Avishka Fernando, Akila Dananjaya, Jeffrey Vandersay back in Sri Lanka ODI squad for Zimbabwe series


Sri Lanka’s new selection committee, in their first assignment since being appointed, have made eight changes to the side that finished second-last at the ODI World Cup, with Wanindu Hasaranga, Pramod Madushan, Janith Liyanage, Nuwanidu Fernando and Sahan Arachchige also coming into the squad. Making way are Kusal Perera, Dimuth Karunaratne, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dushan Hemantha, Matheesha Pathirana, Lahiru Kumara and Kasun Rajitha. There was also no room for Chamika Karunaratne, who had been named as a travelling reserve at the World Cup, and Angelo Mathews who had been drafted into the side midway through the tournament.

Of those, de Silva’s exclusion was the one the selectors were compelled to address. De Silva has an average of 25.90 in 82 innings but it’s long been argued that he was being wasted lower down the order, with 43 of his 81 ODI innings having come at either six or seven – in efforts to shoe-horn him into the side. The selectors therefore felt his inclusion would only be warranted if a position opened up higher up the order.

“We feel Dhananjaya de Silva can perform better in the top three, where he has time to bat longer,” chief selector Upul Tharanga said. “We’ve spoken to him about this as well and told him that even in club matches he should aim to bat in the top order. So if he is to make it back into the side it’ll be in the top three.”

Hasaranga’s availability meanwhile is subject to fitness with the spin-bowling allrounder still recovering from hamstring surgery. He is expected to miss the first two ODIs at least. In his absence, Maheesh Theekshana will lead a spin-bowling unit that also includes Vandersay, Dananjaya and Dunith Wellalage.

While Vandersay last played an ODI in January 2023, Dananjaya hasn’t turned out for Sri Lanka in any capacity since 2021. According to the selectors, both players’ inclusion in the side is a means of bolstering Sri Lanka’s spin-bowling stocks. Of the two, it is Dananjaya’s inclusion though that’s more curious.

Dananjaya was an ever-present force in Sri Lanka’s attack, but following the remodelling of his bowling action he seemed to have lost some of his potency, which eventually led to his removal from the side. He has however been impressing in domestic cricket lately, but with spinners difficult to handle on Sri Lanka wickets, the selectors are hoping some international game-time will offer better insight into his current standing.

“In the last couple of seasons Akila Dananjaya has been picking up wickets, and we also need a backup plan for the likes of Maheesh Theekshana and Wanindu Hasaranga,” selector and former Sri Lanka spinner Ajantha Mendis said. “With the next ODI World Cup in 2027 we need to find a way to give players on the fringes more game time. In domestic cricket the opportunity just isn’t there to see him tested like he would be internationally.”

In terms of the batting unit, Avishka’s inclusion adds some much-needed firepower to the line-up and it is likely he will slot in at the top of the order alongside Pathum Nissanka. The middle order too picks itself with Mendis heading a trio that includes Sadeera Samarawickrama and new vice captain Charith Asalanka. It is for the sixth and seventh positions though that spots will be up for grabs.

Sri Lanka have long struggled for consistent power-hitting lower down the order. Dasun Shanaka was meant to resolve that issue, but his form has been lacking over the past year. In Arachchige, Nuwanidu and Liyanage Sri Lanka hope they have three players capable of filling that hole, with all three having impressed domestically and in the Lanka Premier League in recent years.

Dushmantha Chameera and Dilshan Madushanka, the latter fresh off his 21 World Cup scalps, will head up the fast-bowling unit with Pramod Madushan in as back-up.

Sri Lanka ODI squad: Kusal Mendis (capt.), Charith Asalanka, Pathum Nissanka, Avishka Fernando, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Sahan Arachchige, Nuwanidu Fernando, Dasun Shanaka, Janith Liyanage, Maheesh Theekshana, Dilshan Madushanka, Dushmantha Chameera, Dunith Wellalage, Pramod Madushan, Jeffrey Vandersay, Akila Dananjaya, Wanindu Hasaranga (subject to fitness)

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