Despite having lost 1-0 in Pakistan, Sri Lanka made no other changes to the 15 that toured Rawalpindi and Karachi in December. This means that Lahiru Thirimanne remains in the squad, despite seemingly having lost his place in the XI to Oshada Fernando, while offspinner Dilruwan Perera also retains his place after having gone wicketless during the Pakistan series.
Young fast bowler Asitha Fernando, who was Lakmal's replacement on the tour of Pakistan, could not find a place. Pathum Nissanka, the highly-rated domestic opener for Nondescripts Cricket Club, has been overlooked as well.
Chief selector Asantha de Mel said his committee had dropped Kusal after consulting with new coach Mickey Arthur, who felt it was better for Kusal to remain in Sri Lanka and train for the white-ball series against West Indies in February, rather than tour Zimbabwe without getting a game.
"Most probably we will go with the same batting lineup [as we did in Karachi], with Angelo Mathews at four, Dinesh Chandimal at five, Dhananjaya de Silva at six and Niroshan Dickwella keeping," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Kusal has an issue with his hamstrings where he can't run around the field as much. And because Dickwella is the main keeper, we thought there was no point taking another keeper."
Kusal had struck Sri Lanka's innings of the year in 2019, his 153 not out in Durban earning global plaudits, but had had a poor series against New Zealand in August and September last year, in which he made 1, 23, 0 and 0. He was in the squad, but did not play a Test in Pakistan.
"Yes, Kusal can make 150s, but we needed someone who can occupy the crease, which is why we chose Thirimanne," de Mel said. "Thirimanne can also bat in the top order or as an opener." Thirimanne's batting average, however, is 22.64 after 68 innings.
The selection of 37-year-old Dilruwan was also informed by conversations with coach Arthur, de Mel said. Dilruwan had gone wicketless during the tour of Pakistan, and averaged 112.80 in 2019, taking only five wickets in seven innings. He had been the equal-fastest Sri Lanka bowler to 150 Test wickets (taking 36 Tests to get there, the same as Muttiah Muralitharan), and this, essentially, is why the selectors are giving him another opportunity.
"We have the England series at home coming up, and this Zimbabwe series is the test to see if he can still do the job," de Mel said. "If we dropped him now, we can't even look at him for the England series, so we'll see how he does in this series. In terms of offspinners, there's also no standout options aside from him."
Dilruwan will have left-arm orthodox spinner Lasith Embuldeniya and left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan to compete with in the squad. On the fast bowling front, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando have all been picked, in addition to Lakmal.
The first Test is set to start on January 19, and the second on January 27. Both matches are scheduled to be played in Harare.
Sri Lanka Test squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dhananjaya De Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal