Mathews happy to spin the wheel on Kusal
As controversy surrounding James Packer's proposed casino venture in Sri Lanka settles into the background of presidential election campaigns, the nation's cricketers have been conducting some risky business of their own.
Kusal Perera trades on the swashbuckling starts that lurch Sri Lanka toward victory. But while Sri Lanka have plonked themselves down on the roulette table, and placed big bets on Kusal at times in the last month, it has seemed like they are playing the hazardous Russian equivalent of the game. In five of his last six innings, Kusal has not made double figures. In three of those games, he collected ducks.
His 59 in the first ODI was his first half-century in 13 attempts, but captain Angelo Mathews suggested Kusal's payouts are great enough to endure those long odds. No changes to the opening partnership were expected for the fourth ODI, though Mahela Jayawardene has expressed a desire to open in the past month.
"We have a couple of options, but Kusal is a unique player," Mathews said. "He batted really well in the first game. It was not his natural game in the first game - he tried to hang in there in the first few overs, and then took off after that. But I think if he gets going he gets really good starts for us. We want to give him a couple of opportunities, to see if he goes well. He works really hard in the nets and we trust him and have faith that he will deliver."
Mathews' and the selectors' opposition to Jayawardene opening the innings has been founded on a fear that his promotion top-loads Sri Lanka's experience, and leaves the middle-order exposed. Kusal's retention in the squad for the fourth and fifth ODIs is indication that the selectors hope he can come good.
"Still the option for Mahela to go up the order is open," Mathews said. "We just don't want to take that chance at the moment. We hope to try and give Kusal the opportunity. We've got Sanga, Mahela, myself and Thirimanne, and we've got used to those roles. We don't want to change a lot in those areas."
As he bats in the middle order for Colts Cricket Club, Kusal's potential eviction from the top does not necessarily mean he will be dropped. "He's one of those guys who can bat from No. 1 to No. 7, and that's why we are having faith in him - because we know he can change the game," Mathews said.
But while Sri Lanka are gambling on Kusal, they are holding their cards close to their chest with another young player. Rookie chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan was a surprise selection in the ODI squad and, although he has not been a fixture in Sri Lanka's A team over the past year, may be a contender for a World Cup place, Mathews said. Sandakan, 23, was the top wicket-taker in Sri Lanka's 2014 first-class season, and has been a regular net bowler for the national side's training sessions.
"Sandakan is one of our options for the World Cup," Mathews said. "No one has seen him yet, and he looks a very good prospect for Sri Lanka. He's got so many variations of his own. He lands it in the right spot - his accuracy is quite good for his age. We're not afraid to give him the opportunity. We've looked at him seriously in the past few months, and he looks good.
"He was in the system, but he hasn't played that many games in the first-class arena. We thought that he has some kind of mystery in him. We didn't wait for the last moment, but we will wait for the right time - and that can be the last moment as well."
While Mathews suggested Thilina Kandamby's World Cup prospects were slim, thanks largely to his weak fielding, Lasith Malinga's recovery from ankle surgery has been progressing on schedule,
"Lasith has been training quite hard in the gym, and also doing a bit of running. He started bowling recently, so that's good for all of us. We know what kind of bowler he is - he's the best death bowler in the world. It'll be nice to have him as soon as possible."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando