Sri Lanka XI
ESPNcricinfo picks the best Test teams of all time


Murali and the rest

The world's leading wicket-taker, his likely successor, and three from the 80s

Sa'adi Thawfeeq

March 22, 2010

Comments: 45 | Text size: A | A

Ajantha Mendis bowls at training, Nagpur, December 17, 2009
Mendis: likely to inherit Murali's mantle © AFP

One area where Sri Lanka has never been short of talent is spin. Since the time of Tommy Kelaart, regarded as the greatest left-arm spinner the country has ever produced, Sri Lanka has had a surplus in the department. From the time he made his debut, in 1890, Kelaart destroyed all opposition with his accuracy. He was the first bowler to take 1000 wickets in club cricket, and when he ended his career at 55 in 1926, he had over 2000 wickets. Kelaart was followed by Lucien De Zoysa, a legspinner who figured prominently in the national teams of the 1940s and 1950s. Another legspinner, Gamini Goonesena, divided his time between representing his country and playing for Cambridge University, Nottinghamshire and New South Wales till the 60s.

Throughout the 60s up until the mid-70s, spinners like Abu Fuard, Neil Chanmugam (offspinners), Anurudda Polonowita, Fitzroy Crozier (left-arm spinners) and Somachandra De Silva (legspin) dominated the game. De Silva was part of a three-pronged spin attack - along with offspinner Lalith Kaluperuma and left-arm spinner Ajit de Silva - that formed the nucleus of Sri Lanka's bowling in the early years after they got Test status. While Kaluperuma and Ajit de Silva cut short their budding careers by undertaking an illegal tour to South Africa and receiving 25-year bans, Somachandra continued till the mid-80s before the national selectors decided that it was time to start grooming young spinners.

Of the lot, left-arm spinner Don Anurasiri was the best, but he was not a match-winner. It was not until the arrival of Muttiah Muralitharan in 1992 that Sri Lanka had a spinner who could rattle entire teams with his unique brand of bowling. Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who bowled Sri Lanka to victory in the home series against Pakistan and New Zealand last year, missed out narrowly in the list of those in the running.

The contenders

Somachandra De Silva
De Silva worked hard to emerge as his country's leading legspinner, and he is still to be matched. He was unfortunate that his talents could not be displayed for a longer period at Test level because by the time his country were awarded Test status he was nearing his forties. He took 37 wickets in 12 Tests before retiring at 42.

Muttiah Muralitharan
The first wrist-spinning offspinner in the history of the game. Murali's super-flexible hand has made him especially potent and guaranteed him turn on any surface. Never has one country depended so on a single bowler for success in all formats of the game. Murali is used to bowling marathon spells, and despite the controversy that has surrounded his bowling action, he has etched his name in the record books as the leading wicket-taker in Tests and ODIs. He is the first player to take 1000 wickets combined in the two formats.

Ajit de Silva
De Silva was a highly rated left-arm orthodox spinner who failed to live up to expectations in the four Tests he played for his country and ended his career by going on a rebel tour to South Africa less than a year after Sri Lanka had become a Test-playing nation. It was hoped he would form a lethal spin combination with Somachandra De Silva during the country's formative years in Test cricket, but that not to be.

Ajantha Mendis
Mendis made a startling entry to international cricket baffling all batsmen with his crafty bowling, which comprised a variety of deliveries: googly, offbreak, topspinner, flipper, legbreak, as well as the carrom ball, released with a flick of his middle finger. In a short span Mendis was posing questions to the batsmen with his unpredictability. In his debut Test series, against India, he took 26 wickets, beating Alec Bedser's record by two. Although batsmen have begun to play him with more ease now, he still remains a dangerous bowler and the likely successor to Murali.

Don Anurasiri
Anurasiri was Sri Lanka's first-choice slow bowler from the late 80s to the mid-90s but never a permanent fixture in the side. Although he made his Test debut at 20, he never took a five-wicket haul in any of his 18 Tests. But he was successful in containing batsmen, especially on unresponsive wickets. A whole-hearted performer, Anurasiri lacked the penetration to become a match-winner in the side.

We'll be publishing an all-time Sri Lanka XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your spinners click here

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Posted by Tambapani on (March 25, 2010, 9:27 GMT)

Since my last post I had the opportunity to look up Daya Sahabandu on Google and found this link: for those interested in our formative years of the late sixtees and seventees it is really precious: The match I referred to was in 1969 and included amongst others Colin Cowdrey and Tom Graveneyin addition to Edrich. I reproduce a quote on Sahabandu courtesy Premasara Epasinghe from the above article: "Your left arm bowler Daya Sahabandu, is easily the best I have faced in my 20 years of big cricket. I am positive, he should be able to find a place in any county side in England. No bowler could have bowled so well as he did on that plumb placid wicket", stated England's Tom Graveney, after scoring a century against Sri Lanka in Colombo. It is aslo noteworthy that Daya batted for over 4 hours at n0 7 in making 32 n.o. in our unofficial Test against India at Hyderabad in 1975 facing the likes of Bedi, Prasanna and Chadrasekhera.

Posted by Tambapani on (March 25, 2010, 8:36 GMT)

I think a very important left arm spinner has been overlooked: our equivalent to Derek Underwood, no other than Daya Sahabandu. I saw him bowl against an English team somewhere in the late sixtees that included amongst others John Edrich and Daya had some fantastic figures for the number of consecutive maidens bowled !!

I am surprised that he had been left out as one of our pannelists, Mahinda Wijesinghe, knows Daya well.

Posted by cricketchopper on (March 24, 2010, 11:50 GMT)

MY PREDICTION: Jury is going to select the following team: 1), Sanath 2)Atapatu, 3)Mahela, 4)Arvinda, 5)Ranatunga(c), 6)Sangakara (W), 7)Vaas, 8)Ramesh Tatnayeke, 9)Malinga, 10)Murlidharan, 11)Mandis.

MY TEAM: 1.Atapatu 2.Sanath 3.Dilshan 4.Arvinda 5.Mahela 6.Rana 7.Sanga 8.Vaas 9.VB Johan 10.Malinga 11.Murlitharan

Posted by   on (March 24, 2010, 11:48 GMT)

I will chose Murali and Ajith. This will give a left arm right arm combination to work with. (Just like Malinga and Vaas). Interestingly there is no photograph of him in the article. Say What? Ajith failed to live to expectations in the 4 matches he played!!!!!. Well anybody who saw him play may have a different opinion. How many overs was he given in those matches?. Who were the batsmen he took out including Gooch, Tavare, Fletcher(Considered the destroyer of spinners by many at the time). I think Somachandra might tell how Ajith made the preasure from the other end. However if he played more tests we would have seen his true colours, unfortunately just like Mahes he went to SA and the fans lost a great player.

Posted by DwightR on (March 24, 2010, 1:03 GMT)

i agree that outside of Vaas and Murali, SL is lacking true world class elite bowlers but saying that how can some people say that dilshan and mendis are too new and havent done enough so far but still want to include mathews..angelo mathews is my fav. player and i belive is the next great elite all-rounder and sanga's successor as SL captain but he is in the same boat, way to early to include him in anything.

Posted by sarathkumar2003 on (March 23, 2010, 15:04 GMT)

Its ridiculous, the spin wizard has come down to number two, and also KumarDarmasena is excluded in the list, who gave a great support to murali, in 90's

Posted by NALINWIJ on (March 23, 2010, 14:49 GMT)

Picking the greatest team cannot be achieved by picking the best individuals fitting the 5 batsmen,WK,3pacemen and 2spinner formula. You need balance, depth and flexibility under different pitches. In the absence of a genuine allrounder you need 6 specialist batsmen which would exclude a genuine WK. Apart from Vaas and Murali there are no great bowlers. The second spinner in this list involves 3 men who were not penetrative and MENDIS who has faded after great start and the idea of 2or3 part timers may be as effective and Thilan could bowl offspin. My revised team is 1.sanath 2.Attapattu 3.Sanga 4.Aravinda 5.Mahela [captain]6.Thilan 7.Prasanna[WK] 8.Vaas 9. Rumesh 10.Malinga 11.Murali and12.Mendis or Matthews could be substituted depending on the pitch. I will stick with the same ODI team 1.Sanath 2, Dilshan,3.Sanga[WK] 4.Aravinda 5.Mahela 6.Arjuna[captain]7.Matthews 8.Vaas 9.Malinga 10.Murali 11.Mendis

Posted by PHANTOM-X on (March 23, 2010, 11:33 GMT)

This is bull shit...!!! Rangana Herath is a quality spin bowler...He is not in the list... Kumar Dharmasena, Upul Chandana and Sanath Jayasuriya are also not there...

Posted by   on (March 23, 2010, 10:28 GMT)

My choice : Murali and Herath

Posted by Sampath_KCS on (March 23, 2010, 9:37 GMT)

Murali will be the number one choice.But there are quite a few who mentioned & not mentioned by Sa'adi for the second spot. Don A was not a match winner of course, but he was a partnership breaker. Have heard lot about S De Silva. As I always say it was after 1992 Aussie tour the test drought ended for SL thanks to late Tyronne Fernando who was then President of BCCSL. During this era we witnessed quite a few promising spinners in the likes of Warnaweera,Kalpage, Dharmasena, Jayantha Silva,Upul Chandana who made marathon bowling spells with Murali. There were super spinners like Nimesh Perera in the domestic circuit who never represented SL. I think Ajantha has long way to go & too early to take no.2 . I do not agree with the inclusion of ADe Silva since he was banned from the gentleman's game after SA tour on disciplinary grounds. Same with Bandula Warnapura & I wish Saddi would not short list him for the best captain.

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Sri Lanka Jury

Ranil Abeynaike
Former left-arm spinner and middle-order batsman. Captained Sri Lanka A against Australia in 1983. Former curator at the SSC in Colombo and national curator and school coach. Currently a commentator.
XI: Jayasuriya, Atapattu, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Aravinda de Silva, Ranatunga, Somachandra de Silva, de Mel, Vaas, Rumesh Ratnayake, Muralitharan
Russel Arnold
Russel Arnold
Played 44 Tests and 180 ODIs for Sri Lanka between 1997 and 2007 as an opener, lower middle-order batsman and offbreak bowler. Now a commentator and columnist.
XI: Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Dias, Sangakkara, Aravinda De Silva, Jayawardene, Ranatunga, Vaas, Rumesh Ratnayake, Muralitharan, Malinga
Ranjit Fernando
Ranjit Fernando
Played ODIs for Sri Lanka in the 1975 World Cup. After retirement, has served as an administrator, national coach, selector and manager. Currently a commentator.
XI: Jayasuriya, Atapattu, Dias, Aravinda De Silva, Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Ranatunga, Vaas, Somachandra de Silva, Rumesh Ratnayake, Muralitharan
Ranjan Madugalle
Ranjan Madugalle
Played 21 Tests (in two of which he captained) and 63 ODIs between 1979 and 1988. Was appointed an ICC match referee in 1993, and in 2001 was appointed the first chief referee.
XI: Jayasuriya, Atapattu, Dias, Aravinda De Silva, Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Ravi Ratnayeke, Somachandra de Silva, Vaas, Rumesh Ratnayake, Muralitharan
Palitha Perera
Palitha Perera
Journalist and cricket commentator since 1963; widely held to be Sri Lanka's first to commentate in Sinhala.
XI: Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Sangakkara, Aravinda de Silva, Jayawardene, Gurusinha, Ranatunga, Vass, Rumesh Ratnayake, Muralitharan, Ajit de Silva
Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts
Author-compiler of the anthology, Essaying Cricket: Sri Lanka and Beyond. Historian and former teacher at Peradeniya University and Adelaide University.
XI: Wettimuny, Dilshan, Dias, Aravinda de Silva, Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Ranatunga, Rumesh Ratnayake, de Mel, Ajit de Silva, Muralitharan
Sa'adi Thawfeeq
Sa'adi Thawfeeq
Among Sri Lanka's most senior sports journalists. Has covered over 125 Test matches played by Sri Lanka, including all their home Tests. Presently sports editor of the Nation newspaper.
XI: Jayasuriya, Atapattu, Sangakkara, Aravinda de Silva, Jayawardene, Ranatunga, Goonatilleke, Vaas, de Mel, Muralitharan, Malinga
Sidath Wettimuny
Sidath Wettimuny
Scored Sri Lanka's first Test century, against Pakistan. Served as a match referee after retirement and also as Sri Lanka's chairman of selectors.
XI: Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Dias, Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Goonatilleke, Vaas, de Mel, Ajit de Silva, Muralitharan
Mahinda Wijesinghe
Mahinda Wijesinghe
Journalist. Author of Sri Lanka Cricket - At the High Table. Helped develop a device used in experiments to prove the legality of Muttiah Muralitharan's bowling action.
XI: Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Dias, Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Ranatunga, Ravi Ratnayeke, Vaas, Rumesh Ratnayake, Muralitharan
Daminda Wijesuriya
Daminda Wijesuriya
Professional sportswriter for the last 20 years. Has covered more than 90 Test matches and over 200 ODIs in Sri Lanka and overseas. Sports editor of a leading national daily newspaper in Sri Lanka for the last 15 years.
XI: Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Aravinda de Silva, Ranatunga, Vaas, de Mel, Rumesh Ratnayake, Mendis, Muralitharan

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