Sri Lanka Under-19 coach Roy Dias believes that experience will be vital heading into the 2018 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, and this has played a hand in the selection of the current U-19 squad that is playing a home series against South Africa U-19. Four players in the squad for the South Africa Youth Test series - Avishka Fernando, Shammu Ashan, Vishad Randika and Damitha Silva - participated in the 2016 U-19 World Cup but will not qualify for 2018 edition. Dias, however, said their experience was needed to help the younger players develop.
"There are about four experienced guys; other than that the rest are all playing for the first time at Under-19 international level," Dias said. "They are quite good; you have to expose them and give them more matches and see how they perform.
"My idea is to prepare them for the 2018 Under-19 World Cup, which is in New Zealand. Right now we are playing the Under-19 boys, but most of them are 17-plus and we need to give them the experience, which is going to be important. We are playing the experienced guys so that the juniors can learn from them as well."
The home series against South Africa, comprising three Youth Tests and as many Youth ODIs, is Dias' first assignment following his appointment to the post in March. The Sri Lankan team has been impressive against a strong visiting side, and managed to draw all three Tests. The two teams will play a Youth ODI series between July 9 and 13, before the team departs for the England tour on July 17. In England, Sri Lanka are scheduled to play a tour match, two Youth Tests and three Youth ODIs.
"Although it is an Under-19 series the cut-off date for players is March 31, 1996 so it is more or less an Under-20 side that England will be fielding," Dias said. "Sri Lanka Cricket has given permission to play boys who will be 19-plus because we have to play good cricket. We can't take a junior side and play an England team which is Under 20. It's a good thing because some of the Under-19 boys who have finished with the Under-19 World Cup get another chance to play cricket."
Dias, who played 20 Tests and 58 ODIs between 1979 and 1987, took up a coaching role with the Sri Lanka senior team in 1998 before stints with Oman and Nepal. He also has experience coaching a junior side, having done so with Nepal.
"I thought coaching the Under-19 boys was a good opportunity for me because I feel you have to start at the grassroot level," he said "I have been doing that in other countries and when I showed interest Sri Lanka Cricket gave me the job, it's a one-year contract, which is renewable."
Dias also felt the players were getting exposure through school cricket and stressed that the standards had not dropped.
"These guys are playing quite a lot of cricket than we did," he said. "We hardly played any cricket at all; we had about eight school matches for the season. These boys are getting more cricket and more exposure. I don't think the standards have fallen. The side given to me is a good one and my job is to get them to the next level."