Sri Lanka name best-available squad for first Test
Sri Lanka have picked their best-available squad for the first Test in Galle after the contracts crisis that threatened to derail the home series against Bangladesh was brought to a swift resolution. Chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya, who facilitated the resolution, and his panel, has chosen four uncapped Test players in the squad of 16, in keeping with the panel's vision for building a young team.
Batsmen Kithuruwan Vithanage and Kushal Janith Perera, both 22, have been named in a Test squad for the first time, as has legspinning allrounder Jeevan Mendis. Nineteen-year-old offspinner Tharindu Kaushal is the other uncapped player in the squad, though he had been in a Test squad once before, without playing a match. All four players have been in form in Sri Lanka's ongoing first-class league, while Vithanage sealed his place in the squad with an unbeaten 168 from 165 balls against a full-strength Bangladesh attack, in the tour match in Matara.
Ajantha Mendis, who last played a Test in May 2011, has also been recalled to the side.
All but one of the 23 players who had been locked out for 24 hours by Sri Lanka Cricket over the weekend have on Monday, signed the original contracts SLC had issued to them. Only Mahela Jayawardene has not yet signed, but he is expected to do so as soon as he returns to the country. Jayawardene was not considered for this series as he is nursing a fractured finger, while fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep also misses out through injury.
Thilan Samaraweera has been omitted from the final squad, despite having been drafted into the preliminary squad after Jayawardene's injury ruled him out of the series. Samaraweera had a woeful tour of Australia, scoring only 79 runs in 6 innings, but has since been prolific in first-class cricket. He has made 464 runs at an average of 92.8 in four matches in the Premier League Tournament.
Offspinner Suraj Randiv is the other major omission, having been Sri Lanka's second Test spinner for throughout 2012, but indifferent form at the top level has resulted in him losing his place. Ajantha Mendis, who replaces him, has also had recent success in domestic cricket, while Kaushal's debut domestic season has been phenomenal in all formats. He leads the league with 41 wickets from five matches at 14.02 apiece, and has six five-wicket and two ten-wicket hauls to his name.
Among the new batsmen, both Perera and Jeevan Mendis have made double-hundreds in the last three weeks, while Vithanage has an average of 75.25 over five innings.
Fast bowler Dhammika Prasad cannot find a place in the squad, having played two Tests on the tour of Australia, but Suranga Lakmal, who arrived as a replacement, retains his place. Shaminda Eranga and Chanaka Welegedara have also been named.
The two-Test series against Bangladesh will be Angelo Mathews' first assignment as Test captain. The first Test begins on Friday March 8, with the second to be played at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
Squad: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (vice-capt, wicketkeeper), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kumar Sangakkara, Lahiru Thirimanne, Shaminda Eranga, Kushal Janith Perera, Jeevan Mendis, Kithuruwan Vithanage, Ajantha Mendis, Nuwan Kulasekara, Chanaka Welegedera, Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath, Tharindu Kaushal.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here