‘He’s not shy’: Six players to watch for Sri Lanka

A new look Sri Lanka take on Australia in the Dettol T20I series which begins on Friday night and, with just eight months until their opening T20 World Cup game, the Lions will be ready to make an impression.

Sri Lankan coaches have trusted the youngsters, leaving out established international players Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella and Dhananjaya de Silva.

Only eight of their team’s 20 players have ever played international cricket in Australia.

And former Sri Lankan batter Russel Arnold sees the five-game T20 series as the perfect preparation for the inexperienced team.

“It’s a great opportunity for them,” Arnold told cricket.com.au. “These are all players who have barely played in alien conditions. They are all trying to make a name for themselves.

“This is where you show that you are part of international cricket.”

Arnold, who will be in Fox Cricket and Kayo’s commentary box, identified some key players who seem set to be in for a big series.

Wanindu Hasaranga

Leg spinner Wanindu Hasaranga competed in last year’s T20 World Cup as the number one bowler in the ICC rankings, and he lived up to the title.

He finished the tournament with 16 wickets, more than any other player, and took them at an average of 9.75 and a save rate of just 5.20.

But as Arnold points out, this series will be a new challenge for the 24-year-old who has only played two international matches in Australia.

“It’s going to be a new experience for him to come here and play in these conditions,” Arnold said.

“He doesn’t need too much off the pitch, he’s a wicket-to-wicket taker and he throws a good error. And that’s the kind of delivery a lot of people struggle to choose. ”

While Hasaranga’s performance at the T20 World Cup and his rise to the top of the rankings might have been unexpected to all but the most attentive observers of Sri Lankan cricket, Arnold was not surprised.

“He’s the guy we rely on as Sri Lankans,” Arnold said.

“Quietly he has succeeded. He lives up to the expectations or belief he has created about himself. He has a good attitude and, unlike most Sri Lankans, he is not shy.

“He’s kind of a street fighter, always looking to shake things up and he’ll be looking to compete. That’s the kind of quality that drives him again and again.

Charith Asalanka

Sri Lanka’s other standout player from the T20 World Cup was top hitter Charith Asalanka.

Going into the tournament with just three T20Is under his belt, the classy southpaw racked up 231 points to finish as the fifth-highest points scorer.

The 24-year-old made his debut for Sri Lanka in all three formats in 2021 and has a long future in the national team, according to Arnold.

“He’s just a good player. He’s not a hitter. He plays good shots, he makes runs on good balls,” Arnold said.

“A lot of players these days go out and hit hard using a heavy bat, but this guy will play cricket shots. And that’s why we’re so excited about him. And why we’re looking for him for all three formats.”

Building on his success in 2021, Asalanka has been elevated to vice-captain for this tour, a move Arnold considers the right one.

“He was the Sri Lanka Under-19 captain, and that’s the type of player and person he is,” he added.

“Looking at our team, looking at all the players we have, we have to look to the future.

“Having him there or nursing him is the way to go, rather than going back to proven customers who have always persisted.

Maheesh Theekshana

Maheesh Theekshana is another member of the Sri Lankan squad whose international career is just beginning, having made his debut in the ODI and T20 internationals last September.

Dubbed a ‘mystery spinner’, Theekshana, 21, had great success in the early stages of the T20 World Cup before his wickets dried up in the latter stages.

But he’s not certain to start in Sri Lanka’s XI.

“It will depend on the pitches,” says Arnold.

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“But they (Sri Lanka) will look at every opportunity to play him. He plays with the new ball and with Hasaranga they work well together.

“He’s not a great ball returner, but he passes the ball around and he’s hard to pick.

“He’s 21 too, so he’s pretty raw too. In the T20 World Cup he was exceptional. But as the tournament went on, he didn’t get the wickets he normally gets.

“So it’s up to him to keep evolving and make sure he beats the others.”

Avishka Fernando

Right-handed striker Avishka Fernando burst onto the scene at the 2019 ODI World Cup, impressing with his attacking play and his century against West Indies.

However, the 23-year-old has struggled to perform consistently since, especially in the T20Is where his batting average is just 12.50 over 30 games.

But Arnold thinks there’s a lot to like about Fernando, who will take on more responsibility at the top of the order in Kusal Perera’s absence.

“I’d like to see Avishka Fernando take control now that he’s at the top of the order,” Arnold said.

He’s an instinctive player, but he hasn’t been consistent enough.

“When he starts he’s really good to watch. Australians will enjoy watching him.

“If he goes there, that means there are no issues with race pace either. And with a lot of young guys around, that can be important for them to settle in.”

Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara

While Hasaranga and Theekshana will be important, this Sri Lankan attack does not depend on bowlers.

In Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara, the Lankans have two bowlers capable of pushing the speed gun to more than 140 km/h.

Chameera, 30, took seven wickets at the T20 World Cup and Kumara, 24, took eight.

“Early in his (Chameera) career, he was plagued with injuries,” Arnold said.

“But in recent years, in the past two years, he’s stayed fit and he’s improved. Not only has his pace increased, but he’s got the variations that he does in the toughest moments.

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“So seeing him in those conditions will be exciting.”

However, given their pace, using the two in tandem has proven costly for Sri Lanka in the past.

Kumara played a T20I on Sri Lanka’s last tour here in 2019 and conceded 49 runs from his four overs.

“They would like to use Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara together. And they tried that in the T20 World Cup. But good players, if you are predictable, they will take you.”

“So if Kumara has been able to improve he will definitely be there, with Chameera trying to ruffle the Aussie batsman.

“You’d like to think Hasaranga, Kumara, Chameera, Theekshana; they’ll all be wicket takers, so it’s an attacking formation.”

Dettol T20 Series vs. Sri Lanka 2022

Australia team: Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head*, Moises Henriques, Josh Inglis, Ben McDermott, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Daniel Sams, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Adam Zampa * unavailable for the first three games

Sri Lankan team: Dasun Shanaka (c), Charith Asalanka, Avishka Fernando, Pathum Nissanka, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Chamika Karunaratne, Janith Liyanage, Kamil Mishara, Ramesh Mendis, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara, Nuwan Thushara, Dushmantha Chameera, Binura Fernando , Maheesh Theekshana, Jeffrey Vandersay, Praveen Jayawickrama, Shiran Fernando

February 11: Premier T20, SCG, 7:10 p.m. AEDT

February 13: second T20, SCG, 7:10 p.m. AEDT

February 15: Third T20, Manuka Oval, 7:10 p.m. AEDT

Feb. 18: Fourth T20, MCG, 7:10 p.m. AEDT

February 20: Fifth T20, MCG, 7:10 p.m. AEDT

All matches broadcast exclusively on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports. Radio coverage by ABC Tribune

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