Andrew Fidel Fernando, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo,
Sri Lanka have picked fast bowler Dilhara Fernando for the T20 series against India, which begins on February 9. Dilhara last played for Sri Lanka in mid-2012. Legspinnning allrounder Seekkuge Prasanna also makes a comeback. T20 captain Lasith Malinga misses out due to injury, as does allrounder Angelo Mathews, seamer Nuwan Kulasekara, and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath. Malinga is still recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of the tour to New Zealand. It is learnt that he will require another fortnight to regain full fitness. Dinesh Chandimal leads the side in Malinga’s stead. Mathews is nursing a groin strain that prevented him from bowling in New Zealand on Sri Lanka’s previous T20 assignment. His injury is less severe than Malinga’s, though, and Sri Lanka Cricket are hoping he will be available for the Asia Cup at the end of the month.
Sri Lanka lost the T20s to New Zealand, earlier this month, 2-0. Among the others missing out from that squad are batsmen Shehan Jayasuriya and Kithuruwan Vithanage, pacers Suranga Lakmal and Isuru Udana. Of course, batsman Kusal Perera, who was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance, also misses out. Nuwan Pradeep was not considered for selection due to injury. There is no place for Ajantha Mendis, despite good returns in the recently-concluded domestic T20 competition.
Asela Gunaratne, who bats in the middle order and bowls offspin for Sri Lanka Army, and Kasun Rajitha, the Badureliya Sports Club seamer, are the only uncapped members of the squad that will visit India. Middle order batsman Dasun Shanaka, who played one T20 international last year, keeps his spot after his record-setting run in domestic T20.
Fernando’s inclusion comes as something of a surprise, after the selectors had invested heavily in youth over the past three years. Now 36, he bowled himself into contention in the recent T20 competition, taking 11 wickets in four matches, with an economy rate of 8.40. Fernando is said to have much of the pace of his younger years, and has been consistently penetrative across formats this season. Fernando had finished third on the Premier T20 Tournament wicket-taker’s list, but there is no place in the squad for Mendis, who finished second, with 12 scalps from six games. Prasanna picked up nine wickets in that tournament, at an economy rate of 6.79.
Shanaka, 24, has been in sublime form for the Sinhalese Sports Club this season, cracking two breakneck hundreds in his seven Premier T20 innings. He had hit a Sri Lanka record 16 sixes on his way to 123 from 46 balls in one of those innings, and was also the top run scorer for the tournament. Gunaratne had not been in quite such hot form, but hit an important 65 not out in the final of that competition, to guide Army to the championship.
Rajitha also has a good domestic T20 record, with 23 wickets from 11 matches and an economy rate of 6.77. He had not played the Premier T20 tournament, but has made a good start in the Provincial T20 tournament, taking a pair wickets in each of the first two matches. Rajitha had also been impressive in a tour match against India last year, albeit in the longer form of the game.
Elsewhere, quick Dushmantha Chameera and legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay, who played on the recent New Zealand tour, retain their places. Left-arm seamer Binura Fernando, who played in the two T20 series last year, also finds a place. Prasanna, Thisara Perera and Milinda Siriwardana comprise the all-round options, with Tillakaratne Dilshan’s offbreaks also on offer. Lahiru Thirimanne does not have a place in the team, despite having played well in Sri Lanka’s 2014 World T20 campaign. Opener Danushka Gunathilaka – who dazzled briefly in New Zealand – and Chamara Kapugedara, are in the squad.
Sri Lanka play three T20s in India, beginning in Pune on February 9, followed by games in Delhi on February 12 and Visakhapatnam on February 14.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando