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.
Although Karunaratne has not played an ODI since the 2015 World Cup, his leadership during the upset Test series win in South Africa had tipped him as a left-field captaincy choice for the World Cup.
Sri Lanka’s subsequent 5-0 defeat in the ODIs to South Africa sealed the fate of Malinga’s captaincy, before Karunaratne’s good performances with the bat in the recent Super Four domestic tournament provided some indication that he was a viable choice as a one-day opener. Although fears about Karunaratne’s batting centred around whether he could score runs quickly enough, he mustered a strike-rate of over 90, as he made 165 runs at an average of 55 through the course of that tournament.
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.
The news will be a substantial blow to Malinga, whose commitment to his position as captain saw him play a domestic match in Kandy, only 14 hours after finishing an IPL match in Mumbai, earlier this month. Although Malinga had led Sri Lanka to a World T20 trophy in 2014, his one-day captaincy has produced abysmal results – the team losing each of the nine ODIs they have played under his leadership.
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.
The third major option for the captaincy may in fact have been the selectors’ first choice: Angelo Mathews, who has been Sri Lanka’s ODI captain in two separate stints before. But he is understood to have ruled himself out. His most recent stint at the helm was cut short when he was ousted following Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup exit it September. Mathews’ relationship with coach Chandika Hathurusingha had become incredibly strained following the player’s axing last year.
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, Malinda 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