If 2014 was a champagne year for in English climes sweeping the boards in a historic 1–0 Test series triumph, 3–2 ODI and one-off T20 success, 2016 evidently sees a back to the wall hurdle. With the Test series lost at 2-nil, the herculean doers of that golden year 2 years ago when the islanders captured the English in their own den, will be in search of a combinative formula to upset a highly revitalised England. come the June 21 ODI opener of the 5-match series. With the exception of skipper Angelo Mathews, out of the ranks are stalwarts Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Dhammika Prasad and Lasith Malinga. While the first two have bowed out of the game, Dilshan, the highly experienced opener will not be in the starting line up having opted out due to personal reasons.
The last of two of the five in Dhammika Prasad and Lasith Malinga not being in the firing line is a bitter blow. While Malinga’s non availability was known much in advance of the tour, Dhammika Prasad’s has been a literal evaporation having made the tour this time around and limped off from a recurring foot injury. Prasad, as we all know, was the scourge of the England batsmen in 2014 in the test triumph and was looked upon as the saviour this time around for the extraordinary manner in which the pacie bounced out the England batsmen in the test series two years ago. In the ODI success then it was Malinga (6 wickets) and Sachithra Senanayake (7) who delivered with the ball. Senanayake has subsequently sadly lost his way following arm action rehabilitation.
The current scenario therein sees the Sri Lankan selectors roping in the hard hitting left hand opening batsman Dhanushka Gunatilleke who could well fill in for Dilshan to pair with the explosive Kusal Janith Perera. The comeback of the left handed Perera from a controversial performance enhancing drugs related suspension in March which cost Sri Lanka the flamboyant 25-year old ex-Royalist who was looked upon as the batting play maker for the Asia Cup and T 20 World Cup, has indeed fired up the tempo. Perera, who had the embargo overturned courtesy the legal backing of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), has been liked a caged lion and has been eagerly looking to a swashbuckling comeback.
For a Sri Lankan camp looking to make up for the Test defeat, Kusal Janith Perera could well be the ideal tonic to set the tempo for Sri Lanka to bounce back. With both Jayawardene and Dilshan who figured as openers in 2014 gone, it will be interesting as to who fronts up opening the batting. Some of the probable’s other than Gunatilleke would be Vice captain Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne while the explosive right hand middle order batsman Dasun Shanaka, who scored a whirlwind century in a warm-up match in England, could also be in the equation. Of course, Skipper Angelo Mathews would be looked upon as the deliverer to lead from the front for the acumen he possesses to bludgeon a bowling attack at any given time.
MAHAROOF RECALL INTERESTING
Interestingly, all-round fast bowler Farveez Maharoof is also among five players named after a 4-year wait, the others being spinners Seekuge Prasanna, Suraj Randiv and veteran left hand opening batsman Upul Tharanga. Those recalled from the Test squad are Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Niroshan Dickwella and Dilruwan Perera .
The bowling department could well see the selectors going for a mix with the likes of Maharoof, Prasanna, Randiv raising their hands to be counted among a rank that have done test duty in a lost cause this 2016.
That Sri Lanka continues to be one notch ahead of England in ICC ODI rankings at 5 as against the hosts ranked 6 is a paperwork factor in favour of Angelo Mathew’s charges.
England, for its part, has raised its game under the leadership of Eoin Morgan. Known for a robust approach, England has made a resurgence since its 2015 world cup debacle. A new look side under an imaginative drive spearheaded by England Cricket Director, Andrew Strauss has brought some adventurers in batsmen Jos Butler, Moeen Ali, James Taylor, Alex Hales and Jason Roy in some convincing post-2015 triumphs.
By Srian Obeyesekere
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-