Kusal Perera played a match-winning innings in Sri Lanka winning the first Test during the last tour of South Africa
By Amindha de Alwis
Sri Lanka Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne, speaking at a pre-series media conference two days prior to the opening encounter of Sri Lanka’s Test tour of South Africa, hinted that Kusal Perera – the hero of the country’s successful tour of South Africa early last year – would be in line to open the batting in order to fill the slot left vacant by Oshada Fernando who is unlikely to recover from injury in time for the first Test.
“Due to Oshada’s injury we will need a new opener. I think Kusal Perera has a decent chance of playing as he has exhibited his skills before and has opened for us in the limited overs format. We feel he will do well on these playing surfaces,” Karunaratne said about his potential opening partner for Saturday.
The Sri Lankan skipper went on to add that the team has shortlisted a 13-man squad for the opening game (from the touring party of 21) and that a final decision on the starting XI will be made today (25), with all-rounders Dasun Shanaka and Wanindu Hasaranga, and Lasitha Embuldeniya jostling for places in Saturday’s lineup.
“We have to decide whether to replace Angelo (Mathews) with a batsman or go with an extra all-rounder. Most likely Wanindu (Hasaranga) or Dasun (Shanaka) as they provide a bowling option. We have a 13-man squad from which to select the eleven from. Alongside Wanindu, Lasith Embuldeniya is also in the 13-man squad as a spinner,” he revealed.
One concern that the Sri Lankan camp are facing is that of the fitness of fast-bowling spearhead Suranga Lakmal who sustained a hamstring injury at training on Wednesday. Karunaratne however said that he is confident in his side’s pace bowling stocks and went as far as to say his believed they were on par with their South African counterparts.
“We have a small concern with Suranga (Lakmal). We are not sure if he will play or not. He has a small hamstring issue. He is taking the day off and we will assess him the day before the match. If he is unavailable, we may give Kasun Rajitha or Asitha Fernando an opportunity.”
“We will need a lot of quicks at Centurion and the Wanderers which are pace-friendly wickets. Last time we toured here we had limited options but this time both Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera are there. There pace attack and ours are fifty-fifty and I think this series will be decided by how the batsmen perform,” Karunaratne expressed.
Karunaratne further mentioned that while many of the players in the squad are coming into the Test tour off the back of T20 cricket in the form of the recently concluded Lanka Premier League he believed that as professionals they are equipped to adapt to changes between formats despite the Covid-19 pandemic depriving his side of a practice match.
“As professionals we need to adjust between formats. At times, even on tours a T20 leg may precede the Test matches. I do believe our players can adapt soon but naturally it is not the same for everyone and some players need more time to make the adjustment, which is an issue, but we do not have an option due to Covid. This is what we have to manage with, and I think we will be well prepared on the 26th,” he stated.
The captain went on to add that while the bio-secure environment that the teams are placed in has its challenges, he feels that it has allowed for greater bonding amongst the team members.
“The bio-bubble does affect us. On the good side, it helps the team stay together and the guys have been playing Table Tennis or Pool together during their down time. However, I do think there is a small impact on the players’ mental freedom. There are both advantages and disadvantages but that is how we have to move with this Covid situation,” Karunaratne said.