Sri Lanka drop Chandimal for South Africa tour, Karunaratne made captain
There are wholesale changes in the squad, which includes four uncapped players in Lasith Embuldeniya, Mohamed Shiraz, Angelo Perera and Oshada Fernando
Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal has been dropped from the Test squad, in a shock move by the selectors. The captaincy goes to opener Dimuth Karunaratne for the tour of South Africa.
According to an SLC release, Chandimal has been released to play domestic cricket and regain his form with the bat, after he made only 24 runs in four innings in the recently concluded Tests against Australia. In his last five Tests, he has crossed fifty only once. Chandimal is also understood to have disagreed with the selectors about his position in the batting line-up. He has begun batting at No. 3 in recent weeks - with little reward so far - but the selectors believe he is better suited to No. 5 or No. 6, where he has historically made most of his runs.
Despite the recent downturn, however, Chandimal's overall form as captain has been decent. He averages 40.93 in the 17 Tests he has led in. Since taking the reins in the middle of 2017, he has also hit overseas hundreds in the UAE (against Pakistan), India and the West Indies.
Also axed from the squad are senior offspinner Dilruwan Perera and middle-order batsman Roshen Silva. Although South Africa shapes as an immensely difficult tour, the selectors have chosen to make wholesale changes. Several inexperienced players come into the squad, with eight of the 17 named having played five Tests or fewer. Of those eight, four - left arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya, seam bowler Mohamed Shiraz, and batsmen Angelo Perera and Oshada Fernando - are uncapped altogether.
Making a return to the Test squad after a hiatus, meanwhile, are Milinda Siriwardana, 33, and opener Kaushal Silva. Siriwardana last played a Test in mid-2016, and makes his way back courtesy hundreds against Ireland A at home. Silva most recently played against England in November, and returns on the back of a 273 in the Premier League Tournament - the biggest score of the season so far.
The fresh entrants have also impressed, either against Ireland A or in the Premier League, or both, in order to earn their places. Angelo Perera hit two double hundreds in the same match this past weekend, becoming only the second batsman in first-class history to achieve the feat. He has also been in good touch for Sri Lanka A. Oshada Fernando, meanwhile, had struck a hundred and a double hundred the previous weekend.
Embuldeniya and Shiraz had also been good in the first-class games against Ireland A - Embuldeniya taking 14 wickets across the two unofficial Tests and claiming seven.
Shiraz joins a threadbare pace attack, however, with Lahiru Kumara, Dushmantha Chameera and Nuwan Pradeep all ruled out of the series with injuries. Thankfully for Sri Lanka, spearhead Suranga Lakmal is expected to be fit for the first Test in Durban despite having missed the second Australia Test with a stiff back. Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando and Chamika Karunaratne - all of whom played the Canberra Test - are the other quicks in the squad.
Angelo Mathews remains unavailable due to the hamstring injury he had sustained in late December, in a Test against New Zealand.
The two-Test series begins in Durban on February 13.
Sri Lanka squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Niroshan Dickwella, (v-capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Milinda Siriwardana, Dhananjaya De Silva, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Chamika Karunaratne, Mohamed Shiraz, Lakshan Sandakan, Lasith Embuldeniya