Sri Lanka pick uncapped Thikshila de Silva for SA T20Is
Uncapped batting allrounder Thikshila de Silva has been named in Sri Lanka's squad for the T20 series against South Africa, which starts from January 20. Thikshila is yet to play international cricket in any format; the other new member of the T20 squad is the left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan, who has played three Tests and an ODI.
Legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay, who impressed in the World T20 last year, has been left out in favour of Seekkuge Prasanna, who also offers hitting power. Fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera has been omitted as well, while seamers Isuru Udana and Nuwan Kulasekara have earned recalls. The other major omissions are wicketkeeper-batsman Kusal Perera, and allrounders Thisara Perera (who is currently playing in the Big Bash League) and Dasun Shanaka.
Thikshila, 23, has largely been picked on potential and on his reputation as a clean striker of the ball for Chilaw Marians. In 15 domestic T20 innings so far, he has hit 15 sixes and as many fours, collecting his 218 runs at a strike rate of 144. A left-handed batsman, Thikshila also bowls right-arm seam, and has six T20 wickets and an economy rate of 8.38. Though there has been no domestic T20 cricket in Sri Lanka since last February, he hit a run-a-ball 92 against SSC in the most recent round of the Premier League Tournament, which began on January 6.
Though largely considered a long-format bowler, it is perhaps Sandakan's ability to turn the ball away from the left-handed batsmen that has earned him his selection, with Prasanna already in the squad, along with left-arm spinning allrounder Sachith Pathirana. Sandakan made a promising start to his Test career last year, but only has 16 domestic T20 wickets and an economy rate of 8.74 across 15 appearances.
Kulasekara's return to the T20 squad was expected, after he had appeared to reclaim some of his old rhythm and inswing in the recent ODI tri-series against Zimbabwe. He had had a long, ineffective run in 2015, and had been dropped from both limited-overs sides. Udana - a T20 specialist with a number of slower balls - Suranga Lakmal, and Nuwan Pradeep make up the remaining frontline seam options.
Save for Kusal Perera's omission, there were no major surprises on the batting front. Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Asela Gunaratne and Niroshan Dickwella are be among those who will be considered for top-order spots, with captain Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal likely to feature in the XI.
Kusal Perera's omission appears to be largely due to lack of form. In four ODI innings during the Zimbabwe tri-series, he had scores of 21, 4, 7 and 14. He also collected single-figure scores in the first Test against South Africa, and was subsequently dropped from the Test XI.
A bout of dengue before Christmas slowed Lasith Malinga's efforts to regain match fitness, leaving him unavailable for the T20Is and ODIs in South Africa. He will now only attempt to return in time for the three-match T20 series against Australia, scheduled to begin on February 17
The first of the three T20s against South Africa is set to be played on January 20 in Centurion.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando