Sri Lanka's selectors will have to deal with a "good headache" when picking the squad for the team's tour of Australia later this month, SLC's chief selector Ashantha de Mel said on Thursday following a string of impressive performances from several fringe players in Pakistan, which culminated in a 3-0 win in the T20I series.
The performances of Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Oshada Fernando, whose strokeplay made de Mel think of Mahela Jayawardene, and Wanindu Hasaranga, have now given the selectors plenty of food for thought, not just for upcoming series but also next year's T20 World Cup.
"It's a good headache to have. Earlier we had a problem of selecting form players, now we have 12-13 players that are vying for about six places, especially in the batting department," de Mel said. "What I was impressed with the youngsters is that they took the opportunity they were given with both hands. Bhanuka was debuting, and Oshada was debuting as well, and they played out of their skins.
"We have watched these players, but to really come out and perform against the best T20I side in the world - their bowling is one of the strongest - for the way they played it was amazing."
"For me Wanindu [Hasaranga] is the most improved player that I've seen this year. Whether it's batting, bowling, fielding, the confidence he has is now fantastic" SL chief selector Ashantha de Mel
Sri Lanka went to Pakistan with several of their first-choice picks refusing to tour. But their second string proved so good they whitewashed the No. 1 T20I team in the world.
Both Rajapaksa and Oshada's defining knocks on tour were match-winning efforts. Following a brisk 32 in the first T20I, the 27 year-old Rajapaksa blitzed a 48-ball 77 in the second game, to help Sri Lanka post a daunting 182. Then, in the final game, with the series already decided, Oshada was drafted in to the side having sat out every game on tour barring the first ODI, where he was out for 1. But if there was any pressure on him to perform he scarcely let it show; coming in to bat with his side struggling on 30 for 3, and then 58 for 4 after eight overs, Oshada produced a counter-attacking knock, breezing to a 48-ball 78, on what was a fairly sluggish batting track.
"He took no risks. He reminded me of Mahela, just placing it over extra cover, very risk-free batting," de Mel said of Oshada. "As a chief selector, I was happy because we were able to give these guys a chance. Because sometimes what happens is we take them on the tour but we're not able to actually give them a chance."
De Mel, however, reserved his highest praise for legspinning-allrounder Hasaranga. Still just 22, the youngster from Galle has been a revelation in recent times, and finally looks poised to carry over his domestic form to the national side.
Hasaranga was among the few Sri Lankan bowlers to threaten Pakistan's batsmen in the ODI series, picking up three wickets in two games, but he really came into his own in the T20Is, taking eight wickets at an average of 9.87. While he is still to show off his prowess with the bat in national colours, an average of 45.46 in first-class cricket means it's possibly only a matter of time.
"For me, Wanindu is the most improved player that I've seen this year. Whether it's batting, bowling, fielding, the confidence he has is now fantastic," de Mel gushed.
For de Mel, now comes the unenviable task of picking the best possible squad. Though he explained that he had made it clear to the players that opted out of the tour that they ran the risk of losing their spot if some of the younger guys took their chance.
"In this particular instance, I spoke to the [SLC] president [Shammi Silva] and he was also agreeable that we give these boys a chance, and they have now given the selectors food for thought," de Mel said. "When it comes to selecting the squad for Australia we will have to take these performances into consideration. Because like I told the guys who didn't go, if the guys who go perform then one or two of the guys who didn't may have to get left out. Form matters."