Sri Lanka in West Indies 2007-08 March 30, 2008

Jayawardene backs new faces

Thilan Thushara has received the backing of his captain Mahela Jayawardene © AFP

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, has assured Malinda Warnapura and Thilan Thusara that they can expect an extended run in the national team. Warnapura starred with scores of 120 and 62 in Sri Lanka's opening Test win by 121 runs against West Indies last week in Guyana, and Thushara offered steady support to the elite bowling duo of Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan with match figures of 5 for 129 runs from 37.5 overs.

"These two guys have played good first-class cricket back home and play a little bit of league cricket in England so know their way around the park," Jayawardene said. "We can always call them up and say this is your opportunity.

"They have waited a long time for this opportunity, and now they will get an extended run - whether they make runs or not, or whether they take wickets or not. So we have not put them under any pressure on this tour, and told them that if they fail that they will lose their place. They will get an extended run, and this is probably why they have responded to the challenge in this way."

The retirements of former captains Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu have left vacancies at the top of the Sri Lanka batting line-up that have yet to be convincingly filled. As a result, the selectors promoted Warnapura, 28, from the middle order to an opening slot on the basis of his consistency at domestic level.

He has been a regular member of the Sri Lanka A team and visited the Caribbean two years ago, when illness restricted him to three innings of 2, 8 and 11. But almost a decade after making his first-class debut, he had to wait to make his Test debut against Bangladesh at home last June. His entry into Test cricket was hardly auspicious, as he was dismissed off his first ball, and scored 82 in the second Test.

With Vaas admitting he is nearing the end of his career, the national selectors have eyed Thushara as a possible left-arm replacement. He made his Test debut on Sri Lanka's previous trip to the Caribbean five years ago, but he subsequently faded, and others have overtaken him in the pecking order. This trip provides him with a second crack at international cricket, following strong performances in domestic competitions.

Sri Lanka, eyeing a Test series victory for the first time in the Caribbean, lead the two-Test series 1-0, after the Guyana victory handed them their first Test win on Caribbean soil in five matches. The second Test from April 3 in Trinidad will be followed by a three-match ODI series with two games at the same venue, and a day-night affair on April 15 at St Lucia's Beausejour Stadium.