Sri Lanka mull over opening combination
After years of failing to find a partner for Tillakaratne Dilshan at the top of the order, Sri Lanka are currently faced with a logjam over the opening slots. While Niroshan Dickwella is unavailable for the T20I series against Bangladesh, the hosts have in their squad four men - each of them having trodden a different path - who can open the batting in the shortest format.
Upul Tharanga - the oldest of the four - has usually been thought of for the longer formats, but has recently unveiled a more explosive avatar to his batting. By contrast, 26-year-old Kusal Perera, the only batsman who has tasted some consistent success as a T20 opener, has not been in the best touch of late. Though he was part of the victorious World T20 campaign in Bangladesh, his form in the recent past has been somewhat shaky.
Dilshan Munaweera had an abortive first stint in the team, but has since found his way back into Sri Lankan colours via the global T20 circuit. As for the newest of their opening options, Danushka Gunathilaka has a reputation of being a live wire in the field, and can also double up as a useful part-time bowler. However, at the moment, he is trading more on potential than tangible results.
Under normal circumstances, there would be little pressure for Sri Lanka to lock down their best opening combination immediately - considering there is no world T20 tournament on the horizon. However, with both the ODI and Test series having been drawn 1-1, there is little more at stake in this series than usual.
Taking into account how the odds stack up against both teams ahead of the T20 series, Captain Tharanga said the issue of choosing the opening combination deserved a little mulling over.
"We really haven't decided on the openers, and we have to take the opposition's plans into account," Tharanga said. "They have the offspinner Mehedi Hasan, and he often opens the bowling - as we saw in the ODIs. So, that can affect the combination. And, we might also want a right-hand left-hand combination."
This suggests Munaweera is likely to open the innings, as he is the only right-handed batsman among the quartet, and as such, is best-equipped to neutralise Mehedi.
According to Tharanga, the opening combination is not the only area where Sri Lanka have options. Thanks to their recent successes - albeit against depleted opposition - Sri Lanka may head into the T20I series with a little more confidence.
"In the last two series, we beat South Africa in South Africa and Australia in Australia, which is never easy to do," Tharanga said. "They were top teams at the moment in the T20 format. We are in good shape in the T20s, and we have a lot more experience, especially with players like Lasith Malinga coming back, and Nuwan Kulasekara and Thisara Perera being there as well.
"We have explosive batsmen up the top of the order, but some firepower lower down as well in Seekkuge Prasanna and Chamara Kapugedara."
Though Tharanga revealed on Saturday that he had asked for an offspinner - Dilruwan Perera - to be added to Sri Lanka's ODI squad after the selectors had initially failed to name one, he did express support for the selectors' policy of stacking T20I sides with allrounders.
"In T20Is, a lot changes with the situation. Sometimes, if you have players that can play a few big shots and contribute with a couple of overs at the right time, it can be an advantage.
"As specialist bowlers, we've got Malinga and Kulasekara; Lakshan Sandakan as a spinner, and Seekkuge as well, who bowled all four overs in Australia. We're just looking for one or two overs from the allrounders," Tharanga said.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando