With Sri Lanka now desperately seeking a long-term replacement for Rangana Herath as the team's lead spinner, ESPNcricinfo weighs up their options, with inputs from national spin-bowling coach Piyal Wijetunge.

Lakshan Sandakan

26-year old left-arm wristspinner; Test record: Five Tests, 15 wickets at 31.93; First class: 203 wickets at 24.14

Having been among Sri Lanka's most successful domestic spinners for several seasons, Sandakan made vital contributions on debut in Sri Lanka's backs-to-the-wall victory over Australia at Pallekele. Showcasing a big-turning stock ball and a deceptive googly, he claimed career-best figures of 4 for 58, and helped keep Australia's first-innings lead in the double figures - Sri Lanka having been earlier skittled for 117.

He would claim three further wickets in the second innings, but in the four Tests since, Sandakan has averaged 46.5, and has often proved expensive. He has had at least two catches dropped off his bowling, however, and remains one of the few spinners capable of gleaning significant turn and bounce from unhelpful surfaces.

Sandakan's control is his primary shortcoming, Wijetunge said. "Lakshan is very good, and he turns it a lot. But his maturity is not there. He needs a little time to mature, because a spinner anyway needs that time to develop - only at around 30 years of age do they generally get there. He's quite young. I think he'll enter his best years only in about a year or year-and-a-half."

Jeffrey Vandersay

27-year old legspinner; Test record: Uncapped; First class: 168 wickets at 24.87

Following his impressive turn at the 2016 World T20, Vandersay might have debuted in that Australia series in place of Sandakan, had he not picked up an injury in the weeks approaching the tour. Though the selectors have largely considered him for limited-overs cricket, Vandersay has occasionally impressed in the longer formats, most notably when he took 5 for 73 and 3 for 94 against Pakistan in a tour match in Colombo.

Vandersay was also only selected for one of the two four-day matches England Lions played in Sri Lanka earlier this year, and has largely been omitted from Sri Lanka's limited-overs teams as well. Wijetunge, however, believed he is a strong contender across formats.

"Even now, I think he can be brought into the Sri Lanka team. He's ready. He's a wristspinner, so he can turn the ball on any surface, and he's also got a few variations. Mentally, he's very tough, and he's also quite mature for his age, when you compare with other bowlers. His control is good. Anyway a wrist spinner takes three or four overs to settle, and Jeffrey has that issue. But once he gets into his rhythm, his consistency is very good."

Tharindu Kaushal

24-year old offspinner; Test stats: Seven Tests, 25 wickets at 44.20; First class: 305 wickets at 24.41

The youngest and most unusual bowler among these contenders, Kaushal is a wrist-spinning offbreak bowler, which probably puts him in a club of two, alongside his hero Muttiah Muralitharan. But where Murali's extremely flexible wrist and shoulder saw him deliver a clean doosra, Kaushal lost the use of that ball after he was found to have flexed his elbow more than the permitted 15 degrees during the delivery of roughly half his doosras. The results of that test have been quite a blow to his confidence.

Kaushal has since gone back to domestic cricket, where he remains effective, thanks to a vicious offbreak. But he has not been considered for internationals, nor did he play in any of the unofficial ODIs or Tests against England Lions. Though Wijetunge believed Kaushal could eventually be a penetrative Test bowler, he feels Kaushal is a little raw at present.

"He's not ready for Tests straightaway. Kaushal's got a few issues with the consistency of his offbreak. But the bowlers that are there, he's the guy who turns it the most. He can turn it on any surface. We talk about the pace that is required at Tests being around 85kph, and that is the pace he naturally bowls at.

"He's got all the things he needs except consistency, and that's got to do with his action. I decided four or five months ago that we should change his action a little. But then there was the domestic season here, and then he went to play league cricket in England, so we didn't get the chance to do those changes. But we've got him down now, and as soon as the India series finishes, we will start making those adjustments to his action. We need to look at his balance and if there are variations in his release point. If we can get all that done, Tharindu Kaushal is a very good bowler."

Dilruwan Perera

35-year old offspinner; Test record: 19 Tests, 81 wickets at 32.95; First class: 663 wickets at 25.42

The oldest and most experienced of the spinners, Perera is the likeliest to become Sri Lanka's primary spin option both home and away. His increasing ability with the bat has recently coincided with a dip in wicket-taking form, however. Though a modest turner of the ball, Perera has, in the past, depended on his keen bowling wit to take wickets - often working batsmen out over the course of a spell. He claimed his 50th Test wicket in his 11th match, making him the fastest Sri Lankan to that milestone, even if it was achieved on helpful Asian surfaces (he had not played a Test outside the continent until then).

What has been somewhat worrying, however, is Perera's record since getting to 50 wickets. In eight Tests since his most-recent five-wicket haul, he has taken 26 wickets at 46 apiece. Despite this apparent slump, Wijetunge believed Perera can take Herath's place.

"Rangana might not play more than two or three more series maybe, so when he goes, Dilruwan will have to take up that role. He can do it also, because now he's experienced. There's no major reason why Dilruwan hasn't taken so many wickets in the last year - he's not doing anything different in his bowling. The one thing I will say is that if he does well in a series, he sometimes doesn't play for five or six months. It's a bit tough for him to maintain that rhythm and stay at his peak."

Malinda Pushpakumara

30-year old left-arm spinner; Test record: 2 wickets at 78; First class: 560 wickets at 20.06

One of the most highly-rated domestic spinners, Pushpakumara has finished among Sri Lanka's top five wicket-takers for many seasons on end, and this year, was as many as 20 wickets clear of the next highest wicket-taker. Like Herath and Perera, Pushpakumara is no big turner of the ball, and instead relies on guile for his wickets. He is aided at that level by Sri Lanka's often diabolically spin-friendly first-class surfaces, but he has had success with the Sri Lanka A team as well. When England Lions toured this year, he took 21 wickets at an average of 18.04 - more than double that of the next highest wicket-taker.

Pushpakumara was less successful in his Test debut at the SSC, however, conceding 156 runs at a rate of 4.06 an over. Wijetunge believed Pushpakumara did not give a good account of his skill in that outing.

"I think any debutant plays with a bit of pressure, and I think that's what happened to Malinda also. He's a mature and experienced spinner. His best bowling is very different from what we saw in that match. Usually, when he gets the ball in hand, he dominates any batsman.

"As far as I can tell, he didn't pick the correct pace to bowl on that pitch. He uses his pace variations a lot. But then, it's his first match, so you can't blame him also."

Prabath Jayasuriya

25-year old left-arm spinner; Tests: Uncapped; First class: 88 wickets at 28.69

By a distance the least experienced of the spinners in this list, it is Jayasuriya's potential, rather than his record, that has excited the SLC coaches. For now, he appears a better prospect in ODI cricket - his 28 List A wickets coming at 16.57. Wijetunge said he could be a force in the longer formats as well, however.

"Prabath is six feet tall, and he has 95% consistency, so he's very good in that regard. He turns the ball a little, but what he mostly relies on is bounce, which he gets a lot of. He doesn't flight it so much, and his pace is a bit faster."


Although Wijetunge believed each of the bowlers featured here had the ability to become good Test players, he suggested that their development has been complicated by a poor domestic system. Spinners often encounter friendly surfaces at the first-class level, where it is not unusual for two slow bowlers to take the new ball in the second innings. Fourteen of this year's top 15 wicket-takers in the Premier League tournament were spinners.

"The problem we have is that there is a huge gap between domestic cricket and international team," Wijetunge said. "In terms of Sri Lanka A tours, we only have one or two a year. We have issues testing the spinners we train. Our only option is to put them in the national team, which isn't ideal. That's not a place to test bowlers. Sometimes, their weaknesses are exposed at that level, and often they are not ready. They have to play a lot of A team cricket, or good quality cricket at a lower level.

"There's no shortage of skill - but the maturity is missing."