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Andrew Fidel Fernando
March 29, 2013
Although Sri Lanka's pace reserves have struggled to produce quality in recent years, hurt by a spate of serious injuries, a bevy of burgeoning spinners has begun to vie for long-term places in the national team.
19-year-old Akila Dananjaya had a successful introduction to international cricket during the World Twenty20 last year, but has been used with utmost care and consideration, owing to his extreme inexperience. 20-year-old Tharindu Kaushal has amassed a staggering pile of domestic scalps in his debut season, but despite having been in the Test squad for two tours, he is yet to make an international appearance. Others like Suraj Randiv and Ajantha Mendis were picked on early promise, but have since lost their way in international cricket - though each of them is only one emphatic domestic season away from drawing interest again.
The latest spinner to emerge from the peloton to make a dash for the top limited-overs spinner's spot is 28-year-old Sachithra Senanayake. A tall offspinner with a relaxed approach to the crease, a reputation for taking heavy hauls, and the record to go with it, he has recently seen his career surge, in more ways than one. He had played for Sri Lanka in a handful of limited-overs matches early in 2012, but in South Africa and in Australia, his returns ranged from modest to mediocre, and after a three-month stretch as a regular, he was replaced by several of the competing spin bowlers.
This year, though, a jaw-dropping $625,000 offer from Kolkata Knight Riders for the 2013 IPL brought Senanayake back into the limelight, and a strong first-class season earned him a recall into a national side looking to embed future stars. His first ODI against Bangladesh brought him only one wicket for 46 runs, but in Pallekele on Thursday night, he was Sri Lanka's best bowler by a distance, taking 2 for 26 from six overs.
"For about a year I didn't have the opportunity to come into the national team," Senanayake said. "But I did well in the provincial and domestic matches that I had to play, so that's probably why I'm in the team again. I didn't lose hope of getting back into the team and I performed well and showed that I'm good enough.
"I have more variations now than I did when I first played for Sri Lanka. I think I'll be able to do well because of those changes. Before, I just bowled the offbreak and the one that goes straight on. Now I have two more - one that goes the other way, and one that keeps low."
Senanayake was also handed a central contract at the beginning of the month, despite not having played since August 2012, at the international level. The contract is an indication that Sri Lanka's new selection panel has high hopes from him, and will grant him time to mature at the top level.
"I'm very thankful to the selection committee, because they didn't choose players on a whim," he said. "They've been watching cricketers for a while, and if they were performing well, [they saw] how long they had been doing well for. They've followed players closely and then categorised them, which is great."
Senanayake has been one of the most consistent spinners in domestic cricket, and his resurgence was built upon an exceptional List A season, in which he reaped 18 wickets at an average of 11.16. He was also among the top four wicket-takers in this year's first-class competition, with 49 wickets at 16.32. He is the only specialist spinner in the young Twenty20 squad named for the one-off match against Bangladesh.
He feels that having bowled on an SSC pitch, which is better suited to batting than many in the country, he has had to work hard to earn his wickets, and that that experience will hold him in good stead when playing for Sri Lanka.
"In international cricket, even in Sri Lanka, you don't get as many spin-friendly wickets as in the domestic circuit here," he said. "If you look at the SSC pitch though, it is one of the best batting tracks in the country. Because of that, I don't feel a big change when we play international cricket, and I think I'll be able to do well."
He is aware, however, that there are exciting, young players on the scene who have not evaded the selectors' gaze either. Senanayake may have an SLC contract, while many of them don't, but there is little room to lag. After the Twenty20 on Sunday, Sri Lanka's next assignment is the Champions Trophy in England, where Senanayake may be tasked with carrying the spin burden, given most pitches are unlikely to warrant fielding two slow bowlers.
"It's great the amount of competition that we have at the moment, because when there is a group of players behind me who are also pushing for players, I know that I have to do better than them. With that level of competition, if I don't do well in two or three games, I can't be certain of my place in the team. I have to constantly be on top of my game to earn selection for the next match."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
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