Sri Lanka keen to build a team for the future

Angelo Mathews and coach Graham Ford have a chat AFP

In high spirits after the unexpected 3-0 whitewash in Tests, Sri Lanka wish to find similar joy in the one-day format, but are also looking well beyond the series at hand. Coach Graham Ford has repeatedly said Sri Lanka are on the hunt for long-term players. Ahead of the first ODI, Angelo Mathews echoed those sentiments, as he prepares to lead another relatively youthful XI.

"Our long-term goal is the 2019 World Cup, but we'll try and take it series by series," he said. "Winning is important, but trying to build up a team is also important - so we'll try and strike a balance in that. We've got a very good mixture of experience and youth in the team. Most of them are newcomers - the likes of Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis. Except for a few players who have played 50-60 games, it is a very exciting time for us."

The youngest member of this squad is Avishka Fernando - an 18-year-old top-order batsman fresh from hitting consecutive hundreds against England Under-19s. Mathews suggested he is largely in the squad to gain a taste of the international environment, rather than as a genuine candidate for the playing XI - though he didn't completely rule out a debut. Fernando is yet to play any first-class or List A matches.

"Avishka looked really good in the centre yesterday," Mathews said. "Most importantly we wanted to share that dressing room atmosphere and the experience with a younger player like him. Especially because we're playing at home we have the advantage of bringing in an Under-19 player to share the dressing room with the likes of the Tillakaratne Dilshans and Dinesh Chandimals. That's our main idea, but if there's a chance he'll play as well."

Among those to be recalled for this series is Thisara Perera, who had been bumped down to the Sri Lanka A team, but makes his way back to the national side despite modest performances even at the lower level. Mathews said it was Thisara's bowling that the team considers his primary skill.

"Thisara is a very important player," Mathews said. "He hasn't performed extremely well - the way he would have liked to, or we would have liked him to. But he's a character who could turn things around at any given day with bat or ball. We're hoping he'll come good in this series. Our expectations of him are as a bowler, mainly."

With Thisara, Mathews, Dilshan, de Silva, Milinda Siriwardana and Seekkuge Prasanna all capable in both disciplines, the selectors have plenty of options to weigh up when settling on a final XI. Mathews said the Khettarama track is likely to take turn, which suggests the spin-bowling allrounders may be preferred.

"We've got so many spinners to choose from, a good set of batters and a couple of fast bowlers," he said. "We're yet to decide whether we want to go with two spinners and two fast bowlers or three spinners and one fast bowler. We'll come back tomorrow, take a look at the wicket, and then decide."