Kaluwitharana bets big on young SL trio
Following the retirements of senior players like Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara after the 2015 World Cup, Sri Lanka set their sights on the the home series against Pakistan A to scout for replacements. Sri Lanka 'A' won the three-match one-day series 2-1 and drew the three unofficial Tests, two of which were affected by bad weather.
"The three of them are good players. Kusal and Kithuruwan were outstanding in the series. Even though Ashan didn't score much he will come up very fast. They will make the Sri Lanka team very soon," Kaluwitharana said.
All the three have represented Sri Lanka, but their appearances have been sporadic. "Kusal was simply brilliant throughout the whole series, averaging more than 100 in the ODIs and 150 in the unofficial Tests," Kaluwitharana said. "His positive batting was one of the reasons for the team performing well, but overall everyone contributed.
"On the final day of the third 'Test' the captain Ashan Priyanjan and Kithuruwan batted brilliantly. That partnership saved the innings and then Kusal came to the party."
In comparison to Perera and Vithanage, Priyanjan had a rather lean series with the bat scoring only a fifty apiece in both formats. Kaluwitharana didn't feel captaincy was a reason for his poor form.
"This is not the first time he has captained the 'A' side; he has done that before on the last tour to England. It's not a big burden for him," he said. "Technically he doesn't have any issues, he got run-out once. Those kinds of periods a cricketer goes through. He is a great act; it's a matter of getting runs on the board. I have a lot of faith with his ability to perform."
Kaluwitharana lauded the performances of his team against a strong Pakistan 'A' side. "We played a very good and experienced Pakistan side which had about 6-7 Test and ODI players whereas we had a very young side," he said.
Kaluwitharana, however, cautioned against pushing the players too early into the senior team before they were ready. "Looking at the new players who had the opportunity for the first time, they showed a lot of promise and talent. They need to be looked at more regularly and given more opportunities and time for them to get adjusted to playing at international level," Kaluwitharana said.
"We need more tours like this to gauge the consistency of the players; we can't gauge them in one series. It's not only batting and bowling but how they handle pressure, how they feel and how they contribute to the side.
"When they continue to play more matches in the 'A' side they will become more comfortable and confident when they are called up to play in the senior side. If you throw them to the deep end straight away they might drown and may never swim again."
Kaluwitharana said Sri Lanka were fortunate that at the moment there wasn't much pressure for new players to be introduced.
"We are looking at new players more (for the) long term because we have a lot of good players in the current senior side. It will be good if we can produce at least one or two players for a year who can be standby replacements for the senior team. It's a good thing to have players shadowing the national players because it keeps the national player on edge to perform better, to focus more and give more than 150 percent to the team.
Kaluwitharana also praised the efforts of the bowlers. "It was a fair call by everyone to give good decent wickets which had some bounce and pace and our boys bowled a better line and length than Pakistan's experienced fast bowlers. Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Gamage bowled brilliantly throughout the series. For me they are quite ready to take the next step to the senior side. Fast bowling coach Champaka Ramanayake was quite pleased with their performances. Their fitness levels, attitude and performance levels have improved tremendously.
"Of the spinners (Tharindu) Kaushal has improved a lot from where he was. He is getting more confident day by day. With his ability to turn the ball he will be a very good prospect for the future."
In October, Sri Lanka 'A' is due to tour New Zealand ahead of the senior team's visit in December. "That will be a good tour because we are playing before the start of their summer in conditions which we don't experience here."