Sri Lanka's inconsistent selection has had a "big effect" on the present state of the ODI team, cricket manager Asanka Gurusinha has said, ahead of the third ODI against Bangladesh.
Sri Lanka have rifled through 41 players - five higher than any other international side - since the 2015 World Cup. The team has been especially changeable since Sanath Jayasuriya's selection committee took over following last year's World T20: 33 players having played since last April - again comfortably the highest among international teams.
Gurusinha has only recently taken over the role of cricket manager, in which he acts as the primary contact between the selection committee and the team. He suggested it has very quickly become apparent that greater stability is required, as Sri Lanka build towards this year's Champions Trophy and the 2019 World Cup.
Sri Lanka have lost each of their last six completed ODIs, as well as five of their last six completed home matches.
"I've been here only 20-odd days, but I've talked to the selectors and the coach, and my biggest goal is to keep about 20 players for Tests and ODIs together," Gurusinha said. "Then the players also know they can stay in the team for a bit. If not, it's hard to build a team. If you look at the best teams in the world, there aren't many changes. The players also have a responsibility, but my biggest hope is that we can keep that group together."
Gurusinha said that not only does stable selection breed greater security among players, who are likely to feel more confident about their position, but also allows coaches to work intensively with specific groups of players. He singled out opener Danushka Gunathilaka and batsman Dhananjaya de Silva as players Sri Lanka may do well to invest in. Gunathilaka averages only 22.70 from 17 ODI innings, but has nevertheless shown glimpses of potential in his outings so far.
"Someone like Danushka is someone that I've been impressed with when he's batting. I know he hasn't scored runs, but my philosophy is to try and support people and have a stable squad. That's what I'm focusing on. Have a stable cricket team and squad in the national team. That'll give confidence to the players and confidence to everyone. That'll help us to do better in our fielding as well.
De Silva, meanwhile, has had a string of modest international scores across formats, despite having top-scored in the Test series victory against Australia last year. Though initially brought into the side as a lower middle-order batsman, de Silva had been moved to No. 4 during the recent Test series in South Africa, and has been deployed in various positions in the limited-overs formats as well.
"Yes, Dhananjaya has to score some runs, but he's got the talent," Gurusinha said. "It's up to us now to work with him and make him a better player from where he was. You all know how he batted against Australia last year."
Sri Lanka's attack has also been in flux, with several players having been saddled with the death bowling role over the past two years, in which Lasith Malinga has been largely absent through injury. This was exemplified in the ongoing tour, where Nuwan Kulasekara and Nuwan Pradeep were added to the squad mid-series, and were immediately brought into the playing XI for the second ODI.
"We're building up a bowling attack," Gurusinha said. "Suranga Lakmal - what he's done from the time I came, that's when I saw him - he 's pretty good. We've got Lahiru Kumara who's pretty quick for his age. He's 20 years and still raw. We know you've got to work with people like that. In this one day squad we've got Nuwan Kulasekara in there and Nuwan Pradeep, and there are a few other young bowlers who are coming up.
"It comes down again to having a stable squad, and giving them the confidence that they can play for a while. What I can say is that if that doesn't happen? It's very difficult for a coach."
Gurusinha used the example of Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup winning side - of which he was a part - to illustrate the benefits of consistent selection. That side featured perhaps the most experienced top order in the tournament, as well as a younger, but well-established attack.
"Even with our team, when I was playing, it took us a while to get to that winning habit. It came with experience, and when you have experience you know how to win from difficult situations.
"Bangladesh have some experienced players who know what to do. That's what I'd like to build in this team. We've got to do it very soon. We've got to be able to win it from difficult situations. When we do that the players will be having a lot of fun in the middle, and we will go back again to those glory days of Sri Lankan cricket, which we had even when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were playing."