A day after naming Dimuth Karunaratne as the captain for the 2019 World Cup, Sri Lanka have announced their preliminary squad for the mega event, beginning in England on May 30. Having made a left-field choice while selecting the captain, the panel sprung further surprises with the inclusion of Lahiru Thirimanne, Jeevan Mendis, Avishka Fernando, Jeffrey Vandersay and Milinda Siriwardana in the 15-man preliminary squad.
Meanwhile, former captain Angelo Mathews is back in the set-up after having missed most of Sri Lanka’s Southern Hemisphere sojourn with a left hamstring strain. He made a comeback into competitive cricket in the recently-concluded Super Provincial One Day tournament – which also acted as a selection trial tournament for the World Cup aspirants. Playing for Dambulla, Mathews scored 227 runs in four innings, including a century and a fifty.
Karunaratne’s inclusion will mean that Sri Lanka will have a new opening pair with one of Avishka Fernando or Thirimanne partnering the skipper at the top of the order. Avishka, the 21-year old opener, has had modest returns since his debut during the home series against Australia in 2018 – but his ability to combine solid defensive skills with big-hitting prowess caught the attention of many. For Thirimanne, this is yet another comeback into the national team. Picked for his enormous experience, the stylish left-hander, who enjoyed a prolific time during the 2015 World Cup, last played an ODI in December 2017.
On the other hand, Kusal Perera, who underwent treatment for his hamstring injury, sustained during the tour of South Africa, has been passed fit and is expected to take the gloves from incumbent Niroshan Dickwella – whose poor recent batting form cost him a place in the squad.
The panel also kept faith in Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva – despite the pair not turning promise into performance at the highest level. Isuru Udana’s power-packed batting during the South Africa series earned him his maiden World Cup call-up and he will link with Thisara Perera as the two pace-bowling all-rounders for captain, Karunaratne. Jeevan Mendis and Milinda Siriwardana will ad further depth to the set-up – two spinning all-rounders who can be used as floaters in the batting line-up.
Despite being deposed of captaincy duties, Lasith Malinga, who will probably feature in his fourth and last World Cup, will headline the bowling attack which also includes Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep. Springing another surprise, the selectors have opted for leg-break bowler Vandersay ahead of mystery spinner Akila Dananjaya.
The selection panel has also included four standby players – Oshada Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Wanindu Hasaranga and Angelo Perera – who will travel with the team for the showpiece event. While the last date for submission of the preliminary squad is April 23, teams can make changes to the squad until May 23; beyond which any changes needs to be ratified by the International Cricket Council.
Sri Lanka will fine-tune preparations for the World Cup with two One Day Internationals against Scotland, on May 18 and 21 and will follow it up with warm-up fixtures against South Africa and Australia. The 1996 champions begin their title challenge against New Zealand at the Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, on June 1.
Squad for the World Cup: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Avishka Fernando, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera (wk), Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jeevan Mendis, Milinda Siriwardana, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Jeffrey Vandersay, Nuwan Pradeep.
Standbys: Oshada Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Wanindu Hasaranga and Angelo Perera