West Indies A in Sri Lanka 2005 June 22, 2005

Opportunity knocks for A team players

Dilhara Fernando: hoping to put himself back in contention for a Test place © Getty Images
Seldom does an A tour act as a forerunner to a Test series. That unexpected opportunity has been given to 29 cricketers from Sri Lanka and West Indies when the first of three four-day unofficial Tests starts at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium tomorrow.

The 14 players named for Sri Lanka A and the 15 that comprise the West Indies A squad are being given the chance of making the maximum use of the series. They have the opportunity to enhance their chances of getting selected for the senior teams ahead of the two Test series between Sri Lanka and West Indies, which is scheduled to start on July 15.

The players certainly won't be short of motivation knowing full well that all they have to do is to produce some eye-catching performances with bat and ball to attract the selectors' attention.

From the Sri Lankan side there is a lot to prove for players like skipper Russel Arnold fast bowler Dilhara Fernando and Kaushal Lokuarachchi, the legspinner. They have been drifting in and out of the senior team for various reasons ranging from lack of form to injuries. Then there are the fringe players such as Jehan Mubarak, Michael Vandort, Prasanna Jayawardene, Avishka Gunawardena and Gayan Wijekoon who need to show consistency at this level to gain selection into the senior side.

Sri Lanka A are beset with a few injury problems and have put back finalising their final XI until the morning of the match. Fernando who had recovered from a long standing back injury, and had been bowling well in the practice games, is fighting a bout of flu. Ian Daniel, the opening batsman, will undergo a fitness test after dislocating his right finger, during the three-day practice game, at the R. Premadasa Stadium last week.

Lalith Kaluperuma, the chairman of selectors, explained that in the event of Daniel failing the fitness test Vandort would move up to open with Gunawardena and Malintha Gajanayake would fill the middle-order slot. Kaluperuma said: "Daniel may not have a problem batting, but the question is whether he is able to field with an injured finger."

Fernando, who bowled in the nets yesterday despite running a temperature, is expected to be fit to spearhead a three-pronged seam attack. This would leave the selectors with the choice of who to leave out between newcomer Danushka Lokuhettige and Priyankara Silva with Wijekoon taking on the role of the second seamer.

Silva is a late addition to the squad, replacing Test fast bowler Ruchira Perera, who is awaiting a disciplinary inquiry on his behaviour during a practice session. Unfortunately for Perera the inquiry was not held as scheduled on Wednesday, following the sudden death of the chairman of the disciplinary committee Walwin Goonatillake.

The Sri Lanka A bowling line-up is expected to comprise three seamers and two spinners. The spinners vying for places are Lokuarachchi, offspinner Suraj Mohamed and left-arm spinner Sajeewa Weerakoon.

As West Indies A captain Daren Ganga indicated at the press conference, on Monday, there are several players in his side also vying for places in the West Indies Test team. With the West Indies selectors leaving room for two players to be included from the A squad, by choosing only 13 for the Sri Lanka tour, there is bound to be stiff competition among individual players.

One hopes that selfishness does not creep into their play for places at the expense of team performances. And that applies to both sides.

Sri Lanka A (from) Russel Arnold (capt), Avishka Gunawardena, Ian Daniel, Michael van Dort, Jehan Mubarak, Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), Gayan Wijekoon, Kaushal Lokuarachchi, Suraj Mohamed, Dilhara Fernando, Priyankara Silva, Danushka Lokuhettige, Sajeeva Weerakoon, Malintha Gajanayake.

West Indies A (from) Daren Ganga (capt), Narsingh Deonarine, Carlton Baugh (wk), Ryan Ramdass, Xavier Marshall, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Smith, Runako Morton, Dave Bernard jnr, Dave Mohammed, Nikita Miller, Dwight Washington, Tino Best, Jermaine Lawson, Kerry Jeremy.