It’s not all that earth-shattering. Cricinfo leads with two new batsmen, capped only in T20 (which: if a lower-order batsman debuts during a bilateral T20 series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, has he really debuted at all?).
The way I like to look at squad announcements is to figure out who’s actually likely to play. Among the batsman Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, and Dimuth Karunaratne are certainties. Chandimal is a wicketkeeper, but I’m putting him in the batsman category because he’s picked for his batting. If I ever do another of these I’ll probably do the same. Much as I wish teams would pick keepers for their keeping, it just doesn’t happen any more. So Chandimal’s a batsman, and Sri Lanka are going to pick seven batsmen. “Six batsmen and a keeper” is an antiquated way of looking at team selection. “Seven batsmen, one of whom must be able to keep to international standard” is the wave of the future.
With those three penciled in, that leaves seven batsmen for four spots. They are: Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Milinda Siriwardana, Lahiru Thirimanne, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka.
Siriwardana came out of the New Zealand tour looking like one of the only batsmen in the team who could make runs, and with his useful bowling, he feels like a safe pick. Kusal Mendis is only 21 years old and hasn’t looked entirely out of his depth at test level, so he could keep his spot out of inertia.
That leaves two spots. Kaushal and Thirimanne are the most experienced players, both having had success at test level, but “woeful” is too kind a term to describe Thirimanne’s output in recent memory, and Kaushal has serious questions about his technique, particularly in pace-friendly conditions.
That leaves Dickwella, who could take the gloves with Chandimal playing as a batsman, and the two uncapped players, who I won’t pretend to know anything about beyond the fact they’re both 24 and made some runs in first-class cricket. For selfish reasons, I want to see Kaushal open with Karunaratne, providing some arm-flapping grit and grind to a test arena that seems increasingly infatuated with flash and frenzy. He’s the Memphis Grizzlies of international cricket, and like I love the Grizz, I love Kaushal.
Axed from the squad are Kithuruwan Vithanage and Udara Jayasundera, both of whom I had honestly forgotten were in the last Sri Lanka test squad.
As for the bowlers, things are a lot more straightforward: either Rangana Herath and three seamers will play, or four seamers will play. The interesting thing is Sri Lanka might have four seamers all worth playing in the same match. Shaminda Eranga’s returned and that means someone’s got to leave out one or two of Eranga, Dhammika Prasad, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, and Dushmantha Chameera. Prasad seems the closest to an automatic pick of that bunch, and Chameera’s the one who you’d think has ability that lends itself to putting in the kind of performance that can win a test match on its own, which is I think what people mean when they talk about “x-factor,” though usually they just mean “lots of pace.” He’s got that, too, at any rate.
My way-too-early XI for Headingley:
- Kaushal Silva
- Dimuth Karunaratne
- Kusal Mendis
- Dinesh Chandimal
- Angelo Mathews*
- Dasun Shanaka
- Milinda Siriwardana
- Dhammika Prasad
- Rangana Herath
- Shaminda Eranga
- Dushmantha Chameera
Likely changes include de Silva or Thirimanne in place of Shanaka, and Pradeep or Lakmal in place of Eranga, Chameera, or Herath depending on tour match performance and on-the-day conditions.
I’ve mentioned everyone else, so to be fair: Dilruwan Perera is also in the squad. If Herath gets hurt or a groundsman royally fucks up, he might play in one of the matches.