Uncapped fast bowler Vikum Sanjaya was the surprise inclusion in Sri Lanka's Test squad to South Africa, which also sees the return of captain Angelo Mathews, wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Chandimal, and fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera.
Batsman Upul Tharanga, who made a successful return to Tests on the tour of Zimbabwe, was also named, but there was no place for allrounder Asela Gunaratne, who had also impressed in that series. Wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella was left out too.
Among the five specialist quicks in the squad, also, is 19-year-old Lahiru Kumara, who made his Test debut in Zimbabwe, and Nuwan Pradeep, who made his return from injury during the ODI leg of that tour. Suranga Lakmal rounds out the pace contingent. Dhammika Prasad is unavailable due to having recently undergone shoulder surgery.
Sanjaya, now 24, had played in Sri Lanka's Under-19 team, and though inexperienced at the first-class level, has been on the top-level coaches' radar for some time. Bowling at speeds of around 135 kph, it is Sanjaya's outswing that had caught the coaches' attention. He had been among the wickets in Sri Lanka's recent Mercantile Tournament, and more recently, picked up 6 for 73 in Burgher Recreation Club's first first-class match of the season. All told, he has 38 wickets at an average of 33.78 from 17 first-class games.
"Vikum is a player we have been watching for some time, and a player who has done well in domestic and mercantile cricket," chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya said. "He's also been in our 20-man fast-bowling academy squads. We thought he was bowling very well at the moment, so we should give him an opportunity. And for a young fast bowler, South Africa is one of the best places to tour."
Aside, perhaps, from Gunaratne's exclusion, there were no major surprises elsewhere in the squad. Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva are set to open the batting again. The middle order of Kusal Mendis, Mathews, Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva, which had been successful during the home series against Australia, is set to stay in place. Kusal Perera will be considered for the No. 3 position again, and Tharanga is likely to be the reserve batsman.
The selectors also opted for experience in the spin department; offspinner Dilruwan Perera picked ahead of younger wristspinners Lakshan Sandakan and Jeffrey Vandersay, to partner Rangana Herath.
The return of both Chameera and Pradeep are a significant boon to the squad - that is if they can stay fit until the Tests begin. Chameera had sustained a stress fracture in the Headingley Test in May, and has been unavailable for Tests since then. He claimed match figures of 2 for 76 on a spin-friendly Nondescripts Cricket Club track in the last week, getting through 23 overs in total. Pradeep, meanwhile, had been laid low by a recurring hamstring injury, but had been sporadically effective in his comeback ODI series in Zimbabwe last month.
Mathews, who had also been unavailable due to multiple leg injuries, will return to reclaim the captaincy from Herath, who had stood in during the 2-0 win over Zimbabwe. Chandimal has also recovered from his broken hand, and appears likeliest to take the wicketkeeping gloves.
The team will leave Colombo on December 10, and is set to play a three-day warm-up match in Potchefstroom starting on December 18. The first of the three Tests begins in Port Elizabeth on Boxing Day, before the action moves to Cape Town, and Johannesburg.