Test skipper returns to ODIs after two years
A hamstring niggle is likely to keep Kusal Janith Perera out of the three-match ODI series against Afghanistan next month, making way for Test skipper Dimuth Karunaratne to return to coloured clothing more than two years after he was dumped from the format.
Perera was in line to return to ODI cricket during the Afghanistan series as he is considered a key player for Sri Lanka’s World Cup qualifying campaign in Zimbabwe later next month. However, he is not fully fit to take the field during the Afghan series, the Sunday Times learns.
Accordingly, the focus has now shifted to Karunaratne, who led Sri Lanka during the last 50-over World Cup in England in 2019, but was sacked from the captaincy and the team in 2021. The 35-year-old southpaw has been in terrific form in Test cricket this year and his success is being attributed to the strong technique and temperament.
His ability to bat for long periods and anchor the innings has made him an invaluable asset. With the team struggling to bat out the quota of overs, the think-tank believes his reliable batting could be just what Sri Lanka needs to turn things around in ODI cricket.
With Karunaratne returning to the side, there could be some reshuffling in the batting order. A possible combination could be Karunaratne opening with Nissanka, followed by Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, and Dasun Shanaka. Nissanka is recovering from a groin injury but is expected to be fit by the end of this week. A combination of seven batters, including two batting allrounders, will however leave bowling all-rounder Chamika Karunaratne out of the team as the team would opt four genuine bowlers–two spinners and two seamers. Karunaratne has done reasonably well as an all-rounder but will find it hard to break into the side. Under the scenario, both Shanaka and Dhananjaya de Silva will have a bigger role to play as part-time bowlers.
Meanwhile, Wanindu Hasaranga is also set to miss the series against Afghanistan due to injury. Hasaranga, who represents the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League, did not feature in the team’s last two games. He has been inconsistent with his form in recent months. His current IPL stint has seen him rake in only nine wickets in eight games and, more importantly, hasn’t taken a wicket in his last five ODIs.
Accordingly, leg-break bowler Dushan Hemantha could make his ODI debut against Afghanistan. Hasaranga’s absence will make Maheesh Theekshana the first-choice spinner with Dhananjaya de Silva to be used as a part time spinner.
Seamer Matheesha Pathirana, who has been a revelation during the IPL for Chennai Super Kings, is also expected to make his ODI debut. The 20-year-old played against Afghanistan in his only T20 game last year. He was playing the New Zealand series but sat out after being tested for Covid-19. His sling-arm actions and the pace he generates have made him an automatic choice.
He is likely to partner either Dushmantha Chameera, who is also returning to the side following ankle surgery last year, or speedster Lahiru Kumara during the Afghanistan series. Afghanistan toured
Sri Lanka last year and the three-match series ended 1-1 after the second game was washed out by rain.
The series will be a great opportunity for the islanders to fine-tune before heading to Zimbabwe for the World Cup qualifiers. Afghanistan is one of the eight teams to have earned direct qualification for the blockbuster tournament.