Sri Lanka left-arm spinner Rangana Herath has been rested for the remaining three ODIs against Pakistan following a knee operation after the home series against England in March. The national selectors have picked the uncapped left-arm spinner Sajeewa Weerakoon as his replacement.
Herath played the first two ODIs in Pallekele, but keeping in mind his expected heavy workload in the Tests as the lead spinner, the team management has decided to let him recuperate till the Test series which begins in Galle on June 22.
"We had decided that he would play only two to three games in this series because it's always tough to return after an operation," Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, said on the eve of the third ODI in Colombo. "He felt it sore in the first two games. If you noticed while fielding he was struggling a bit."
Weerakoon, 34, has been on the fringes of national selection for a few years. He was the third-highest wicket-taker in the first-class 2011-12 Tier A competition with 42 wickets for Colts Cricket Club. In 2005, the consistency Weerakoon showed for the A team pushed the selectors to include him in the senior squad for three Tests against India in place of Herath, but he didn't break into the playing XI.
"I'm really happy and thrilled about this call," Weerakoon said. "I got this call after seven years, and seven years means a long time. I made lots of sacrifices during that period.
"I think I have done enough to convince them that I deserve a place in the Sri Lanka team. I was told about this decision just a couple of days ago by the team manager (Charith Senanayake)."
Weerakoon said that it was his performances in the Premier tournament that earned him a call-up. "I think that's why I'm here today. I was really determined to make my way into the national side. I never gave up. All I wanted was to represent Sri Lanka, at least in one game. I think that's why I'm here today."
Weerakoon said that in those seven years he got valuable advice from spin bowling coach Piyal Wijetunge, a former Sri Lanka left-arm spinner. If picked, Weerakoon will become the second oldest Sri Lanka to make an ODI debut, after Michael Tissera, who played his first ODI in 1975 at the age of 36.
Jayawardene said Weerakoon's experience in the domestic circuit - he has 693 first-class wickets - should serve him well. "Personally I feel he is a deserving candidate and hopefully he will get his opportunity tomorrow," Jayawardene said. "He has been in the shadows of Murali, Malinga Bandara, Herath and Ajantha Mendis for quite some time. He is a fighter. He has a lot of experience in club cricket and the A team."
With inputs from Kanishkaa Balachandran