is slightly ahead of Akilaâ€™s. We cannot take two off-spinners thatâ€™s why we have selected two leg-spinners Vandersay and Jeevan Mendis. In the provincial tournament we told that we were primarily looking at Dhananjaya because he was the best off-spinner. His batting comes as a bonus to him. When we select him the team balance is better because he can bat at 6 plus he gives you the spin bowling option, so that you can play another additional batsman,â€ he said.
The exclusion of Chandimal according to De Mel was that he didnâ€™t fit into the scheme of things playing only as a batsman although he can also keep wickets. Kusal Perera has been named as the no. 1 wicket-keeper with Kusal Mendis as reserve wicket-keeper.
â€œKusal is the wicket-keeper because he is less prone to injuries. That is the advice we have got from the physios. When he fields especially in the outfield he tends to get injured because he dives awkwardly,â€ said De Mel.
Dickwellaâ€™s exclusion was purely on poor form. â€œHe scored 20 runs in 4 games in the provincial tournament and in the seven games in South Africa he got only one thirty. He has not got runs, its horses for courses.â€
DIMUTH TO CAPTAIN
Sri Lanka of course will have a new captain in the one-day format with Dimuth Karunaratne being appointed to lead the country in the World Cup as two other contenders Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga had issues with the head coach and with senior players.
According to De Mel, it was Karunaratneâ€™s leadership in the Test series in South Africa that prompted the selection committee to replace Malinga and make the captaincy change. Karunaratne has not played in an ODI since the 2015 World Cup but has been a consistent Test player.
â€œWe saw in South Africa how Dimuth was able to unite the team, and have everyone playing together. That was what was important to us at this time.
I spoke to Malinga yesterday and explained to him that as selectors we didnâ€™t have any issues with his captaincy, but that although he was playing well, the other 10 players werenâ€™t behind him. Thatâ€™s not his fault, but that was the situation we had,â€ said De Mel.