Men's T20 World Cup 2021 team guide: Sri Lanka

Key players, rising stars, batting and bowling analysis, chances, squad, fixtures and much more in our in-depth look at Sri Lanka



Mickey Arthur: Arthur amassed more than 10,000 runs across 260 outings though he was never capped as senior international level. He has put together a decent coaching CV and took over South Africa in 2005, turning them into a formidable Test outfit and taking them to the top of the ICC one-day rankings, though he couldn't break their major tournament duck.

Ill-fated spells with Australia and in various franchise leagues followed before he popped up at Pakistan. Arthur led Pakistan to Champions Trophy glory in 2017, thrashing India in the final. Now with Sri Lanka, the 53-year-old has often cut a dejected and frustrated figure watching on from the dressing room. Contract runs until December.


Dasun Shanaka: One of Sri Lanka's seven T20 captains since the last World Cup and already into his second spell at the helm. Has been forced to guide the team through an uncertain period on and off the field and therefore emerges with some credit for steading the ship and clinching a series win over an India B side.

The greatest concern, however, surrounds his role in the team. Sometimes coming in as low as No.7 (he's batted in the top four once in the last T20Is) or bowling the odd over (he's delivered a full allocation twice since 2017), he's anything but indispensable. Rediscovering anything close to the 258 runs in six innings he managed in the SLC invitational T20 would be timely, to say the least.


Kusal Perera: The third-highest run-scorer in Sri Lanka's T20I history, with Mahela Jaywardene firmly in his sights. It is testament to his role at the top of the order that he was selected for this squad with a major question mark against his fitness. Now expected to play a full part and having been relinquished of the captaincy after three series defeats in a row he can focus on opening the innings and taking the gloves.

Ultimately, his best days are behind him, but he still has the capacity to go hard at the top of the innings. A slow wicket in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, where Sri Lanka start their campaign, will help him get into his stride.

Dinesh Chandimal: One of two survivors from the winning campaign of 2014 (the other being Perera) though Arthur and Co need fully convincing that he can be a central figure in this tournament. The dilemma is that as Sri Lanka's batting continues to falter, Chandimal is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Upon being recalled having found form in the domestic game, after being ditched for the England and India series, his unbeaten 66 against South Africa was the highest T20I score by a Sri Lankan for two-and-a-half years. He has performed at the highest level, is a veteran of nearly 200 internationals and has leadership qualities having skippered his country across all formats.

Wanindu Hasaranga: The most exciting performer in a Sri Lanka side which is difficult to get enthusiastic about. Hasaranga, ranked No.38 in the men’s T20 Player Index, has enjoyed a staggeringly good start to life under the international spotlight, collecting 36 wickets in 23 innings at an economy rate below seven and at an average under 16.

Tabraiz Shamsi is the only male spinner with more T20I wickets in 2021 than the leggie, who with a flash of hair dye and bright blue boots is hard to miss. Perhaps unusually for a legspinner, one of Hasaranga's signatures is his ability to keep things tight - 97 of his 198 balls in last season's Lanka Premier League were dots - and his success comes as much through pressure as they through attacking deliveries, though his well-disguised googly is clever.


Kusal Perera's firepower is vital to Sri Lanka

Rising star

Maheesh Theekshana: If Sri Lanka are to come remotely close to repeat their success from seven years ago, they'll need their jokers to come good. They don't come more unknown than Theekshana, who has only been let loose for three T20s. And yet there is a hope he will be the mystery spin option with which Sri Lankan cricket has long been associated.

Already with three variations up his sleeve, the googly, the carrom ball and the stock offspinner, Theekshana is ready to unleash his bag of tricks on the world. It paid off on a turning track in Colombo against South Africa, taking 4 for 37 - the best figures for a Sri Lanka ODI debutant. Four wickets in three games at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium where Sri Lanka play two of their three preliminary stage matches is a decent form guide.


Power hitters

While this isn't a Sri Lankan strong suit, it would be wrong to ignore the entire squad and indeed there are options in the form of Chamika Karunaratne who is likely to play a roving role up and down the order depending on the match situation. This is a line-up some of whom will be learning on the job.

Perera has the capacity to score quickly but has gone along at little more than a run-a-ball this year. And a quick glance at 2021's performances provides more clues as to their ineptitude: Bhanuka Rajapaksa has the fastest scoring rate of any player to have completed multiple innings. They need help.


This is where the senior statesmen of the team should come into their own. As established above, this is not a side capable of clearing the rope with immense regularity, but they have canny, clever and experienced batters who can knock the ball around and build something to defend or keep their side in the contest.

Perera, Shanaka and Gunathilaka, veterans of a combined 132 T20Is, have faced more balls than anyone for Sri Lanka in this format since the start of 2017, striking at 122.18. That kind of stability coupled with the occasional onslaught from elsewhere could suddenly turn a line-up struggling for consistent runs into a competitive outfit.


Chamika Karunaratne: Viewed as a genuine three-dimensional cricketer, it is little surprise the 25-year-old has become a key figure for Sri Lanka just months into his international career. Several contributions down the order have already caught the eye, including his unbeaten 12 to clinch victory against India in just his second T20I.

On three occasions during the white-ball tour by South Africa he chimed in with late runs (twice unbeaten), though all three efforts came in losing causes. Arthur has identified overs 15-20 to get Karunaratne at the crease, but it will be interesting to see how quickly that changes depending on Sri Lanka's fortunes. Hasaranga is certainly capable of bashing some late runs, but his domestic returns have not appeared in the international arena.

Problem areas

Overall, the batting cupboard is drier than a party conference speech. Since scoring 210 for 4 against Bangladesh in 2018, Sri Lanka have passed 180 just once (Pakistan, 2019) batting first. Thisara Perera's retirement, coming weeks after hitting half a dozen sixes in an over in SLC's Major Clubs tournament, is poor timing. No player past, present or future comes close to his strike-rate of 146.63.

"It’s not that we cannot do it, we need to click in one match, and we can then have the flow," feel likes a fanciful prediction from captain Shanaka, who is another captain who feels let down by the conditions prepared but his own cricket board for the South Africa T20s when the ball spun and batters were all at sea.

The reality is these points ignore the elephant in the room. Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella are fifth, sixth and seventh on the list of T20I run scorers for Sri Lanka since the start of 2016. They continue to be hung out to dry following their Durham excursion and along with Angelo Mathews' omission this is a high-class batting group which has been unceremoniously gutted.


Wanindu Hasaranga, left, and captain Dasun Shanaka


Speed merchants

Dushmantha Chameera: The leader of the Sri Lanka attack, with an ability to bowl with discipline and potency. Chameera has a sixth sense with the white ball, able to detect when to keep things tight and when to strike. Chameera looked like being the latest fast bowler to be lost to injuries after a stress fracture to his lower back and a series of leg issues, but he's enjoyed a healthy 2021 taking 43 international wickets across all formats.

He impressed on the ODI tour of Bangladesh where he swung the ball prodigiously and claimed scalps in his opening over of all three games. After claiming career best ODI figures in the final match of that series, he emerged from the ill-fated England tour with his best T20 figures after collecting 4 for 17 in Southampton. Not received the IPL opportunities he will have wanted but is nonetheless a key figure for Arthur.

Chamika Karunaratne: Despite his success with the bat during his opening forays into international cricket, the 25-year-old is primarily part of this group because of his bowling. As a youngster, Karunaratne was a junior national champion in javelin and his exploits in badminton are well-reported. He is the ultimate sporting chameleon, able to adapt to his surroundings and look at home.

Arthur is clearly impressed by his work ethic and desire to improve, hailing him as an example to the rest of the squad after just six T20s. He generally bowls wicket-to-wicket, with his consistent lines attempting to tighten batters for room. That strategy seems better suited to the ODI format, where his early successes have come and he was roundly punished by South Africa who dispatched him for more than 10-an-over in the recent T20 series in Colombo.


In the form of Hasaranga, Theekshana and Akila Dhanajaya, Sri Lanka have a spin attack which should cover for their batting frailties, at least in the preliminary stage. The former has a hard to distinguish googly and can vary his pace up while Theekshana is a carrom ball specialist.

"I don't think it'll be easy for any team to read him," said Shanaka after his debut in South Africa, however that hasn't stopped the social media analysts from weighing in to unpick his technique.

Dhanajaya is back in the fold after being given a pasting by West Indies, England and India – he’s gone at more than nine an over this year – and is yet to recapture the form prior to his ban from bowling in 2019.

Problem areas

Of the 60 wickets Sri Lanka have taken in T20Is in 2021 prior to the Oman warm-ups, 35 have been picked up by Hasaranga (20) and Chameera (15). In short, this is an attack which relies too heavy on two individuals and is crossing its fingers others can come to the rescue.

There is plenty of enthusiasm around the newcomers to the squad, but there are a lot in the bowling department many of whom are not into double figures for T20I outings.

Arthur believes the team is "flexible" but that could be translated into uncertainty given the lack of clarity over the personnel at his disposal not to mention the dearth of know-how at this level. If indeed this attack are put to the sword on flat pitches, it will be up to Arthur and Shanaka to limit the scar tissue.


Sri Lanka will have to get through a qualifying round to reach the main stages of the World Cup


Gun fielder

Pathum Nissanka is highly thought of by fielding coach Shane McDermott due to his dynamism and versatility. Inevitably, fielding prowess focuses around two figures.

Hasaranga is the man often deployed at backward point (he took a stunning catch to dismiss Sam Billings in England) and the athleticism of Karunaratne has already caught the eye of Arthur who has challenged the rest of the team to match his fitness levels.

Who takes the gloves?

There just two options available to Sri Lanka. It seems reasonable to expect Perera to take his position behind the stumps given his place in the team is more cemented than that of the returning Chandimal, who did take the gloves in one game against South Africa. In the absence of both players against India, Minod Bhanuka was handed the responsibility and performed ably in taking six dismissals in three games, but he was ditched at the 11th hour as the back-up opener as well as reserve 'keeper.

Squad: Dasun Shanaka (c), Kusal Perera, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya De Silva (vc), Pathum Nissanka, Charith Asalanka, Avishka Fernando, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Chamika Karunaratne, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara, Maheesh Theekshana, Akila Dananjaya, Binura Fernando

Fixtures: Oct 18 – Namibia, Oct 20 – Ireland, Oct 22 - Netherlands

Possible starting XI: Avishka Fernando, Kusal Perera, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya De Silva, Charith Asalanka, Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Maheesh Theekshana, Dushmantha Chameera, Akila Dhananjaya






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