Lasith Malinga has been included in Sri Lanka's World Cup fifteen subject to fitness. Sri Lanka named an almost identical squad to the one that will play an ODI series in New Zealand later this month - the exception is fast bowler Shaminda Eranga, who has been left out.
Malinga had undergone surgery on a troubled left ankle in September, and missed Sri Lanka's one-dayers against India and England after that, before returning to the squad for the final two ODIs of the upcoming series against New Zealand. Chairman of selectors Sanath Jayasuriya said Malinga is still undergoing rehabilitation and might not be ready in time to play those games, but he will still be saved for the World Cup.
"A player like Malinga, we have to take a gamble because he is a match-winner," Jayasuriya said after announcing the squad. "We know and everyone knows what he can do. We need him in the bowling department for it to be strong. At the moment he is undergoing a rehabilitation programme. We are not very sure of playing him even in the last two ODIs against New Zealand. He might miss them because we want to make sure that he is fit for the World Cup."
There are no real surprises in the squad. In Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Rangana Herath Sri Lanka have a wealth of experience at their disposal, even without Malinga.
Opener Dimuth Karunaratne, who has been part of Sri Lanka's squads for the two ODI assignments leading up to the World Cup - the series against England in November and December, which Sri Lanka won 5-2, and the upcoming series in New Zealand - retains his place. Seamer Nuwan Kulasekara, who was dropped for the England series at home but made his way back to the squad for New Zealand courtesy strong showings in domestic cricket, also makes it.
Jayasuriya said Kulasekara had made technical adjustments to his bowling. "In the few games [domestic] he played, Nuwan bowled very well. At the same time he rectified some of his technical mistakes with the help of [bowling coach] Champaka Ramanayake.
"We received a good report from Ramanayake that Kulasekera was bowling well, and in Australia and New Zealand we could encounter some grassy pitches, so Kulasekera's experience will be vital especially with Malinga not 100% fit."
He said he was happy to see how Karunaratne delivered as opener in the just-concluded Test series against New Zealand, where he made 152 at the top in the second innings in Christchurch, in a pressure situation with the team following on. "We were a bit worried about the opening slot. We tried Upul Tharanga and Kusal Perera and even tried Mahela as opener. But Dimuth is a solid opening bat and since the conditions are also different in Australia and New Zealand, he has adjusted himself very well. We looked at him as opener and gave him a chance in the first Test [against New Zealand]. He proved that he can bat for longer periods under those conditions.
"With two new balls at either end and in different conditions we expect him to bat through the first 10 overs and play a long innings. He knows his game plan, his strengths and weaknesses. We don't want to lose quick wickets early. That was the problem we had in the past. We brought in Dimuth to plug that hole so that the other batsmen can play their natural game."
Given the conditions in Australia and New Zealand, the selectors picked only two specialist spinners for the showpiece tournament, in left-arm spinner Herath and offspinner Sachithra Senanayake. They will be backed up by legspinning allrounder Jeevan Mendis. The other allrounders in the squad include captain Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Thirimanne and Chandimal join Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Karunaratne as the specialist batsmen, while Dhammika Prasad and Suranga Lakmal are the specialist fast-bowling options in addition to Malinga and Kulasekara.
Sri Lanka will play seven ODIs in New Zealand from January 11 to January 29. Then they play two warm-ups, against South Africa and Zimbabwe, before they feature in the World Cup's opening game, against New Zealand, on February 14 at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch. The other teams in Pool A, with Sri Lanka and New Zealand, are Australia, England, Scotland, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.