Thirty-one year old opening batsman Mahela Udawatte has broken into the Sri Lanka Test squad more than 10 years after his international debut, along with three other uncapped players, Kasun Rajitha, Jeffrey Vandersay and Asitha Fernando.
The fresh entrants are there partly because a number of injuries have afflicted the Sri Lanka talent pool. Regular opener Dimuth Karunaratne is out with a fractured finger, and fast bowlers Dushmantha Chameera and Nuwan Pradeep are out with back and hamstring complaints respectively. Legspinner Vandersay alone has pushed the incumbent out on the strength of his domestic form. He had been better through the provincial four-day competition than left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan, or so, at least, say the selectors.
Kusal Perera, who last played a Test in December 2016 in South Africa, was also picked ahead of Danushka Gunathilaka, who had only recently returned from injury. Kusal’s return was somewhat expected given his good returns across formats in both domestic and international cricket this year.
Curiously, the selectors have put a caveat by the names of two senior players: Angelo Mathews and fast bowler Suranga Lakmal, stating that their participation in the tour is subject to fitness. Chief selector Graeme Labrooy explained to ESPNcricinfo: “Mathews and Lakmal are not unfit as such. In fact they are fit, but we wanted to see if they were match-fit. The team is at a training camp in Pallekele, so we’ll give them until May 14 before we make a final decision on those two players.” Both Mathews and Lakmal had only recently recovered from long-standing leg injuries.
Udawatte – effectively Karunaratne’s replacement in the squad – has made his way into the squad on the basis of domestic runs. His previous forays into limited-overs cricket were unsuccessful, but the selectors are hoping his form for the Kandy provincial team will stand him in good stead in the West Indies. He had hit 97 and 103 not out in a recent four-dayer, and also has a century and a fifty from three provincial one-day matches in May.
Rajitha, Vandersay and Fernando, meanwhile, have been on the fringes of the national side for some time. All three have played limited-overs matches for Sri Lanka, without quite holding down a place. Labrooy said that domestic form again paved these players’ paths into the Test squad. Rajitha appears the likeliest of the trio to make a Test debut, given the dearth of senior quicks; Lahiru Gamage and Lahiru Kumara are the other seam bowlers on tour.
Beyond the dropping of Sandakan, who Labrooy said had struggled in recent months, there were no major surprises on the spin-bowling front. Warhorses Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera were in the squad, as was Akila Dananjaya who debuted to much acclaim in Sri Lanka’s most-recent Test, in Bangladesh.
Kusal Mendis, Udawatte, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva and Niroshan Dickwella are likely to form the core of the batting order, with Mathews joining if he proves fit.
Sri Lanka play three Tests in the West Indies, including the Caribbean’s first ever day-night Test, in Barbados. The visitors are scheduled to start their tour with a three-day practice match in Trinidad, before the first Test begins on the same island, on June 6. Sri Lanka have never won a series in the West Indies.
Test squad: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Mahela Udawatte, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, Angelo Mathews (subject to fitness), Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Jeffrey Vandersay, Lahiru Gamage, Kasun Rajitha, Suranga Lakmal (subject to fitness), Lahiru Kumara, Asitha Fernando (ESPNCricinfo)