Washout forces SL rethink on young players
Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lanka captain, admitted a washed-out first match will likely force the hosts to field their best XI again on Tuesday, altering earlier plans to make player development the focus of the last two games of the series against New Zealand.
Before the tour, Mathews had said Sri Lanka would seek a series victory before entertaining thoughts of blooding new talent, but chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya suggested before the first game that he would like to try new players sooner.
Middle-order batsman Ashan Priyanjan, opener Kusal Perera and fast bowler Suranga Lakmal have all been earmarked as future players, but did not find a place in the top XI, while even two young batsmen who make the team batted well out of position. Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne would likely have moved up the order, displacing the senior batsmen, if Sri Lanka had won the first match convincingly.
"We were thinking of making a change to the team after the first match, depending on what the result was," Mathews said ahead of the second game. "Now we've got to rethink that, because this match was a no-result. As I've said before, winning the series is our priority, and to do that we have to win both games."
Sri Lanka have already invested much in youth this year - Mathews' captaincy is itself a result of the policy - and Mathews has often been adamant that packing the team with young players does not benefit them or the team. Sri Lanka have already fielded a batsman who has played only two previous ODIs in Dimuth Karunaratne, and Mathews said plenty was already being done to secure the team's future.
"If you look at our batting lineup right now, apart from TM Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, the other four in the top seven are all young cricketers, so there has to be a balance. If you look at the bowling, Nuwan Kulasekara and Lasith Malinga have been doing well, so we've taken the decision to play them. The young players have to be brought into the team, but the team has to also be winning and doing well."
Opener Karunaratne was dismissed for a golden duck in the first game, but Mathews suggested the batsman deserved a longer stretch in the side, given his recent form in List A cricket. Karunaratne is also approaching a period of greater responsibility in Tests, as the retirement of Dilshan will likely result in another rookie opener joining Karunaratne.
"If you pick a player, you have to give him appropriate opportunity to show what he's got. Dimuth has been constantly among the runs for the Sri Lanka A team. He was unfortunate to be out first ball, but he's a good player and I'm confident he'll do well in the matches to come."
Mathews said he was largely pleased about Sri Lanka's total of 288 for 9 in the first match, but said they should have batted better in the last ten overs after all three seniors had been dismissed. Mathews remained unbeaten, hitting 74 from 64, but received little support from the lower middle order.
"At 40 overs we had over 210 runs , and our plan then was to go past 300. But we lost wickets and that was a setback. Chandimal and Thirimanne's wickets had a big effect on that, but in the end I was happy with the total. I think we had a great chance to win."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here