Sri Lanka have picked a 17-man development squad for the tour of Bangladesh from April 20 to May 13, which includes a one-day triangular tournament also featuring Pakistan, followed by two four-day matches with Bangladesh.
The side, captained by Ian Daniel, has the required talent and potential to push the Sri Lanka A players to perform better. The squad is considered to be a team third in line towards achieving national honours. The graduation period is that the identified talent from the under-19 or school level is first sent to the development squad from where they progress to the A team and eventually the national side.
A good example is that of SSC's prolific left-hander Tharanga Paranavithana. He had a successful 2006-07 season, hitting two double centuries in accumulating 723 runs at an average of 60.25. There was a lot of criticism when he was overlooked for the on-going A series between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, however the national selectors decided against rushing Paranavithana into the A squad, allowing him to graduate into it.
Jerome Jayaratne, the coach, was highly excited about players Viraj Perera of BRC and Nisal Randika of CCC. "Perera is an exciting prospect. He is a left-hand opening bat and he hits the ball quite hard," said Jayaratne. "Randika is a utility player like the Yuvraj Singh type, but he needs to curb himself."
Two other top-order batsmen who have impressed Jayaratne are Nadeera Nawala of Sebastianites and Harsha Vithana from Colts. According to Jayaratne, if the selectors stuck to figures, neither of them would have been selected.
"We took a gamble with Vithana last year and Nawala on this occasion and convinced the selectors to include them because we knew their talent. At the time of selection, Nawala had gone through a rather lean season [avg. 13.69]. But we knew he had a lot of potential. We faced the same situation with Vithana last year. However we included him in the development squad and this season he has fulfilled our expectations by scoring nearly 500 runs for his club. We expect Nawala also to perform similarly."
Chanaka Wijesinghe from Moors SC is another cricketer who has been in the news, scoring 30s and 40s but never converting them into big figures. Jayaratne feels he along with the others have the playing skills, but what they lack is the mental skills.
Jayaratne also identified a few other promsing players, with the likes of Angelo Mathews, the Josephian allrounder and former Sri Lanka Under-19 captain, Gihan de Silva, Charith Sylvester and Kosala Kulasekera.
Jayaratne also noted that players like Anil Rideegammanagedera, Indika de Saram, Tyron Gamage, Gayan Sirisoma, Dilhara Lokuhettige and Lassana Dias were overlooked for selection as they had indicated their unavailability due to their commitments to play league cricket in England.
While one would associate a development squad to comprise of up and coming youngsters, it was surprising to find an experienced cricketer like Nuwan Zoysa, the Sri Lanka fast bowler, figuring in it. Champaka Ramanayake, Sri Lanka Cricket's(SLC) fast bowling coach, said that Zoysa was included in the squad because the selectors felt they could still make use of him in the future. Zoysa, who has played 30 Tests and 95 ODIs, has failed to gain a regular place in the national side and the A team as well.
On the bowling side, Jayaratne said SSC's Chaminda Vidanapathirana had a lot of potential while Madura Lakmal Perera of Sebastianites was picked for his pace after he ended up winning the Pace Ace competition conducted by Sri Lanka Cricket last year.
Although tours of this nature are welcome, it is sad to note that in the past four years the Development Squad has made only three tours - to Bangladesh, UAE and Malaysia - all on the invitation of the host country, including the upcoming tour. It seems that no attempt has been made by SLC who arrange tours for the A team and Under-19 sides on a regular basis.
Jayaratne said that it was essential that the development squad are pitted against strong opposition to enable them to judge their own standards. He was happy that the age limit that was in existence for some time has now been done away with, allowing for players of all ages to get picked.
Squad Ian Daniel (capt), Angelo Mathews (vice-capt), Tharanga Paranavithana, Viraj Perera, Nadeera Nawala, Harsha Vithana, Nisal Randika, Charith Sylvester, Chanaka Wijesinghe, Lasith Fernando, Nuwan Zoysa, Chaminda Vidanapathirana, Himesh Silva, Lakmal Perera , Gehan de Silva, Suraj Mohamed, Chanaka Komasaru