Five lesser-known Sri Lanka players who can make a difference against India

Can Pathum Nissanka, Ashen Bandara, Minod Bhanuka and Co step up?

Debutants Pathum Nissanka and Ashen Bandara pose after receiving their T20I caps, West Indies vs Sri Lanka, 1st T20I, Coolidge, March 3, 2021

Pathum Nissanka and Ashen Bandara made their T20I debut in the same match  •  AFP/Getty Images

With Sri Lanka having named an incredibly inexperienced squad - even compared to India's second-string side - the hosts need plenty of the lesser-known players to make big contributions through the series. Here are five who could play that role.
Pathum Nissanka
23 years old, top-order batter
Of all the batters to arrive at the top level over the last two years, none has come more highly touted than Pathum Nissanka. This is largely because of his incredible consistency in first-class cricket, where he averages 64.45 after 65 innings, with 14 hundreds to his name. But although Nissanka has made a good start to his Test career, his limited-overs game is yet to take flight. In nine ODIs so far, he has managed only 86 runs, with a highest score of 24.
With potential openers Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Perera and Niroshan Dickwella all unavailable, Nissanka will likely have to bat in Sri Lanka's top three. Among the younger Sri Lanka batters, Nissanka is perhaps the most technically sound, so Sri Lanka will hope desperately he can have a breakthrough series against India.
Dhananjaya Lakshan
22 years old, seam-bowling allrounder
Virtually unheard of before last November, Dhananjaya Lakshan was perhaps the breakout star of last year's Lanka Premier League, helping carry his team the Galle Gladiators to the final with excellent all-round performances. A left-hand batter with a strong legside game, Lakshan is likely to bat in the lower-middle order. It is his bowling, though, that could be more effective in this series. In the LPL, Lakshan used his changes of pace effectively through the middle overs and rarely allowed opposition batters to get after him. He was also involved in several high-pressure situations, in which he usually performed creditably.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa
29 years old, middle-order batter
Of all the members of this squad, Bhanuka Rajapaksa has perhaps had the bumpiest ride in. Unhappy with being left out of the team due to fitness reasons, Rajapaksa had lashed out at Sri Lanka's selection policies during an interview in May. This in turn prompted coach Mickey Arthur to respond publicly, saying (among other things): "Bhanuka has got to make some commitments and he's got to look after his diet. His excuse has been that he loves chocolates. If you want to be one of the finest cricketers, then you have got to make some sacrifices. We had a diet plan for him and we expected him to look after himself but his skin folds have gone up again."
Rajapaksa has presumably got his fitness under some sort of control but was fined $5000 for his public comments, earlier this month. On his day, Rajapaksa is a clean striker of the ball, with scintillating shots on either side of the wicket. He will be intent on justifying his selection now that he has finally made it into the side.
Ashen Bandara
22 years old, middle-order batter
Ashen Bandara made a decent start to his ODI career earlier this year in the Caribbean, hitting 50, 18 and 55* in his three outings. While he wasn't effective in Bangladesh, his primary strength as a batter so far has been against spin. Occasionally, he is over-reliant on the sweep but is otherwise good at accumulating runs through the middle overs. Bandara is also an outstanding fielder, whether catching close or roaming near the boundary.
Minod Bhanuka
26 years old, wicketkeeper-batter
A stylish left-hand batter who relishes driving and relies on timing, Minod Bhanuka would seem to be the likeliest wicketkeeping option in this squad, given the absence of Perera and Dickwella. He has been a consistent performer in first-class cricket over several seasons, averaging 43.65, and with a highest score of 342 to his name. However, there are concerns over whether his natural rate of scoring is quick enough for limited-overs cricket; neither his List A nor domestic T20 statistics are particularly encouraging on that front. Still, he could bring some stability to what has been a woefully fragile Sri Lanka top order over the past few months. In his only ODI so far, against Pakistan in 2019, Bhanuka made 36 from 39.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf